The Funny Faces of Drumming

The Funny Faces of Drumming


How many of us weekend and weeknight warriors work our behinds off playing the skins, only to have some fan tell us after a gig, “I loved your facial expressions”?
Hearing this one too many times myself, I decided to research the anomaly further by examining 30 celebrity drummers I admire the most.
What’s so strange and equally refreshing about the live performance facial images I compiled as a photo collage linked here from online postings at and various artists’ personal websites is they all share similar traits.
The extreme concentration exposed in these images is amazing.
But can we draw meaning from facial expressions as they relate to a solo or phrase drummers are playing?
According to a recent American Psychological Association (APA) web posting, Joseph Campos, PhD, of the University of California at Berkeley says, “there is profound agreement that the face, along with the voice, body posture and hand gestures, forecast to outside observers what people will do next.”
Does that same theory apply to drummers, who change facial expressions on a whim at that difficult phrase juncture in a solo, or when the arms and legs begin to burn from lack of oxygen?
Ever consider trying to look more presentable during a sneeze, or keeping a smiling face when lifting a very heavy object? Same applies to drumming, which is a very physical workout – like trying to play four-way independence at a 120-metronome tempo.
APA says, “the point of contention remains in whether the face also says something about a person’s internal state.”
The strange, deranged, obsessed, comical, intense, and peaceful faces of drumming all come back to one term in my mind: Joy, even if you blew that 32nd note fill you had been practicing for weeks. It’s still pure joy to sit behind a set of drums and play the best you can for minutes or hours on end. The truth is some parts of the brain are more focally recruited while we play drums.
I’d rather see squinty eyes, chaotic mouths, drools, sneering teeth, and back tonsils any day. The alternative is rather opaque to contemplate: Poker face, no smile, no raised eyebrows, no snarts, no emotion, no nothing. How very bland the drumming world would be without our theatrical expressions.
The more comfortable you are behind a drum kit, the more compelling and creative your playing will be. In my mind, facial expressions can enhance the experience for the listener and certainly reflect the concentration and emotion of the performer.

– TIM KANE is a professional writer and drummer of 30-plus years residing in Massachusetts.

Drummers are musicians, too

By Tim Kane

“Drummer discrimination”, as I like to call it, is on my mind this week, and not because I am the subject of it with the fellow “musicians” I now play with.

They all respect my ability and musicianship and likewise. I just see it around and hear about it from time to time and thought the topic would make an interesting discussion in the larger drumming community here.

Are drummers true musicians? Of course we are. But not every guitarist, bassist, horn player, or keyboardist feels the same. Why? Because some musicians falsely believe drums do not provide linear note values offering true melodic phrases and chords integral to the formation of songs.

Oh really? Look at what Mick Fleetwood did for song composition on the drums. They named the band after him. I have hacked around on guitar, trombone, and piano enough to know all instruments offer distinct voices in any given tune. Ever see a guitarist sit behind a set of drums and try to play a 4/4 rock beat in time with fills? Most can’t swing it. The same can be said for most drummers who try to strum guitar chords in a regular, clean pattern or play single note solos on the keys. Most can’t. My point is drummers are as much musicians as any instrument being played by someone.

Without drummers, there’s no structure to a song; no groove; no tempo; no accents; and no direction. Schooled drummers can sight read and understand note values. Those who can’t read, use their ears. I know a good many guitarists who have no idea what all the scales are, yet they play better than many who can run a Dorian minor in their sleep. Yes, drummers are musicians.

So what types of drummer discrimination do I see and hear about out there. I have bulleted some examples below, but I am sure there are plenty more to rant about:

• Sets up and breaks down his or her drum gear with no offer of help from other musicians; yet drummers are first to help hauling heavy amps and monitors.

• not treated with equal say in song and set selection.

• not listened to on stage when the band debates changing up the set and what tune to insert.

• Not paid the same.

• Not allowed to count off the tempo for songs

• Not given any respect when song composition is deliberated. “Hey, I have a cool idea for a bridge.” Then, you get two heads looking at you.

• Not spoken to during set breaks.

• Told you “banged” well tonight after the gig.

• Not applauded after a great solo.

I have so many more examples. If anyone in the drumming community is reading this, please offer your own pet peeves.

Drummers are musicians.


– Tim Kane is a professional writer, editor and drummer for more than 30 years.

Applying more ‘Rubato’ (vs. ‘Mr. Roboto’) to the drum set  

By Tim Kane

STURBRIDGE, MA- Drummers are first and foremost timekeepers, plain and simple. That is our core mission. But we are also the gateway to a band’s inner time machine. Like the planet we live on, time fluctuates.

 When playing live with other musicians, there is an unwritten ebb and flow of tempo to keep in mind. It’s called “feel.” Play with your ears, first, and then your eyes. That’s what my drum teacher always taught me. But how do you know when to play looser interpretations of time and when to be a metronome (which was first used by Beethoven, by the way)? Not an easy question to answer. Time tends to advance and retract from the initial beats per minute you lay down during certain segments of a song – unless that tune actually calls for tempo changes.

 Understanding basic classical music terminology governing time signatures and tempo is helpful – even in rock genres. In any original or cover song composition, there are several main tempo ingredients we knowingly and unknowingly follow, including: Allegro (fast), Adagio (slow), Ritardando (slowing of tempo), and Accelerando (quickening of tempo). There are all sorts of variations within these broad terms, but you get the point.

 The most important tempo term – and the one most appropriate for contemporary live music – is “Rubato,” or the free adjustment of tempo for expressive purposes.

 Most of us live within this expressive shaping of music that is a part of phrasing, which is further defined by the spaces between each note we play  – otherwise known as subdivisions. Where drummers tend to experience time fluctuations in a song can be both apparent and elusive. Solos and section transitions tend to inherently lend themselves to tempo rate changes.  That does not mean the song’s time signature actually changes, though. While guitar and piano melodies can be flexible with tempo, accompaniment by drums and bass never radically departs from the original meter. The rhythm section must keep the regular pulse (yet not rigidly in mechanical fashion) and adjust to pace changes.

 Regardless of incidental time changes as they relate to the nuances of playing live, the song must return to its original rate at some point.  And the onus squarely falls upon drummers to reel everything back in.

 There are a few tricks of the trade to re-set a tempo during a song, if the need arises. Cracking your snare hard on the first beat of a measure is one good way to send a message. Closing the hi-hat on downbeats is also a great tool in keeping solid time, so get solid with your footwork on it. If your other three limbs are playing more “feel” during a particular point in a song, the musicians around you tend to key in on the security of the hi-hat. Brief stops can provide that brief non-musical interlude that makes everyone think about coming back in together. And if all else fails, simplify your drum parts to the point of awkwardness and count aloud.

 The best way for you to experiment with time and apply more Rubato to the drum set is by practicing along to a metronome or online click track, particularly at slower tempos that are more challenging to control. Work fills into your beats and have fun with the fluctuations.


– Tim Kane is a professional writer and drummer of 30-plus years.