Matt Wyatt


Weaknesses & Strengths (#97)

What you feel sure is your greatest weakness may be one of your greater strengths. This much has been said over and again. For musicians, practice and the pursuit of perfection (i.e. chops) presents a unique type of navigational challenge - do you direct your practice time according to what you think you should be able to do or instead according to what you’re curious about?

In my musical practice, more time than I’d like to admit has gone to pursuing skills I thought I “should” acquire even when the practice failed to pack any real meaningful punch. The issue here is that the “should” practice idea can easily fall prey to concepts of sound or creative voice that distort the strengths of your weaknesses.


Acoustics carry all the certainty and predictability we expect from proven science… we can predict how a room’s physical dimensions will impact its sound, what specific frequencies will be most problematic, etc. But despite the solidity of these facts, the challenge of trying to predict/construct a great sounding room still packs a hefty dose of mystery.

You should smile more

There is a difference between entertaining and performing. The two might overlap but not necessarily. Value judgments about the substance inherent in entertainment versus that in performance come with this distinction. The word ‘performing’ implies seriousness that ‘entertaining’ might not. That topic is for another day. What I’m interested in is this idea about necessary smiling and how it might limit or distort your experience as a performer.

In this culture, there is an often unquestioned idea that musicians should “smile more” and that the smiliest of players must be the most immersed in the musical experience, the most “passionate.” Of course there is some further context here - if you as a listener are attending a concert at a bar you might be more likely to expect smiley musicians than if you are at a library concert. If you are listening to a dance band you might expect smiley musicians more than if you are at a doom metal show. And if the musicians are not famous you may be less likely to grant their seemingly intense dispositions the benefit of the doubt than you might be if starstruck.

So many questions, too many variables. But back to you as a performer/artist - what do you do if you are in a performance and maybe that night you feel intense or heavy or simply non-smiley? Can you stay present with that emotion or is the weight of expectation too much? Can your performance meet that emotion even if that seems to run counter to the musical or social context you’re playing within? What is lost or gained if you roll with it? Is it easier to just smile more?

Textures in drumming

What you hit with: sticks, hands, brushes, bundles, hot rods, pencils, fingernails

How you hit: part of the stick or hand or whatever, velocity of the strike, shape of the motion, where the stick or hand is in the arc of acceleration/deceleration

What you hit: say one drum… could be open (un-dampened) or dampened (with paper towels, a t-shirt, moon gel, your other hand, a stick, a brush, another drum, a stuffed animal)

At least two approaches to playing music

Some players set out to take every musical opportunity, to really assert themselves in the music. This can be awe-inspiring, effective, tiring, or oppressive.

Other musicians set out to make those they are playing with sound better. This approach can sound supportive, uplifting, boring, or elementary.

Your listening tastes define these lines, but there is an important underlying question to repeatedly check in with - who sounds most amazing, you or your group?

Matt Wyatt elsewhere on the web...