Anyone can make music

Merriam Webster defines a musical instrument as  "a device (such as a violin, piano, or flute) used to make music."

Sure. But why not a device such as a smartphone, radio or plunger on a garbage can lid? Most people might answer: the smartphone can be used as an instrument with certain apps; the radio plays music for you, so it's not an instrument; you can't make actual music with a plunger and garbage can lid. But wait a minute. Is Jonny Greenwood using a radio as an instrument when Radiohead does "The National Anthem" live? Plunger and garbage can. Not built for the purpose of making music. But "built for the purpose of" isn't in the definition. Can't be used for making music? By who?

Ever heard a song on the radio you didn't like? The fact that you heard it means someone liked it enough to write, perform, record and distribute it. Most people dislike some form of popular music. I dislike lots of it, even when I can see that it's well done. And there's music I love in spite of sloppy performances, out-of-tune vocals and low-quality recordings. Up close, "good" and "bad" seem like relative concepts, not absolutes. If we can accept the ideas that:

  • "music" is simply a bunch of sounds grouped together and
  • an "instrument" is a device for making sounds,

we quickly discover that our ideas are pretty narrow. Anything and everything can be a musical instrument. Playing the radio is just as valid as playing the saxophone. For that matter, so is starting up your car to make engine sounds - in fact it's the perfect instrument for that particular sound. I probably wouldn't use a car onstage at a jazz gig, but I wouldn't use a saxophone either. Because I can't play it. Not the instrument's fault.

Instruments are just tools. Some are more sophisticated than others. An advanced user can get more out of a machine with more features, while a newcomer wants something that works right away. Some people love the versatility of Android phones and couldn't live with Apple's restrictions. Others just want to use the thing, not learn to program it. But the tools are always useless without the operator. Being good with an iPhone won't turn you into Steve Jobs; driving a stick won't turn you into Michael Schumacher; anyone with a few thousand dollars can have a Pro Tools studio, yet there's only one Pharrell Williams.

At the end of the day, it still comes down to ability and intent. Ability is learned, intent has to come from within. The world is full of people who can help you develop your own ability, or rent theirs. There are more tools out there than you can ever use. They'll help you get there. Only you can determine where you're going. 

Classic Trax: Communication Breakdown 3 Ways

Timeless wisdom from almost 50 years ago.

This is a good one to learn because the sections are clear, they repeat and there's only a few of them. It's always helpful to check out different versions when learning a song - it gives you insight into how the artists themselves think of the material and how you can make it your own, what's essential and what can be left out. Live versions especially - you'd be surprised how often recordings that sound really hard to play get re-arranged for performance by the original artists, to make them easier (looking at you, Bieber/Jack Ü).

The first video below is the original studio recording with the band lip (and instrument) synching along for TV; the other two are live versions. When watching, make note of:

  • what stays the same
  • what changes
  • which parts of the song the drummer is accenting
  • which parts of the song the drummer hangs back and just plays the beat
  • dynamics - what's loud, what's quiet

Have fun! 

1st Valerie song gets written up in The Coast!

"Ryan came in to the band in February/March. I’ve gotten to play with him a few times and was really into his approach to drums so it was a no brainer to ask him when we had a vacancy on drums."


Read more about my lovely bandmates here, listen to the song The Coast called "propulsive, smooth with a side of grit [and] pleasant shades of Kevin Shields" below.

Upcoming Shows

Mixed bag of stuff coming up for May/June:

SUN MAY 21 - DJing for Bluenose Marathon - The Vic, Halifax NS

FRI MAY 26 - drumming with Valerie - Radstorm, Halifax NS

THU JUN 1 - drumming with Valerie - Gus' Pub, Halifax NS

SAT JUN 17 - drumming with Beauts - The Capital, Fredericton NB


Also working on new solo material! Peel your eyes and ground your ears for shows/recordings/news (actually, hold onto your eyes and ears, you'll need them. you won't need a hat, so don't hold onto it. peel and ground it, then use your eyes and ears for music and images)

Perfect fills every time

Picture this: you're behind the drum kit. Onstage. In front of 40,000 people. Backing up Celine Dion (my personal fantasy, you can substitute whoever you like). It's the middle of the show. Things are going great. The band is on fire and the crowd is LOVING it. The whole, massive room is moving to YOUR beat. Each song is bigger the last. You're unstoppable. You're in the middle of a brand-new, unreleased track. It's amazing. Celine's (or whoever's) best work yet. People are losing their minds. So you decide you're really going to wow them. You're just coming out of the verse and heading into the epic, shout-along chorus. You know exactly what this moment needs. A huge drum fill to bring the whole crowd to their feet.

So you go for it! Your hands are racing around the kit - snare, toms, cymbals, it's all a blur. You're a savage demon! No, a beautiful angel of cosmic light! No one has ever seen anything like this before! You can FEEL the faces being melted. You bring it to a triumphant climax with a sublime, euphoric cymbal crash. You finally look up from your drums, a master of the universe, surveying your domain.

And what do you see? The bass player is staring at you and frowning. Your singer (whose name is on the marquee, posters, T-shirts and tickets) is trying to amp the crowd up, but something's not quite right. The dancers have fallen out of sync - one actually fell offstage. You glance down at your phone, sitting beside your floor tom. It's blowing up. Good, right? But what's that sound..... are people laughing?

Looks like you got so caught up in your fill that you didn't notice how long it was. Can't have too much of a good thing, right? Well, in this case, you appear to have confused the entire band. You played right through the chorus, over top of the big shout-along line and everything came to a grinding halt. Check your phone again - what do those notifications say? "Fail"? "lolllllllll"??!


Whew! It was all just a dream. Here's a quick exercise to help you avoid that nightmare scenario:

Fire up a metronome in 4/4 time. It can be an app (that's what I use) - what's important is that it has a different sound for beat '1' of the measure (like this). Play a beat along with it. Throw in some fills. They can be anything you want. Just make sure they resolve in the standard spot - with a crash on the "1" of the next measure. Not "in the same general area as the 1", right on it. Ideally, you should hit it so precisely that you can't hear the click. 

And that's it. Your fills can be as simple or as wacky as you like - what's important is that you come out of them exactly where you need to. It matters, because in a live situation, other people are depending on you to do just that. Keep at it and you'll develop a solid sense of where those downbeats are, no matter what you're playing. Over time, this will allow you to play weirder and more adventurous fills, secure in the knowledge that you'll always land in the right spot no matter what. You genius!