Since I really don't have any "chops", here's what I've learned for "pointers" that has helped me to be successful without any serious skills for a church gig.
1. ALWAYS be prepared when you get to rehearsal or the services. I always get recorded versions of the songs as soon as possible (ahead of time) and listen to them constantly until I know the "vibe" of the song and all the proper grooves and signature fills. If you play what people hear on the record, they'll always think you're a good drummer even if you don't have any chops (because most Christian music doesn't require any chops anyway!).
2. ALWAYS listen to the song and learn it entirley BEFORE you sit down and try to play it! Otherwise, you will play what you want to play, instead of learning the original "vibe" of the song that everyone else will recognize. For example, if I have 2 weeks to learn the songs, I spend the first week thoroughly learning all the parts by ear, and then I sit down and play them only during the second week.
3. ALWAYS play along to the recorded version of the song in order to absorb solid time and vibe! Don't use charts or a metronome (because these have no vibe or pocket)! If you practice to the recorded version, you'll always be playing the correct tempo and your muscles will retain that feel as you do it over and over.
4. It's ALWAYS best to learn the exact part on the recording of each song whenever possible! Whenever you make up your own part you are going to make it more difficult for the other musicians ... the reason is that you are playing very popular songs that everyone recognizes in a certain vibe. If the other players are learning the song from a recording (or know if from hearing it a lot on the radio), you will throw them off by getting creative. Just play what they expect to hear and they will love you for it ... remember, they don't care about your chops, they care about the vibe of the song they are familiar with!
5. ALWAYS hit the kick and snare as hard as possible (bass and guitar players love it!). However, always make sure you are playing consistent grooves (the ones on the recording!) that are easy for your bass player to follow! You should keep the SAME groove going in all the verses and choruses. That is, the verses and choruses should be slightly different beats, but each verse and each chorus should have the same beat (so you're easy to follow and predicable).
5. Memorize the songs so that when there are changes it is easy for you to adjust and be humble about adjusting whenever the worship leader or singer needs it. For example, sometimes you are playing the right tempo, but a particular singer is having trouble keeping up and needs you to slow it down. Just try to slow it down as best you can and don't "defend" yourself (even though your tempo is right!).
6. Take as many gigs as possible (no matter how lame) so that you get to know a lot of people (who may give you a call to play when you don't expect it). Moreover, if you're constantly learning the songs, you're always ready to play them and practice time gets much easier.
7. Finally, the way to be a solid "pocket" drummer is to ALWAYS play real "songs"! If you're doing church gigs, try to avoid just sitting around on your drums making up weird beats or doing meaningless solos. There are no drum solos or weird beats in church music ... there are always "songs" with definite tempos, grooves, fills, and vibes.
If you ALWAYS pracitice songs, you're muscle coordination will learn and memorize the correct tempos and "pocket" of each song and you'll be able to reproduce it ... one of the worst things you can do is sit around banging away at stuff that has no practical application ... YOU CAN ONLY SUSTAIN SOLID TIME FOR AS LONG AS YOU PRACTICE SOLID TIME!
In other words, if you sit around doing a bunch of 10 second double bass flourishes or weird beats, then you'll never learn to keep time for any longer than 10 seconds and your beats will all be weird! If you want to be able to keep solid time for the typical 3-6 minute church song, then you need to constantly be playing along to recordings of 3-6 minute songs (especially the ones you need to know by Sunday)!
8. Less is more! Don't overplay!!
I hope this helps!!
P.S. Of course, I'm not against drum solos or being creative, it's just that church is not the place for that kind of stuff. To be a successful church drummer you have to play what people recognize so that they are not distracted when they worship. You also have to be considerate about making it go as smoothly as possible for the other musicians and singers.
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