How to Think Like a Drummer

Top tips for drummers who play on worship teams.

You can learn every kick pattern and cymbal crash, but music should and always will be an art. 

Here are my tops tips for what it takes to go from drumming to being a drummer, tailored to a worship setting.

Play to the Room

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. 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, 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; 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.


Ever notice how you can practice along with an album and it sounds amazing but when you play it with the band it just feels flat? These moments call for making changes and depending on the song, you may need to do some math.

When you practice with a record it can feel huge because there are so many other parts creating textures. Strip it down to a live band and you notice you need to create some filler. Maybe there was a loop subtley moving in the background or maybe some synth part kept things rolling with an arpeggiator. As drummers, we need to hear the song as it is.

There are a few things I like to add into the mix when things are sounding less than full. To create movement, a tight hat with 16th notes or a shaker can fill in where a much more complicated drum loop was. Some ghost notes on the snare can also lift dynamic. Maybe a crushed hat instead of a ride? It might even be adding a groove where there isn't one to help carry the song like I did on It Is Well. The key is to not complicate it so much that you fall out of the pocket.


Other times the album has too much going on. If you are down to a 3 piece, it may be beneficial to back off. Simplify that kick pattern, drop into a lower dynamic tom groove so you have room to go up. If you can't create a wall of sound, it's best to try and create something that just sounds good on it's own. 


It's all about using your ears. Don't get so set on something just because "that's how it is on the record". A little addition or subtraction can go a long way in creating an arrangement that carries a song. Think like a drummer.

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

Login to post comments


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!