As an educator, teaching drums for over 20 years now, you refine the opener to someone’s first drum lesson… for some teachers it’s how to hold the sticks, for some it’s naming all of the pieces of a drumset—for me it’s this concept.

What are we even here to do?

What is a drummer’s #1 job in a band? With this knowledge I feel we define a lot about what we should be trying to achieve while learning and performing music, especially as a drummer.

Here is how I define it,

A Drummer’s #1 Job in a Band is to…

Keep Time

  • Time is the combination of Tempo & Feel
    • Tempo is speed, measured in BPMs
      or Beats Per Minute on a Metronome
    • Feel is the Styling of Subdivisions,
      or the Use of Space.



When we think of time, a clock or watch come to mind—both are designed to evenly segment time into hours, minutes, and seconds. As a musician/drummer, time becomes our responsibility—segmenting time into Quarters, 8ths and 16ths.

When you are in a rehearsal, and let’s say the band is working on vocal harmonies or how their parts fit together in a bridge section, they may turn to you and ask you to “keep time”. Rarely are they asking you to play the full drum beat that you would play in the song. They are trying to achieve the goal of getting their parts right, so they need to be able to hear the detail and nuance of how their parts fit together. When we “keep time” by providing just enough, the tempo and the feel, then we melt into the background and set them up for success.


The tempo we provide may or may not be the actual tempo that we will perform the song at, but it needs to be a “tempo”. This means that we need to provide the other musicians with a consistent spacing between the pulses of the groove, just like how a metronome clicks in a relentless even spacing of tones.


Feel is more elusive, and is where the good stuff is. I define feel as the styling of subdivisions or the use of space. If we counted the pulse as simply “1   1   1   1   “, then what we do with a two between the ones becomes the feel. In a straight feel these are directly between the ones like “1   2   1   2   1   2   1   2   “. In a shuffle feel, the 2’s relax and are placed late, so it seems to bounce more, like “1    2 1   2 1   2 1   2”. If you simply try to say these two versions of one and two as they look, keeping the speed at which you say the ones the same, you will have achieved this understanding of feel.


A clock that doesn’t accurately keep time is no longer worth using—except as just decor. As a drummer, you can spend years learning grooves, rudiments, dynamics, fills and chops—but what good are you if you are unable to keep good time?