As drummers, we're often drawn into the desire to play fast. We've seen drummers put on amazing displays of speed, endurance and athleticism behind the kit. It's impressive and quite an experience to watch. However, the need for speed can also be a hindrance.
The late, great Tony Williams said, "Playing fast ... is one thing ... To play with people for others to listen to — that's a whole other world."
We asked our experienced Facebook followers to rate the following from most important to least important in regards to drumming:
- Playing Musically
Not one participant rated speed as most important on the list. In fact, in every response, save one, speed was rated as the least important of all. Groove/feel proved to be regarded as the most important aspect on the list with Timing and Playing Musically coming in a close second and third.
Take a moment to think about and pick for yourself what you believe to be the most important on the list. If you could master only one, which would it be?
So, how fast is fast enough? To help answer this question, we charted the BPMs for the top 50, most played songs on Spotify according to an article written by Matt Daniels. The average of all of the BPMs was just over 107. Eighty percent of the songs were 125 BPM or below. The fastest 20% of the songs ranged from 128 to 160 with a single outlier of 200 BPM.
Using this information, it's safe to say that if you can play sixteenth notes along with a metronome set to 125 BPM, you're fast enough to play a lot of songs — probably more songs than you'll ever have time to learn (pun intended). Focusing your practice routine on Groove/feel, keeping solid timing and playing musically instead will make you a much better drummer in most situations than if you were to put that same effort into gaining an extra 35 BPM in speed.
Many of us, if we're being honest with ourselves, nod our heads in agreement with Williams' words about playing fast vs. playing musically. However, the appeal of being able to perform an amazing, fast drum solo remains strong in us. I encourage you to focus on the more important aspects of playing the drums. Bogging yourself down with worrying about speed will actually slow your overall progress in the areas that count the most.
I'll leave you with one more quote. I sat down with Paul Koehler, drummer for Silverstein, and asked for his thoughts regarding the subject. He was to-the-point:
"I know a lot of dudes that can rip an awesome solo but can't play with other musicians. - Paul Koehler"
The next time you encounter a gimmicky, "Secrets to Playing Fast" product (or similar), don't let yourself get caught up in the hype. You're probably already fast enough for now. First, practice what the experienced pros say makes a drummer great.