A few days ago a fellow drummer and I were discussing how important it was when we were coming up to have a ‘sound’. We had good teachers, studied “Stick Control”, “Syncopation”, “Wilcoxon”, etc. We would listen to influential players and imitate their trademarks. In doing so we were building a vocabulary to express what we wanted to say. We would listen to drummers and immediately identify them by their sound, phrasing, feel. You knew it was Gene, Buddy, Max, Elvin, etc. You know when you listen to Gadd, Vinnie, Bonham who it is.
As drummers we have the option to tune the instrument various ways. Pianists do not have that option. But the sound of Horowitz or Glenn Gould is unmistakably theirs. We can tune the heads high, medium, low or in between. We can dampen the pitch or leave it wide open. And cymbals!! Witnessing Mel Lewis select cymbals at Drummers World was a lesson I will never forget. He would take a few strokes with his stick on a ride and without hesitation choose it or not. He knew the sound he was looking for. When Bill Stewart would go into our cymbal room trying different models, without looking you know it was Bill playing. I was told Miles would practice whole tones on his horn all day in order to develop his sound.
I am constantly impressed by the ability to develop a personal sound on an instrument. Do we hit hard, subtle? Do we use dynamics in the proper places? Whatever the style of music there are musicians who have developed a sound. They have a touch. Do you think about these things when you are practicing or playing with a band? Do you think about making your playing personal and original?