Top 10 Tips for Competing in a Drum Contest

By Lindsay Artkop, winner of the 2015 Hit Like A Girl contest

1. Be Yourself
If you go into a contest playing what you think the audience or judges will want to hear, chances are you won’t play your best. Doing what you love will always serve you better, and it’s actually much easier! Trying to emulate someone else will only allow you to be second best.

2. Look at past entries
Looking at video recordings of past entrants will help you see what other contestants have done in the past. It’s important to learn from them in order to see what works, and also not make the same mistakes they did. There’s no need to completely reinvent the wheel. A small piece or concept of someone else’s solo can be an inspiration or starting point for you to work off of when creating your own.

3. Consider what the judges are looking for
Drumming contests usually have outlines that reveal how the judges will score your performance. It might take some sifting through their website, but some kind of description should be there. The scoring sheet may include things like chops, creativity, musicality, entertainment and originality. Tailoring your solo around those points will ensure that you have a good chance of scoring in each area.

4. Be entertaining!
Whether you’re on a gig or entering a drumming contest, judges and audiences are not just listening, they’re looking at you too. Although the music should always be priority, it’s necessary to entertain as well. Everyone has their own style, but this could include elements like stick twirling, body movements or facial expressions. As unnatural as it may seem, these things usually need to be rehearsed. Don’t let yourself wing it, and then be disappointed later. Record yourself or set a mirror in front of you so that you can see what’s really happening. From there you can start to develop your entertainment style.

5. Develop your solo
As a general rule, a solo should build in intensity. Dynamics and tempo largely contribute to how a solo is built up. If you start your solo by sitting down at the throne and busting out a fast and loud double bass groove, you have absolutely no where to go. It’s like saying the punch line before you start a joke. By starting with a soft entrance, the bar of intensity is set at a relatively calm place. This means you have plenty of room to grow and build! Let your solo tell a story by creating tension and release. This keeps a listener intrigued and the solo cohesive. If elements such as dynamics and musical phrasing are placed correctly, these concept can can allow a blaring double bass groove or wicked fast and loud singles sound like a grand finale instead of abrupt noise.

6. If you fail, keep trying
The majority of musicians that win contests are ones that are not only great players, but have a lot of experience with competitions. It’s no secret that the best drummer doesn’t always win. Half the battle of winning a contest is to figure out what exactly the judges are looking for. The best way to learn that is through experience. Keep on entering and keep on trying new ideas. Failing is great, because you’ll come out knowing what you need to work on. The only way you’ll ever win a drumming contest is by entering. There’s nothing to lose, and a lot of lessons to be learned whether you win or not. The best part about these contests are the people you get to meet along the way that have similar interests and passions.

7. Transitions should be smooth
Chances are that you want to include several or more different ideas in your solo. This is doable, but the transitions need to be smooth in order to make it work. If you go from one idea to the next without a transition, it can be jarring.  One way to transition is to gradually and dramatically decrease your speed when ending a section. This signals that something is changing, which means something new is probably to come. End the gradual decrease in speed with a roll of some sort to totally reset the tempo. Be careful not to pause too long, or else it could sound like the end of your solo. No matter what type of transition fits your ideas best, remember it needs to be clear.

8. Practice performing your solo in front of people
Practicing alone in your basement is one thing, but playing in front of a lot of people can introduce many new challenges. It’s good to practice in front of an audience to get over any nerves that can possibly alter your performance. The more you play in front of people, the less you have to worry about stage anxieties.

9. Seek out the advice of your teacher or a professional
Be open to feedback and constructive criticism. A mentor or teacher will have your best interests at heart and use their knowledge and experience to help you. They very well might bring something up like a solution to a problem that you never thought of or realized. It’s almost like a dress rehearsal for playing for the judges. You aren’t obligated to take advice that doesn’t feel right or change what you think is already good. If you don’t have a teacher, try reaching out to a favorite drummer on social media. Ask if they’d be willing to give feedback on your video. Most drummers are always happy to help out.

10. Be prepared to play on a different kit
Creating your solo on your own kit means that you’ll get used to playing the music on that exact setup. Don’t get too comfortable because you’ll most likely be playing on a totally new kit during a competition. This means the drums and cymbals will sound and feel different. The hardware will work slightly differently as well. Most competitions will allow you to bring a bass drum pedal, so be sure to do that if you have a strong preference. Make sure you know how to adjust any standard kit quickly and efficiently to your liking. Own and bring a drum key! Check out what the setup will be beforehand if you can so that you’re not totally thrown off. Also make sure that every memory lock and screw is tightened so that nothing comes loose during your performance.

Lindsay’s winning entry in the 2015 Hit Like A Girl contest:

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