Drums = fun and creative freedom

I grew up musically trained but creatively restricted. Like many immigrant kids I was prescribed a fairly strict regimen of mostly classical music as soon as I landed on the sunny shores of Sydney from Hong Kong. Music from ages 6-18 involved playing piano as a young kid then clarinet as a teenager through a standardised grading system (AMEB for the Aussies out there). While I'm incredibly grateful for having had a musical education from a young age, until that point music felt like a somewhat fun box-checking exercise.

I picked up drums at 17 once I had finished school. Drums was always about exploring music in whatever way I wanted to and satisfying that urge for creative freedom. There was no external pressure or curriculum for me to play to, no rehearsals or performances to be ready for. This total freedom approach of course has its pros and cons, but it's probably the reason I still love playing to this day.

Over time, I also realised that drums also became my chief zone-out space, like my personalised version of yoga or meditation. Drums is my own special way to destress and take a breather and it allows me to regain my focus.

But the biggest reason? It's pure enjoyment. I remember before I started seeing friends and other musicians playing it and waving their arms around like some form of meditative dancing. My love for drumming is the biggest reason behind why I've accumulated 9 years of playing and now my plan to share that on WIP.

9 years of (undisciplined) practice leads to interesting results

Drums has an interesting place in WIP because my drumming journey up to this point has been as chaotic and disorganised as you might expect from someone who's self-taught and imposed no set goals, discipline or structure to my playing. In some ways, what I've done in my first 9 years of drumming is rather anti-WIP. I'd probably be more developed, experienced or skilled as a drummer if I had done been formally trained, but as I said, drums was and always will be about creative freedom and zoning out first.

However, it's always good to stop and try and take stock of what you've done at a certain point. In the 9 years of playing drums:

  • I've learnt that I have a pretty unbalanced set of strengths and weaknesses, as you might expect from not having much structure to your practice.
  • I listen to a lot of music (like several hours a day) so I've dabbled and explored all sorts of genres, like rock, jazz and drum 'n' bass. The best part about having no one to answer to is no restrictions!
  • Self-taught and self-troubleshooted everything from rhythmic patterns to technique through a process of personal experimentation, watching others, and following what I call the Bible of drum technique: Jojo Mayer's Secret Weapons for the Modern Drummer series (not sponsored, but simply one of the best educational video series I've ever watched).
  • Increasingly explored and appreciated the depth of drumming as a creative endeavour and a way to express yourself. This is perhaps the most interesting thing I've discovered as someone who doesn't gig or play with others too much, because played drums more with the mentality of it being the creative centrepiece than perhaps a gigging drummer would.

So why am I sharing my journey now?

I've realised a few things since I started drumming that have accumulated into wanting to share my drumming as part of WIP:

January 2015, about a year into my drumming journey. This is one of the very few pictures I have of myself when I started learning drums and you can still feel the shyness through the camera. And no, I didn't know what a 'haircut' was then.
  • Sharing stuff is good: Documenting stuff and sharing it is underrated. Very, underrated. More on this here - but basically, as both a learning tool and a way to share joy with other people, documenting stuff is such an easy and accessible way to create cool things. One of my favourite creators Ali Abdaal, has a good way of explaining this here.
  • To conquer my personal self-sharing shyness: There've been so many points in the first 9 years of learning drums that I wanted to share or post stuff online, but I never did. Why? Honestly just a combination of shyness and feeling a sense of imposter syndrome. Nothing is more intimidating than sharing creative or artistic endeavours. There's always someone out there more talented, more popular, more skillful. But then it occured to me, this is exactly why I should share it. How many people are out there wanting to pick up something creative but scared of looking like a fool amongst the sea of gurus and musical prodigies? It's certainly not just me. I'm not an expert, I honestly wouldn't even consider myself a musician. But I do love drumming and learning, and that is worth sharing in itself. In a bigger sense, this is the purpose of WIP; to highlight the journey, not just the finished product.
  • For improvement: If the first 9 years of playing were so undisciplined that they were anti-WIP, well now I'm at a point now that I need to start being more analytical and structured if I want to keep making consistent improvements. It's this drive to improve my game for which sharing my thoughts, musings and analysis should fit a medium like WIP perfectly.
  • Accountability: what better way to improve myself than putting my playing through the brutal funnel of posting it online? Obviously this approach can lead to being toxically self-critical very easily, so my plan is, by virtue of having to re-watch, edit, and sync my videos, analyse how I play and pick out areas I can improve on in a constructive way.

What are my goals with sharing my drumming journey on WIP?

All of this begs the question: do I have a set goal for what I want to achieve?

And interestingly enough, no. While I do want to have more a more structured, disciplined and analytical approach to drumming from now on, I don't have a set 'goal', milestone or deadline in mind.

I'm not setting out to become a professional musician or even a gigging musician, although I have no doubt I'll be getting more involved in performances now that I begin to share more of myself online. There's no song, exercise, or other objective test that I could achieve that will say 'I've made it'.

So in terms of goals, what I can say is - I want to keep improving my creativity, technique, musicianship - but enjoyment comes first and foremost.

And this I think is the beauty of drums and how it fits into the 'portfolio' of other things I decided to learn on WIP. Learning things and picking up hobbies doesn't always have to be about setting strict goals. To this point in my life, drums has filled the role of the hobby that doesn't have to be disciplined - and in the world of constant productivity, goal setting and burnout, I think we could all benefit from appreciating this type of hobby more.