The Paris Review

Drumset = You

In seemingly bland method books, drummers become writers—and their eccentricities shine through in remarkable ways.

Greg Gandy, Brett’s Drums, 2015, oil on canvas.

I’m a mostly untrained drummer. I’ve taken lessons for brief periods, but until recently I’d missed out on that most essential component of drum pedagogy: the method book. In my efforts to improve, I’ve been drawn to the introductions of these books, which feature efficient, often dull language—and in which, occasionally, the eccentricities of the authors shine through in remarkable ways. In the last few months, I’ve become obsessed with gleaning hints about drummers’ personalities from these books, far too many of which, perhaps unsurprisingly, have been written by men. Lost in the hinterland between art and technique, their introductions tend to exhibit grouchiness, pretension, narcissism, penury, New Age quirkiness, and sometimes even wisdom. What follows is a survey of some of the more striking entries.

Method books, intended to help you master a specific aspect of your musical craft, are usually flimsy pamphlets filled with exercises in musical notation. They’re aspirational texts, meant to be worried at and wrestled with, written in and dog-eared. Many are so frustratingly abstruse that they seem as though they weren’t made to be used at all. And like infomercials, some of them make outrageous claims; their titles alone can be a source of amusement. On my shelf I have , , (by the inimitable Joel Rothman, the author of more than a hundred drum method books), , and . Often the titles contain the word , which traditionally distinguishes between military-style parade drumming and contemporary rock and jazz playing. This distinction has been in place for almost a century, so it makes for an odd juxtaposition. At the same time, the term cozies up to a vision of the drummer’s future: some crowning moment after thousands of hours of dogged practice, in which, at last, the exercises are mastered and the drummer becomes truly “modern.” 

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