How To Think Like A Drummer

Part 1: Playing To The Room

You can learn every kick pattern and cymbal crash, but music should and always will be an art. In this series we are talking about what it takes to go from drumming to being a drummer.

I had a friend who used to play at a church in New Jersey and there was a drummer there that always cracked him up. The guy would get so into the music that he would hoot and holler while he was playing. It was never really an issue when the church had acoustic drums, but during his tenure the church transitioned to an electronic kit to help keep the overall volume down. Well, you can take the drummer out of party, but you can't take the party out of the drummer. With his volume cranked in his headphones he would pepper the various songs with well-placed "Yeah's" and "Woooo's". Everyone loved him for it, but it was pretty funny to listen to on stage.

Leaving The Stadium

Sure we all close our eyes and we're playing Madison Square Garden, but in all reality most of us aren't playing stadiums or arenas on Sunday mornings. Playing to the size of the room  is a necessary skill for a drummer to have and the "I can't play well if I'm not hitting the drums as hard as I possibly can" excuse is exactly that: an excuse.

The 'I can't play well if I'm not hitting the drums as hard as I possibly can' excuse is exactly that: an excuse.

Look at it as a challenge and watch your attitude shift. Playing to the room isn't just about volume, though. Sometimes it affects our grooves as well. Busy grooves can be overwhelming in a loud space, especially in an up-tempo song. When I'm playing smaller venues I'll often simplify my 16th note hi-hat grooves down to 8th notes. It helps me slow down and concentrate on playing softer and in the pocket. You can also use the different sticks you have in your bag. Invest in a good set of brushes and hot rods if that's what would better fit your environment. It's a lot easier to adjust your style than it is to remodel a venue so do what you can to make your music sound the best it can wherever it's played.


It's important to be technically profiicient, but at the end of the day we have to be artists. Learning how to think is just as important as what you play. Take a moment this week to take in your surroundings. How does it affect the way you play?


Josh Ward is a versatile drummer of 18 years and heavily involved with the worship team at Marcus Pointe Baptist Church in Pensacola, FL. He is a husband to Rosie, dad to Amos and drum instructor for

How To Think Like A Drummer

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Playing to the Room

Very nice post. You bring up some great points. As an engineer, I offer couple of thoughts of my own....

1. Some of the punchy-est drummers I ever worked with didn't hit hard. Stick speed coming OFF the head has much to do with the sonic impact of the drums. I would suggest developing the technique of making it "pop"...not to crush the heads.
2. Play less. (as you suggest above) Allowing space creates punch and impact. As you allow more room for your bandmates to be heard, the group as a whole will find their moments and tone. Which leads me to....
3. Try an experiment. I learned this trick from a renowned producer. Have the entire band sit around the kit and run the arrangement "unplugged." Work out your parts while everyone is playing acoustically in the space. You'll be forced to play to the space...all the while listening more intently to your bandmates and what THEY are playing. You can then tailor your performance to better match theirs. In other words...don't be in a big hurry to pop in the in-ears.
4. Be mindful of your hi-hat volume. Please. :o)
5. Front of house'll never be able to get the drums lower in the mix than the softest he/she plays. Mix the band to the acoustic energy of the drummer in the room...adding some close mics as necessary to add detail.

My 2 cents.


Hey Eric! Dude these are some killer pointers! I especially love the idea of working out your parts acoustically around the kit before "lighting it up" and making everyone listen critically to what is going on around them. Have a blessed day brother!!

I think your pointers are worth at least 50 cents!