Today I would like to discuss the theory of ‘less is more’ in drumming. This includes playing less as well as using fewer drums. Although these characteristics go together they can also be mutually exclusive. There are plenty of drummers out there who rely on a solid pocket as opposed to Gospel Chops. Many of them play a standard size or larger kit. Similarly, there are plenty of drummers out there who can shred for days on smaller drum sets. The notion of getting back to the basics can influence these approaches but it can be more complicated than that. In fact, it’s not always what you play that matters but rather what you don’t play that can set you apart.
Let’s look at two drummers who intentionally play less. This includes some of the greats like Phil Rudd and Charlie Watts. Each one of these players serves the song. They are musicians first who understand the role of their instrument in the overall scheme. Every beat they play fits within the structure of the composition and they waste no energy. Both drummers have had amazing careers and played on countless classic songs, songs that would not be the same if you swapped them out for another drummer. Their signature style has put a distinctive stamp on each one.
Fans and noteworthy drummers alike have praised Phil Rudd’s playing for years. Many have referred to him as THE quintessential rock drummer and stated that his feel was the heart and soul of AC/DC. It has also been said that no Rolling Stones song ever starts until Charlie Watts says so. These drummers brilliantly personify the theory of less is more. Rudd’s performance on AC/DC’s classic ‘Back in Black’ album is some of the greatest groove playing ever recorded. Watts provided an equally epic performance on the Rolling Stone’s album ‘ Let It Bleed.’
In regards to using fewer drums, two players that stand out in my mind are Daru Jones (currently touring with Jack White) and my friend Garrett Goodwin (Carrie Underwood). These players personify the notion of providing a big sound with smaller kits. Daru generally plays a 3-piece, sometimes with a couple toms off to the side, and Garrett plays a four piece. Both drummers curiously slant their drums away from them adding to their originality. They are timekeepers who play what is necessary not what is extravagant. There is no ego influence here. They serve the song, every time.
It is my belief that creativity can be pushed by having fewer distractions and fewer choices. Just as an artist must modify his approach when painting with fewer colors so must a drummer who is presenting ‘musical art’ to an audience. This streamline approach forces the drummer to rely heavily on the pocket and jam only when it fits within the confines of the song. Both of these guys are monster players and their decision to use a minimalistic kit speaks volumes about their confidence and character. They serve the artist and consistently prove that less is definitely more.