This title came from a saying I heard long ago, and many times since, but can't think of where I originally heard it. The saying is "To go forward, you have to go back" and the meaning of this saying will be very obvious by the end of this article.
To begin, I will relate a short story: Years ago a young guitarist who I was working with in a rock band was sitting in the living room of my apartment listening to some jazz that I was turning him on to. The drummer was playing the jazz ride opening and closing the hi-hat in a '2 feel.' Shhh-ick-shhh-shhh-ick-shhh-shhh-ick-shhh. You know what I mean. You do know what I mean don't you? Don't you??? Because if you don't, then this article is ESPECIALLY for you! And again especially if you might be one who claims that formal study of an instrument hinders creativity and developing a personal, individual approach.
Anyway, to get on with my story, the guitarist perked-up when he heard that and said, "That's where that came from?" I said, "What do you mean?" He replied, "The way he's using the hi-hat cymbals. Opening and closing them to get that ssshhhick sound! I didn't know that came from jazz. I thought that originated from rock!!"
Story #2: Fast forward about 15 years and I'm in a drum shop owned by an excellent drummer and good friend of mine. My friend's son was also a drummer and walked into the store. He went to a practice pad and told his father, "Check-out the new lick I worked-out" and proceeded to demonstrate it on the pad. The father said, "Yeah. That's a flam paradiddle-diddle" or some similar sounding drum rudiment. The son said incredulously, "There's a rudiment like this?!?." There you have two short stories and now my point: musicians, no matter what instrument they play, need to study the tradition of that instrument. They need to study the repertoire. There has been so much information laid out there for us that anyone who doesn't research it and take advantage of the knowledge already documented is not only being foolish but is making it tougher on himself and delaying his progress.
Take, for example, the son of my friend. He spent untold hours in his practice room working on something that, if he had studied the drum repertoire [including the rudiments], he would have had it right there in front of him. He probably spent much of the time trying to remember the beginning sticking he used. Then he worked on that sticking and the first few notes until he could do them comfortably, adding another part of the sticking after that. Finally, he would have had the whole rhythm down and then worked on adding it to his drum licks and fills. Compare that with somebody who is aware of the rudiment and practices it. The sticking is right there for him in black and white. Now he's using his eyes to see the notes, which is a great help when trying to learn something. The more senses we use, the quicker we learn. That's one of the reasons drummers should count out loud when practicing. By counting out loud the drummer is seeing, saying, hearing and feeling the music. More senses used, quicker learning process.
But back to the two drummers. It makes sense that drummer #1 who is learning the rudiment properly is going to learn it at least twice as fast as drummer #2 who is trying to invent it himself and pull it out of the air. Granted, #2 is using his creative intuitiveness, and that's good. But, time is being wasted. All the extra time #2 is using to learn what's already been created and developed... and is available for the asking... is time that is being taken from applying that particular technique in some creative way. So, it not only takes twice as long to learn the technique, it takes time away from perfecting it and then moving on to learn the next new technique. Keep in mind that this is only one rudiment of forty. Or one technique of hundreds. That adds up to a lot of wasted time when trying to re-create all this technical data that has been accomplished and documented previously. It doesn't make sense, does it?
To waste all that hard work and knowledge that others have laid-out for us. It's like a pianist not studying the musical scales and then trying to create chords from scratch. Or, taking it another step, trying to write a song with limited knowledge of the scales and chords. That would incur a lot of unnecessary steps and wheel spinning. And we know that when we spin our wheels and burn rubber, it can be expensive.
So, finally we get back to the point of this article... and that point is to study the drumming repertoire. There is a wealth of information that has already been created, developed and documented for all of us. Why not take advantage of it? The wheel doesn't need to be reinvented. It can be developed and improved...but not reinvented. And if you're going to develop and improve something, wouldn't it be better to start where the last improvement left off? For drummers, that means to learn the rudiments... and then try to do something to develop them in another direction or do something creative with them.
Study some basic jazz, rock or Latin rhythms and then try to put your personal stamp on them. Develop, create, individualize... but definitely study! And study what went before us. We can never stop learning. When we stop learning, we just simply stop....period.