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Why you shouldn't think of music as linear

As percussionists, we like to play everything cleanly and define it clearly. We like to think in linear patterns with a starting and ending point. For example: pianissimo you play at its quietest, at fortisissimo you play at its loudest. In between you can draw a straight, ascending line on which you could place all other dynamic levels. Drummers in drum corps even define a stick height for each dynamic level. On forte, for example, you play with a stick height of 9". This all seems very convenient, but you can become much more musical if you don't look at it in such a linear way. In this blog I will explain how.

First, back to why you can increase your musicality if you stop thinking about music in a linear way. Music is about experiencing, perceiving and feeling. What you experience, perceive and feel as a musician defines your value in musicianship. And on the other hand, what a listener experiences, perceives and feels defines their value to the music. And feelings or experiences do not work in a linear fashion. I've never been able to describe myself as being at my happiest. For me, happiness has no limit. Neither does my dynamic level, tempo or timbre. What matters here is intensity, relativity and context.

There is no such thing as 'just' playing mezzo-forte. You play mezzoforte with a certain intensity, which is relative to that which dynamic level you applied before and which follows. You play a mezzoforte that fits the context in which you play that mezzoforte. After all, a mezzoforte beat on a concert drum will feel very different than on a high-tension drum.

"What matters here is intensity, relativity and context."

Forget a clear starting and ending point

But the fact that you shouldn't think of music as linear, with a clear beginning and end point doesn't just apply to dynamic levels. It applies just as much to composition, tempo, timbre, ensemble, timing and rhythm. Yes, your composition may begin somewhere and it undoubtedly has an ending, but change the context in which the composition is performed and a whole new experience emerges. Change the intensity with which the composition is recited and the beginning and the ending will not be the same in any respect. And the final piece of the composition, to what extent is that really the final piece of the composition when the composition is brought back into a different context and played again a few days later. How does that affect the experience of the musician and how does that affect the experience of the listeners?

If you think too much in terms of a beginning and an end point, you will never experience the true music. This applies to both the musician and the listeners. If you define a performance of a composition by the beginning and the end of the composition, then after the performance you often have a good or a bad feeling: the performance went well or the performance didn't go quite as you would have liked. You look back at only a fraction of the time when you made the music come alive, but you leave out all those times when you could have made the music come alive again. While that very awareness that you make music come alive, that you experience it, practice it, live it through should be paramount. Also for tempo, timbre or timing, thinking in terms of a beginning and an end with a linear relationship is a limitation. In music there is always more.

The key: paying attention to intensity, relativity, and context

The key is to turn on your sense of intensity: feel, experience and consciously let each note come out in a beautiful blend with what is happening around you. Engage in the "now," keep an eye on what's coming next, and keep in mind what has just happened. That's what I mean by relativity. And take into account and enjoy the context in which music is brought to life. A rehearsal is different again from a concert in a big hall, and a living room concert is different from all those hours of individual practice. So forget 'at its lightest' or 'most vigorously' and focus on intensity, relativity and the context. Only then will you truly experience, feel and breathe music.

"In music there is always more."

While practicing you also want to achieve the real experience of music. As drummers, this is sometimes difficult because of the high volume of our drums. Our RD Pads give you the complete and most realistic experience of drumming, but without the high volume. Check out our RD Pads in the shop.


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