The dark humorous clip above is from the movie Whiplash featuring Miles Teller. He’s a drummer getting hammered by a band leader about tempo, that elusive skill that musicians (especially drummers) strive to perfect and control. Time is everything for a drummer and it can be difficult to control in stressful situations like this one, on stage when you can’t quite hear the other musicians well, or in the recording studio playing with “scratch tracks” – recorded musical parts that can often be rushing or dragging themselves.
In college, I rehearsed and performed with the Orange Coast College Big Band, and the bandleader, Doc Rutherford, used to scold drummers. Myself included. It was ALWAYS about tempo. In the middle of a song he would frantically wave his hands to signal the band to stop. Looking straight at me he would say things like “DRUMS! you are dragging!, Keep up the TEMPO!”. Slapping his hands on the 2 and 4 with the force of a gunshot, he would get my attention and keep me focused. The older horn players next to me chuckling and laughing sometimes just added to the stress.
It was a good ass kicking for a young cocky rock drummer. Doc was never quite as intense as the Miles Teller clip above thank goodness, but he did have a passion for jazz, playing with the right feel, and authenticity. Doc helped make me and many other musicians become better because he did care, and wanted us to learn.
While I don’t think that aggressiveness is the best motivational strategy, working with people that have a passion for their work, and know what they want, can push the inexperienced to new performance levels. Throwing chairs is not best method though..