Today I'd like to chat a little about taste in music. Taste is something that takes a while to develop but like everything else, there are ways to work on it and hasten it's progress.
I like to think of taste as a combination of maturity, experience, and good judgement. Now some may ask, how do I work on experience if I've hardly played any gigs yet? Good question. Getting experience working professionally is invaluable , and there's no substitute for that. Experience listening, however, is something we can all work on every day, regardless of where we are in our professional drumming lives. When you listen to something, try to figure out why the drummer (or whatever instrument you're concentrating on) played what he/she played rather than worrying so much about what they played. What is the context in which they're performing. A lot of things people play in the moment don't look like much outside the context they were played in. That's why sometimes a transcription of a drum part alone doesn't really tell the whole story. That's also why there are a lot of great drum soloists that don't necessarily sound good with a band. If you hear stuff that sounds to your ears as inappropriate, try to figure out the why of that as well.
I recently had a young player express frustration to me because a bass player and I told him two completely opposite things when critiquing a performance of his. I remember experiencing the same thing myself when in school. The thing is, I'm sure we both had a point. The problem is often less experienced players only do certain things halfway, or think they're doing something when they aren't. (I remember one time Dave Holland quite severely taking me to task on the later point, and he was absolutely right.) As a young musician try to avoid rigid thinking such as "A ballad always has to go to double X feel in the solos." or "You should always switch to brushes for a bass solo." Both statements are good general concepts that will work well a lot of the time, but they're not absolutes. Nothing in music is. Also, strong, mature playing will sustain many different concepts. That's why 2 great players can play completely opposite things on a performance and they both will work. In fact, in the hands of a very strong player, they convince you that their way is the only way to play it! When I heard Victor Lewis play recently, he played things that were almost audacious, (and I mean that in a very positive way, the man is fearless!) yet they always worked and sounded beautiful. In less mature and experienced hands the same material would have been a disaster!
Try to think of listening as a flight simulator for your ears. Your not actually flying the plane, but you're getting valuable information for when you do actually take the controls. Playing along with recordings would also fit in with this concept.
Finally, keep in mind taste is something that you can work on, but you will also acquire with time, just from living your life and learning more about the world. When I was younger, I wouldn't say I played with bad taste as much as no taste. I would play things for the wrong reason, trying to justify things I had worked on rather than focusing on dynamic range and groove, for example. In fact, if there was some sort of award for "most inappropriate drumming in a show band context", my work with Saskatchewan Express in the early 80s would certainly be a contender. I apologize Vern and Carol, I was young and stupid!
Here's some great and tasteful drumming from Nashville great Buddy Harman. Check out how he maneuvers that little four stroke ruff throughout the bar. Very thematic. Mr. Harman also created other iconic drum parts on tunes such as Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman" as well.