Spotlight On Metal Drummer Jenn Grunigen

Jenn Grunigen_ Tom Tom Magazine_ female drummer

TEN TIPS FOR BEING A METAL DRUMMER

Overall, the goal is to be a drummer.  An artist.  Sure, there’s certain techniques pertinent to metal drumming (some of which are covered below), but as long as you practice the craft with a sensitive ear, the metal bit will come.

1.  Protect your ears.

I’ve heard the excuses.  And I understand.  But there’s a reason metal is often paired with the word loud.  And if you like listening to music now, you’ll probably want to listen to it twenty years down the road.  If this isn’t a concern, then by all means, kill your ears.  Otherwise, get yourself a pair of earplugs or over-the-ear protection.  Better yet, get both, and when you aren’t just jamming out, fit the muffs over a set of earbuds to practice to music or a metronome.

2.  Be versatile.

Metal is a many-headed creature and can only be mastered by practicing everything you possibly can.  Learn your rudiments, practice limb-independence (foot ostinatos, linear beats, etc), different time signatures and genres—maybe even branch out into mallet and hand percussion, if you can.  Keep your sonic life varied and challenging to become a deeper, stronger player.  Bolster your overall musicianship and—inevitably—you’ll become a better metal drummer.

3.  Don’t be loud.

Amendment: don’t only be loud.  This harkens back to step two (be versatile): it’s all about playing musically.  Rimshots are cool—so are ghost notes.  Practice blast beats at piano, practice them at fortissimo. Because here’s the thing: metal has a lot to with intensity—if you play at one volume setting only, you’ve basically murdered your power.  Also, your bandmates might like to hear something more than your drums.  Like themselves.

4.  Practice with a metronome and a clock.

As a drummer, a time-keeper, precision is everything—especially if you’re playing, say, technical death or math metal.  Playing to a metronome will keep you honest and consistent.  There are some genres of metal where you can get away with being sloppy, others absolutely not.  The goal is to be a better musician.  When a song calls for sloppiness, sure—play sloppy.  Otherwise, don’t.

To hone your precision, or if there’s a beat you just can’t get, slow it down (way down) and set your click.  Gradually up your speed, forcing yourself to repeat the beat ad nauseum for extended periods of time—use a clock for this last bit.  Aim for at least a minute at each bpm setting, but basically keep going until you can play the groove comfortably, and recite Hamlet—backwards, all at the same time.

5.  Practice blast beats and double kick until you’re sick.

And then practice a little more.  Stop only when your hands and feet have fallen off.

Blast beats basically sound like machinegun fire.  There’s tons to learn—just consult youtube; with a little (a lot) of practice, you should be good to go.  As for double kick, to start, just practice a single stroke roll on your feet at a very gradual accelerando.  Push yourself faster each time you play it.  Learn to play everything that you play with your hands (rudiments, snare solos, etc) on your feet.  And of course, always, always practice everything to a metronome.  Start slow, sixteenth notes at 80 bpm (or slower, if you need), look at your clock and play for a minute, kick it up ten clicks, play for another minute (and so on and so forth).

6.  Play with other people.

Playing metal by yourself is fun.  Playing metal with other people is better, and it’s the best way to understand yourself as a musician—your weaknesses, strengths.  Also, though metal is great through a good set of speakers (or headphones), it’s best when it’s live, raw and thrashing.

7.  Listen to everything.

To me, metal is more vibrant and diverse than any other genre today.  Each kind has its staple beats.  Learn these, learn them well, and then go and devour everything else.  Simply put?  Listen to jazz.  Listen to rap.  Listen to cybergrind.  Listen to everything, and then learn how to play it—know your instrument beyond the genre.

And another thing: don’t limit yourself to music.  Listen to the world—natural and manmade.  Craft your own beats inspired by leaky faucets, thunder, calving glaciers—whatever sounds feel significant to you.  Because as a drummer, anything and everything are your instruments.

8.  Practice good technique.

This, of course, is tricky, because there are many techniques—all (well, most) of which have their time and place.  There’s the Moeller method, heel-toe technique, traditional vs. matched grip, etc, etc.  So, learn as many as you can, find what works for you and grow.

9.  Sync up your mind and body.

Drumming can be rough on you, metal especially.  You play harder and faster in this genre more than any other.  Condition yourself with this in mind—strength-train, stretch, run, climb mountains; just make yourself stronger and faster.  But don’t forget that drumming—metal drumming, too, no matter what some might tell you—is more about mind-power than brawn.  Practices such as yoga and meditation can be extremely helpful.  If nothing else, sit up straight.  Breathe.

10. Drum.

Seriously.  There are no excuses.  If you live in an apartment, get two practice pads—one for your sticks, one for your pedals. Or rent a storage unit.  If you have no time, make time.  Or multitask (as a drummer, you should practice this anyway): practice polyrhythms on the toilet, double drag taps on your keyboard.  Or don’t sleep.  The point is, there’s no excuse good enough to excuse drum-neglect.  If you want to drum, you will drum.

Also, when you sit down to play, forget all these rules.  Sure, practice them till you have rhythm in your bones instead of marrow.  But metal is feral.  And when you play, you should be wild.  Be musical and drum unleashed.

Jenn’s website:  www.jenngrunigen.com

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