Why do you play drums?
Oh, so many reasons abound! For some, drumming is a means to an end. You may be an aspiring professional drummer. Your goal may be to play in a band, making a career out of it. Many are heavily influenced from childhood, admiring their favorite drummer from afar. Eventually, the admirer dreamt of playing behind their band mates, while thousands of fans air drum to their playing. All the while, you’re thinking that you were once the air drummer in the audience, but now, the drummer is you.
But the dream may not be that far out. Perhaps playing in a local band gives you all the satisfaction you're after, playing covers of your favorite bands, or covering just one band. You might even throw in the occasional original song for good measure.
For others, and maybe the majority, drumming isn’t a means to an end, it is an end. Many play purely for the enjoyment of playing, whether they’re in a band or not. How many of us haven’t strapped on some headphones and played to our favorite drumming songs (much to the chagrin of our neighbors, perhaps!)? And yes, we were awful. But we didn’t care. We were having too much fun. When we had the chance, we got together with our music friends and jammed. Again, not all of it sounded good, but man was it fun.
It was fun at first to just play at all, but you feel the itch to progress at some point. If you stay at the same level of play, it starts to become ‘not fun’, and you may even get bored. That’s true of any instrument, and actually, any skill or activity for that matter. So, be it right at the beginning or after we’ve started, we endeavor (or, our caretakers endeavor for us) to improve our playing via some sort of instruction. This can take many forms, such as:
- drum lessons with a teacher
- DVD instructional video
- entire courses
- specialized, focused instruction
- online instruction
From the above, a student could combine several methods and tailor them to their needs (or personal preferences). For example, some may prefer the one-on-one method of student to teacher, and actually, most may say that this is the best method of learning. One of the main advantages of the in-person teacher-student method is that you get immediate feedback. Your instructor can right away watch you play, correct bad tendencies, encourage good technique, and basically tailor the lessons based on your skills and preferences in music. This method may be costly, though: in many cases well over $1,000/yr!
Others may opt for self-teaching methods. Whole drum instruction courses are available to help the absolute beginner establish a solid foundation of skills and techniques, and you never have to leave your home. Many just prefer to do it on their own, and although not the case in yesteryear, an aspiring drummer can teach themselves with these courses, and if followed through thoroughly, the student can play reasonably well within a relatively short period of time. A couple of good courses available are:
There really isn’t a ‘one drum course fits all’ program, but the above cover a lot of what beginners, and even intermediate drummers, need to improve their drumming skills. The fact that you can follow the instruction during your own time, at your own pace, and that they are very inexpensive compared to personal one-on-one teaching ($200-$300 total, and even less than that at times) is appealing to many students.
Online drum instruction has proliferated as well, and there’s a surprising amount of free lessons that, if the student has enough discipline to organize all of that content, they could get the necessary skills for basic drumming technique. FreeDrumLessons.com is a fantastic resource to that end.
Hybrids of the above also exist, where a form of online plus personalized instruction gives students some of the best components of each method. Mike Johnston of MikesLessons.com has set up his web site and drumming instruction in a way that permits drummers to benefit from beginner, intermediate, and advanced lessons regardless of where you are in the world. TheParadiddler.com interviewed Mike and he goes over all the details of how his instruction works – it may be just for you.
And even on top of all the above, enthusiastic students may combine many aspects of the aforementioned to really receive multi-sourced instruction, so no matter what their situation, their needs are covered.
But there’s another method of instruction that I feel is just as important as any of the above, and should be incorporated in whatever you do, whether you’re practicing, playing in the garage with your band mates, or playing live. To tie it all together, recording yourself playing is essential. (For the purpose of this discussion, ‘recording’ means using a camcorder to watch your playing afterwards.)
Whatever method of instruction you choose, watching yourself play afterwards not only can expose your faults so you know what to correct, but you’ll also gain a level of satisfaction when you play correctly and look good doing so! Also, building up a library of videos serves as a progressive catalog, where you can watch yourself, well, progress, to levels you may not have been privy to had you not recorded yourself.
I submit myself as a prime example. Mind you, I have a long way to go as far as getting to a level that I’m satisfied with. In fact, I may never get there (it’s about the journey, not the destination!). Nevertheless, if I hadn’t been recording myself, I may never have known where I was, or where I was going.
I had many problems when I was starting out. Let’s take, for example, the first time I ever recorded myself playing. It was a drum cover of Tool’s “Crawl Away”. Mind you, I didn’t do the song justice (who knows, maybe I’ll re-record it someday). It’s a good example of why, in addition to whatever method you use to learn to play, recording yourself is essential.
While playing, you’re not necessarily aware of your mistakes until you see them afterwards. While playing, I thought I was doing just fine! But when I looked back at it, I was exposed. For one, I played in a very reserved way – not wanting to hit anything hard, with authority (“The Thing About the Neighbors” explains why). Since the headphones I was using were ‘open ear’, the noise of the drums interfered with the song I was hearing, so I played out of sync many times. I was out of sync in so many places that I couldn’t correct it when I did the mixing afterwards (more on that later).
And it wasn’t only the playing – my recording technique wasn’t so hot either. For one, since I didn’t really have a handle on lighting, the resolution ended up a little grainy. And as far as the sound goes, I was depending solely on the camcorder’s microphone. Although it was not bad, due to the camera’s position relative to the kit the part of the kit closer to the camcorder was slightly disproportionately louder than the part farther away.
Now, if I had not recorded myself, and I just played to the song, I would not have noticed any of these things, at least not so quickly. I got immediate feedback from my video, and I knew what adjustments I needed to make. Even if the adjustments were difficult, at least I could focus on them because I could see them, hence they could be corrected sooner.
Fast forward several months later, and now I’m playing to Van Halen’s "Girl Gone Bad". Again, although not perfect, to me it’s a way better performance than the first video. Now I’m using Vic Firth isolation headphones. This drastically reduces the noise from the drums, while allowing you to raise the volume of the music to a point where you can hear it without blasting it over the noise of the drums. This subsequently allows you to hear the music well enough to play in sync with the song. Also, I’m hitting those drums and cymbals much harder than before, which is required especially for a song played by Alex Van Halen! Although not very bright, the lighting is sufficient so the video is less grainy than previously, which allows the camcorder to record the video better. The camcorder is positioned in front of the drum set, which allows for a more even sound distribution regardless of which part of the kit I’m hitting. Even the video editing is better, with a title, and fades in and out included. Again, these are things I may not have noticed without recording myself, or at least it would have taken much longer to notice.
So in addition to helping you improve your playing, recording on a regular basis teaches you how to make better videos, as far as getting to know your camcorder and video editing software. As time goes on, it allows you to get creative as far as special effects, and possibly using multiple camera angles even with one camera (for some examples of this, see my drum cover of Rush’s “Double Agent”). Increasing the quality of your playing and video creation and editing will allow you to give a more polished presentation of yourself, in case you ever were to submit your playing, say, to a contest, or as an audition to join a band.
So really, then, what is required to make quality recordings of your playing? As a minimum, you need the camcorder, the video editing software, and, of course, the drums! Actually, there’s a fourth item needed, if you really want people to see you: a publishing platform, such as YouTube. Although there are several of these platforms, my focus remains on YouTube, since it’s by far the most popular platform for publishing your videos.
I have to pause for a bit to explain the audience for this article (and subsequent articles). There are extremes to the spectrum of video recording, or more specifically, recording your drumming sessions. At one end, you have setups where there are multiple cameras for multiple simultaneous angles. Also, microphones for every part of the drum set are in place to be able to control how each piece will sound in the final cut. Complex mixing consoles and mixing software, both for the audio and video, ensure a professional final product. As an example, check out Railroad Media’s Jared Falk covering the song “I’m Sorry”.
But most likely, many are at the other extreme. Many who have drums at home and play for fun, or are taking lessons and the like, may want to record themselves play and possibly later post their video on YouTube. They have their camcorder, and maybe the only video editing software they have is Windows Movie Maker. I’ve seen some of these videos, and I see that many leave much to be desired! The sound of the drums are very bad, or the video looks way too grainy, or the video’s out of sync with the audio, strange camera angles, etc.
As I’ve noted previously, my videos haven’t always been great, but with practice over time, whatever improvements I’ve made I’ve attributed to insistence in practice, both in drumming and recording. Now I’d like to present to you how to do it.
Up until this point, almost all of my videos have been made using the Canon FS100 camcorder, and edited with Windows Movie Maker software (Windows Vista version, although to my understanding this version is similar to the ones found in previous Windows operating systems). Yes, there are better camcorders, and also ‘yes’, there are better video editing software programs. But there are at least two reasons why you should start at ‘the bottom’ when recording your drum covers.
One, it may be all that you have, or can afford! Many who have Microsoft Windows already have Movie Maker on their computer, so might as well make use of what you have. And as long as you have a camcorder where you can copy your videos to the computer, you already have what you need to create your drumming videos. By the way, it is recommended that the video file format for importing into Movie Maker be .avi or .mpg.
Two, Movie Maker is simple enough to teach you the basics of creating your own drumming videos. Over time, you’ll get better at recording, and then editing your videos. With this comes the understanding of what features you’ll need that Movie Maker does not have, and if you decide to upgrade to a full-blown video editing program, you’ll know what to look for.
Of course, you can forgo all of the above and have someone else do all of the recording and editing for you. Maybe a relative could do it for you, but you may not have complete control over the final product. You could pay someone, but the ‘problem’ with that is, well, you have to pay them! And that brings up yet a third reason why should do it yourself, at least at the beginning.
Once you get comfortable with recording and editing your own drum covers, be it using Movie Maker or more sophisticated software, when in fact you do decide to have someone else help you out, you’ll know exactly what to communicate as far as what your end product should look like. You’ll be able to talk about lighting, mixing, editing, final production, etc. Since you’ve been doing it on your own for a while, you’ll be able to have intelligent conversations with those who will be doing the actual editing as far as what you’re looking for.
So, the question is, would you like your videos to stand out from the crowd? To that end, TheParadiddler.com will be posting a few articles to assist you. With just a little effort, you’ll be making quality videos with just your camcorder and Windows Movie Maker, which will be the focus of the articles.
The main focus of the series will be how to record drum covers, but really you could transfer what you learn to recording other subjects as well. Some of the topics that will be covered include:
- Song selection
- Audio quality
- Preparing your drums
- About your camcorder
- Video editing
- Cutting & merging
- Audio & video synchronization
- Volume adjustment
- and much more!
The goal of this information is to get you motivated to record your drum covers, and be proud of the final result. You’ll see that you really don’t need expensive gear to come up with a quality recording – you may already have what you need! So let’s get started.