Musicality means different things to different people, but to me, musicality is the ability to build awareness and understanding around your playing and the ability to listen to and play with others. Listening is one of the easiest things we can do as musicians but often you’ll find people are just playing their own instruments and not with the others around them.

I’ve seen this countless times at jam nights and at grassroots music venues. Musician’s just playing for themselves and not as an ensemble.


You can watch or listen to a great musician performing a piece to a very high standard. The piece may be very complicated, everything the musician is doing is technically correct; the right notes and rhythm, dynamics executed with precision, perfect phrasing, and all the other techniques and theory you can at a performance.

But that performance just doesn’t sit well with you or the audience as it’s not musical and it can feel like something is missing.

Musicality is that little extra spice that’s added on top of everything and it just makes it that little bit extra special. It can make the simplest piece magical and it is the element that has the ability to elicit the strongest emotions from a listener.

If you have the ability to be musical, consider yourself blessed. Many drummers and musicians will never get to that level. If you are not there yet, here are some areas which you can explore to help improve your musicality.


As drummers, we often tend to want to play faster or louder as this is perceived by others (often non-musicians) as a measurement of our talents. Don’t fall into this trap of trading musicality for technical impressiveness.

That is a poor trade-off but is one that most drummers will make when first starting out or even never overcoming on the kit.

You Ideally want to play the music that you can play unconsciously. This means that If you haven’t taken the time to master the technical aspects of the music you want to play. Then you’ll be constantly thinking about the music, especially the trickier bits.

This means you won’t be able to concentrate on the musicality of the piece.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek to improve and push yourself through practice. But when performing with others you should play the music that is within your current ability level.


You can often hear musicality without knowing how the person is creating it.

It’s that moment when you find yourself drawn to a musician or performer of any discipline and they capture your attention, but be careful not to confuse and mistake technical brilliance for musicality.

If you can identify musicality, you can start reproducing it yourself. I cannot tell you exactly what kind of music you should listen to, but it should be music that has deep meaning.


Record yourself and listen critically.

How can you do this? You can record yourself onto a computer or even use something as simple as your smartphone or tablet to capture the sound of your practice or rehearsal. You can then use these recordings to compare your sound to others that you consider musical.

This is the same technique managers and coaches use with their sports teams, around the world, in their post-match analysis. To help improve set pieces, team play and other aspects of the teams work together.

When comparing your recordings to others, try and notice the small things they are doing and then incorporate these different elements into your practice routines. Pick one or two of these elements at a time, each week and you’ll see a vast improvement in your musicality and playing over time.


It’s really important to get honest feedback about your playing when you’re at any stage in your career. This is where having a personal mentor or a group of other musician’s (maybe a Facebook group or band members) can really be useful for helping you develop your musicality on your instrument.

You should always listen with an open mind to the feedback that people are giving you. You might not agree with the feedback every time but that is just a part of the process of growing and progressing on any instrument.


This isn’t for every drummer or musician but you can bring a lot to the character of your sound by altering certain elements of your playing. You can use different sticks, areas in which you strike the drum, the use of dynamics, the tuning of your drums among many other areas.

For example, if you want to create a bolder stronger sound, you can play fewer notes and strike your drums in the centre using techniques such as Moeller and heel up (bass drum) to bring more weight to your playing. For a more tender and delicate sound, move away from the centre of your drum, with less weight and try using your wrists more with a heel down technique.

You can try the following ideas with any drum groove, fills, rudiments and songs. To take it one step further you can try creating different sounds, moods, inflexions and tones with your drum kit.

It is possible to capture different emotions in your sound whilst playing. You can do this by imagining or remembering, just like an actor, different emotions, situations and experiences you may have experienced throughout your life. For example, try imagining a time you’ve had to say goodbye to something, achieving something difficult or the happiest of your memories.

You can also try channelling a character and play as though you are a hero, a monster, a princess, a king, etc.

You could even create caricatures of some of your favourite drummers. Perhaps someone very animated, such as Keith Moon (The Who) or the ‘drummer at the wrong gig’.

These exercises are going to feel very silly at the beginning. But if you exaggerate every sound you want to bring across, until it feels over the top and ridiculous, it will help you to get away from the written music and to help you play more musically.


Whether you are playing the drums, or any other musical instrument, an understanding of rhythm is an essential step to developing musicality. We learn rhythm by comprehending basic music notation, and learning how to count music.

Music notation can seem really daunting at first but there’s only a certain amount of rhythms and note values out there. Learning basic music notation is quite attainable if approached in small, methodical and manageable steps.

Counting music and understanding notation will give you a solid background in understanding rhythm.

While you are learning music notation, you will be introduced to sticking.

Simply put, understanding sticking concepts tells you which hand plays which note. This is essential for building control because it will allow you to orchestrate drum fills, (meaning playing creative drum fills across your toms in a controlled manner), build speed, and set a great foundation for applying the drum set rudiments.

All of this will help you develop your overall technique in other areas as well, such as holding your sticks and fine-tuning your posture.


In all forms of music whilst you’re reading you’re going to come across something called “dynamics”.

Dynamics tell us how hard, soft, or anything in between that we play a beat, fill, or even individual notes. We achieve this by applying dynamic strokes to our playing.

They can also be felt and communicated when playing with others in a band.

For example, when playing with a jazz trio you might come to a double bass solo, and when this happens we generally play very softly, to allow the bass to be heard properly and be the main focus.

Being aware of what others are playing around you is one of the foundations to becoming a great musician. As musician’s, we should always be listening to each other.

Whether you’re playing soft, medium, or loud, there are specific Italian terms that refer to what level you should be performing at.

pp pianissimo very soft
p piano soft
mp mezzo piano medium soft
mf mezzo forte medium loud
f forte loud
ff fortissimo very loud
< (cresc.) crescendo getting louder
> (dim.) decrescendo getting softer

Typically, you’ll find that the dynamic range of pieces is from piano to forte.

Dynamics can transform your “one-dimensional” playing and transform them into balanced, musical grooves, slick and creative fills, as well as facilitating smoother beats at higher tempos.


Melodic music and instruments have scales, arpeggios and modes as technical exercises that help musicians expand their knowledge and understanding of music further. On the drums we have our own unique set of technical exercises called the rudiments.

There are over 40 internationally recognised rudiments, and they’ve all got very silly names such as the paradiddle, the pataflafla, flams, drags, ruffs, flamacues and the list goes on.

As a drummer learning all of these rudiments will open your drumming up to endless possibilities for drum grooves and fills. Rudiments don’t have to be boring, if you learn them and then apply them to your playing it will really take you to the next level. And remember you should master the stickings of these exercises at a slow tempo before you try and speed them up.

This list of 40 rudiments has been approved by the Percussive Arts Society (US) and you can download a pdf by pressing the button below.

40 Rudiements (PDF)


If you have any further questions relating to musicality please email me

I’d be delighted to help point you in the right direction!

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