Use It or Lose It

One of my drum kits illustrating the “less is more” theory

Let me preface this post by stating it is only my opinion. Feel free to disagree in the comments below. I would love to hear your counterpoints. Today I participated in a spirited discussion on Facebook about the size of drum sets and how they are used. One statement that was agreed upon was that every drummer’s preference differed according to their requirements and taste. If one is doing a jazz gig they don’t need the same number of drums as a metal drummer. That is common sense. I take that concept a step further as I have always been a proponent of “less is more.” This alleviates the issue of excess pieces that are not used. Not only does this help minimize the need to haul extra gear, it also prevents distractions.

Some drummers ardently debated that having more options opens up more creativity. This can be true. I countered with the notion that working with less can also spark creativity. Some argued that larger drum sets looked better and made the drummer stand out on stage. I argued that using a particular set-up based on aesthetics versus practicality can be a mistake. In my opinion it is always more important to sound good before looking good. I know of drummers that set-up their gear and then stand back to gage how it looks. They then tweak their drum set until they like what the audience will see. This can lead to an uncomfortable set-up that does not benefit the drummer at all. In that case they are more concerned with appearances and not how they will respond as they play. Higher cymbals can look cool but does the drummer really want to reach that high? This requires more stretching and effort. It can promote fatigue. What about sitting excessively high to be seen better? This can result in poor ergonomics which can be painful both during and after the gig.

Here are some negative issues with using large kits. You must ask yourself “Is it worth it?”

  • Much longer load-in, set-up, tear-down, load-out time for gigs
  • Tuning can be a nightmare (matching double kicks, lots of toms)
  • Sometimes too many options can be confusing, not helpful
  • Being accustomed to a large kit can reduce creativity on a small kit
  • Finding transportation for this many drum cases can be difficult
  • Sound techs may not have the necessary number of mics

Here are some positive benefits of using smaller kits with the bare necessities:

  • Significantly faster load-in, set-up, tear-down, load-out time
  • Drummers will respect you more for creativity on a small kit
  • Great for venues that do not have lots of mics or stage space
  • Sound techs will love you for simplifying their job
  • They force creativity (which can be a pro or a con)

Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of drummers out there with excessive drum sets that justify them. Players like Carter Bueford come to mind. I’m speaking about those players that surround themselves with equipment that they never use. In the 1980’s during the hair metal period many drummers encircled themselves with 360-degree drum sets. Most of the time, this was done more for their visual impact than practicality. During this time drum manufactures sold large drum sets to the public. Many consumers emulated their heroes by purchasing drum sets that mimicked what they had. Often this was done regardless of their needs. Using what is required to accomplish a particular style of music makes more sense.

There is one aspect of my theory that has exceptions. What if a drummer plays or records different kinds of music necessitating the need for excess drums in their arsenal? This makes perfect sense. My comments are based on using them all at once for the wrong reasons. Billy Crystal used to do a skit on Saturday Night Live in which his catch-phrase was “It is better to look good than to feel good.” That doesn’t work for me when it comes to drums.

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Filed under Drums and Drumming

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