"How can one find his/her own characteristic style of playing?"
This is a question that especially young aspiring musicians, like me, tend to ask themselves a lot.
However, I believe that there is no specific answer to this question and therefore it's easy for someone to feel overwhelmed or lost during the proccess.
So, instead of me searching for my (so-called) own style, I decided to adopt a more practical approach recommended by the great drummer Tony Williams.
In his last interview1 at the downbeat magazine in 1997 Tony Williams said:
"I've studied all my musical life, but learning is only good if you do something constructive with it."
I decided that from now on, I will be spending a part of my daily practice on creating something, besides learning new things or improving the things I already know. It could be a drum groove, a sound, a song, a concept or even my own interpretation of an already-existing piece of music.
Additionaly, I would also like to share some points of view that occured while discussing with colleagues and teachers about this topic:
Your (musical) environment can play a definitive role in creating your own sound/style. Let's take the example of drummers Tony Williams and Elvin Jones. They both were solid and creative drummers. However, Miles Davis' Quintet and John Coltrane's Quartet were the vehicles that helped those drummers develop their styles and apply their ideas, thus creating a signature vocabulary and sound which made them recognizable.
- The huge amount of (musical) information, you get from internet and the social media, can also have negative effects on your creative proccess. It's easy to fall in the trap of copying or just catching up with the latest trends of drumming, instead of listening to your bandmates and yourself.
Listening to music constantly can make your creative/compositional proccess harder. In this quarantine, I spent almost all my days listening to music. While working on my research, while eating, while going for a walk in the park, while having a shower.. Then I would sit down to compose without results, because my mind would be full of music that I have been listening during the whole day. Therefore, I believe that giving a break to your ears and brain is equally important. When the craving for listening to music arrives, don't feed yourself with already-existing music. Just let yourseld imagine the sounds & music you would like to listen. Grab this chance to sing, play, compose, record!
I tried this out for myself.
In my case I wanted my comping to have these characteristics:
-it should give me a freedom to create and not just be a time-keeper
-it should enable me to play long notes on the drums (so that I don't need to play many notes to fill the space)
-it should be elegant and not get in the way of the other musicians
-but it should also allow me to sound more edgy and intense if I want to.
I thought that the use of the brushes allows me to play soft, long notes and sound elegant. However, the use of the sticks allowed my playing to stand out if I wanted to.
So, this idea occured to my head:
"Why not use a brush on one hand and a stick on the other hand so that I can enjoy the advantages of each sound, without having to swap from one to the other?"
After some experimentation I ended up recording this video using the drum-less album "Parker's Mood" by Roy Hargrove, Stephen Scott & Christian McBride:
- Last, Recording and Transcribing your own playing can give you a detailed insight to your playing so that you can can decide which elements you want to keep/improve and which ones you want to delete.
I transcribed my playing on the recording above: