By Rebecca Redman
Scientists often claim that kids are like sponges and can pick up new skills with very little effort. Once you reach adulthood, though, it’s over. No more learning. Too hard. Not enough time. Gotta go to work. Everything feels out of reach — finishing that bachelor’s degree, opening that restaurant, finally running a six-minute mile.
In her book Raising Demons, Shirley Jackson writes about never bothering to learn how to drive as a teenager because it seemed superfluous and intimidating. Jackson ultimately decides to face the future after being persuaded by hearing her three children argue over who deserves the front seat of their nonexistent car, driven by their two unlicensed parents. She was about thirty years old when she started driving, and despite having to learn on a manual transmission car (which is legitimately intimidating!), Shirley Jackson, or at least her self-reflexive character in the book, did eventually pass the driving test.
I didn’t start playing drums until I was well into college. I never thought I could do it, but here I am, confident and multi-dimensional. Adults are mostly naysayers. We know how to admire the talents of others, but more often than not, we don’t believe in ourselves. Either that or we’ve honed our excuse-making skills enough to snake away from conversations about things that feel too real and challenging.
My professional opinion, as a late-blooming drum teacher, is that most adults actually have it pretty easy. We generally have a good sense of rhythm; we understand how to count, and we have a certain discipline for practice that most children certainly lack. Adults are generally good listeners and we understand that if we’re paying $50 for a half-hour drum lesson, it’d better be worth it; we’d better learn something and work hard enough to retain it.
So if you’re an adult, and you’re still debating whether or not to take the leap and learn something musical today, perhaps you should take a look at this group of awesome drummers who all got their musical starts as grown ups.
Maureen “Moe” Tucker is most widely known as the drummer of the Velvet Underground. She didn’t start playing until she was nineteen and had only been playing drums for two years before she was asked to join the band. It must have been with some kind of whimsy, even, because she was mostly known to her future bandmates as the kid sister of a friend who maybe knew how to play the drums. The beauty of self-teaching new skills as an adult is that it offers the conscious freedom to tailor your learning methods to what works best for you, and to perhaps be more creative because of it. Moe Tucker taught herself the drums and developed a unique style that eventually earned her the claim of being a very influential rock drummer. She focused on keeping time and kept her beats simple. She also played standing up, which is something that a drum teacher would have immediately stopped a young student from doing. Moe’s serious shredding and unique style have made her one of music’s most respected artists.
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Meg White began playing drums in the late-nineties duo, The White Stripes, when she was 23. It was her first time in a band, but she quickly defined her own style as an explosive drummer with a natural tendency to exaggerate dynamics. Like Moe Tucker, she could channel multiple perspectives because of her years of experience as a drum admirer, rather than a drum player. Both artists chose to play mostly simple beats, with occasional and deliberate embellishments.
Some drummers who have played since childhood will play flourish after flourish, and the real content of the song gets lost within them. It seems to have less to do with style and more to do with boredom of the repetitive movements. Clean beats can turn stale, and the simple desire to show off easily wins over simplicity. Drummers who learn as adults are often more dynamic in their minimalistic styles and ultimately more strategic when writing drum parts to songs. White also sings while playing, which is another reason to keep the beats simple and strong. Over-complicating the beat makes it more difficult to give the brain enough room to be capable of carrying a proper tune.
Kim Schifino is the capable adult drummer of another energetic duo, Matt and Kim. She was given a makeshift kit and learned to play with mild guidance from her bandmate and partner, Matt. They played their first show in Brooklyn only a few months after she first sat down at a drum set at age 23. After more than a decade as a band and five albums in, they’re still touring heavily and jumping around on stages with the same amount of enthusiasm they started with.
Temim Fruchter, formerly of Brooklyn queer rock band, The Shondes, started playing drums as an enlightened 26 year old. She is among a group of great adult drummers who took it upon themselves to self-teach. Her style is a little more rock ‘n’ roll and listeners can tell she has spent time drilling the rudiments. When not at the drums, she’s a writer and artist, and recently put out a chapbook called I Wanted Just to Be Soft.
Sean Nieves is a guitarist turned drummer. Sean started drumming in the long-term noisy, free-punk band, No Babies, at age 21. This band made the move across the country from Mobile, Alabama to Oakland, California and they’ve only learned to shred harder in the ten years since forming. Sean is the type of drummer who plays fast, intensely, and often ends up off the throne for half the set.
Sonam Parikh is a new drummer based in Philadelphia. She started relatively recently, at age 23. She is Indian and claims that her sparse, no-wavey drumming style was influenced by the music her parents listened to when she was growing up. Nerves are real, and she definitely felt them when playing her first shows with her band, Ursula. Now her confidence is growing along with the band’s wide appeal and she is influencing other people to pick up instruments and figure it out on their own. Sonam proves that sometimes it’s okay to throw technique and tradition out with the bathwater and make up the rules on your own.
Vicky Cassis is a drummer who, in the three years since she has started playing, has become integral to multiple queer punk bands who all tour extensively and garner heavy respect in punk communities. She started playing on her sister’s kit at age 23, and since then has played in Dyke Drama (with members of G.L.O.S.S.) and Box Fan. She plays like a veteran and thinks that she probably learned drums through osmosis, just by watching her sister play.
The moral of the story is that you’re never too old to learn how to play drums, or anything else for that matter. Whether it’s tap dancing, or conversational Yiddish, or finally mastering the art of baking a perfectly bronzed quiche, it’s probably something a full-grown human with a partially functioning brain can learn to do too, as long as they agree to pick up some sticks and give it a shot.
So what are you waiting for?
Rebecca Redman is a Persian artist and musician living in Berkeley, California. She plays drums and guitar in a number of San Francisco and Oakland-based bands and is one quarter of an artist collective called Subset. Her most trusted companion is a lizard named Goldie (and that rabbit is a friend of a friend!).