I read a great blog piece today by Rick Kettner, Co-Founder of Drumeo, where he discusses the difference between striving for perfection vs. progress, and he breaks down–fairly accurately IMO–the stages of learning something new as you experience it as a player. Every drummer has figured out that learning something new is both exciting and frustrating, coming with great highs and many lows. The great high is when you do it–a new beat for example–all the way through for the first time, and you get this incredible feeling of “I did it!” However, replicating the achievement usually results in a big fat miss, at least in my case, which comes with it the crushing reality that I can’t play this thing on command yet; it’s not even close to being up to speed, and compared to the earlier feeling of exhilaration, this sucks!
The change in my mood is completely in my head, obviously, but I can’t help feeling that way. What I should be feeling is the same exhilaration and enthusiasm as before because I had just done something that I previously couldn’t do, even if I can’t do it every time; I’ve gone from never being able to do it, to doing it once, which is a 100% improvement! I made progress, excellent progress, but, it wasn’t perfect; it wasn’t the beat that’s in my head or in my headphones. My goal was perfection or at least mimic the guy’s ability from whom I stole this beat–we all do it 😉 and it’s wonderful that we do!
But…I shouldn’t be measuring myself against the guy on the album who’s playing it “perfectly” (to me that is). What I should be doing, or more accurately “thinking” is this: the guy on the album has been playing this a lot longer than I have (he may even have invented the thing, e.g., Steve Gadd’s Fifty Ways Groove), so I’m really not being fair to me or my abilities. I’ve given this message to students and players in the past, but it’s a whole other thing to practice what you preach, as it were. It’s easier to explain to a first-time player that he or she has unrealistic expectations: for example, “you won’t be able to play Tom Sawyer unless you nail this single stroke roll thing” is something I’m often having to remind students, gently but constructively, from time to time 🙂
However, aiming that realistic expectation-gun at yourself is a lot harder to do and takes plenty of internal discipline and, admittedly, some level of maturity as a player. I haven’t matured completely, but I might just be striving for perfection 😉 Can I personally play Tom Sawyer? Yes. Was it hard to learn? You bet! I’ll add that it’s still hard to play well, too, not because I find it difficult anymore per say, but because it takes a certain focus to play this well, and if you avert your “gaze” or let your mind wander for just a second, the song will get away from you like a horse suddenly bucking you off and then bolting, leaving you facedown in the dirt.
FULL-DISCLOSER…I’ve never been on a horse, but if it’s anything like playing Tom Sawyer, it’s a challenge at first, really fun and rewarding to learn, but always has an element of danger if you don’t respect the power of the beast. If you don’t already know it–a lot of people think they know it because they’re so familiar with it, but have never actually played it, which is much different than “air drumming” along to it. Enjoy 🙂
Speaking of perfection and getting back to the point, I’ve been chirping for a while now that there’s no such thing as “the best,” and I find myself annoyed when I see comments on YouTube like, “this guy is the best,” or “greatest drummer of all time.” Not that those comments are invalid or without consideration, but what the vast majority of them really mean is this: “this guy is the best to me in my opinion” I recently received a Tweet that said the following:
Phil Collins – In the Air Tonight…best drum solo EVER. #truth
…to which I replied:
it’s a fill not a solo, but it serves the song, and it’s cool!
You know the big fill in the song, right? If not, here’s a guy explaining it here…
I realize that my tweet reply comes off a bit pedantic–a drummer word for insisting on exactness in words and meaning; this is ironic given that I’m now slagging perfectionism–admittedly slightly hypocritical, but you can be assured that at least one of my opinions is correct 😉 Maybe technically it is a solo: nothing else is playing at the time, and so the drummer is playing “solo” as it were, but it feels wrong. Anyway, that’s not really the point. The point I was really taking exception with is the phrase “best drum solo [sic] EVER,” which really means that it is “the best” to the author of the tweet.
I’ll also add that I know the author of the tweet isn’t a drummer, so what it’s really saying is that “this is best drum-thing I’ve ever heard to me because it means a lot to me,” or however music inspires people or makes the song memorable to fans. That fill is really cool–don’t get me wrong! It’s dead simple, but it works in that section of the song, and really serves the song well. It’s not “showy” in any way, yet it has more impact “as is” than if you’d inserted a massive roll down the toms in 32nds. It works, which is why it’s memorable, but “the best”? Arguably, maybe it’s one of the most memorable fills (or rolls, maybe I should’ve corrected the Tweet with “roll” instead?), but if “the best” encompasses some level of difficulty, then it’s certainly not even close. So, let’s all do a big favour to one another, and stop with “the best” or “the greatest,” and let’s start owning our opinions online or otherwise making them a little more precise, and indeed helpful: “I like this,” or “This is awesome to me,” are fine expressions. Let’s use them a bit more, and focus less on the horse race of whom you think is the best (because really no cares that you’ve rank somebody over somebody else), and let’s share our opinions as if we’re trying to convince others that this particular thing that we’re into is really worth them checking out because it means a lot to us. What wrong with just sharing what you like, and seeing why others like it, too? Wouldn’t that be better? Sound like a plan? Anyway, back to the point…from the blog:
Perfection is an unattainable distraction.
So, says the piece, and I agree completely. Perfection, or as I’ve expanded it “the best” is useless as comment–dare I say boring too–and it’s certainly distracting as a measure of progress. The piece, Perfectionism is Killing Drumming Progress, is a good, quick read (unlike this one LOL), and a reminder to all of us–even those of us who should know better (guilty as charged)–that “perfection” is a goal that no one will ever achieve because ultimately, it’s relative, subjective, and therefore an always moving benchmark, so take what you think is “perfect” or “the best” and change it to something that inspires you to keep playing, keep practicing, but remember to measure your progress against what you were before not where you are against “perfect.” No one is perfect, and I bet Neil Peart didn’t even nail Tom Sawyer on his first take…
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