Sunday, December 19, 2021

False prodigies

My apologies for the many wordy posts lately. I don't want to be a words/opinions guy. I'm working on a lot of outside stuff, so I have to post what I have, and that happens to be this. 

I suppose we should talk about the amazing kid drummer videos. Many of them are varying degrees of fraudulent, here's one that's pretty impressive— it's from several months ago, so it has already been forgotten by everyone. But the kid in it can actually do what he's doing. The video is captioned with the expected histrionic self-loathing and despair:

Actually, I've just decided to quit drumming after watching this... from r/drums

There are adults who do the exact thing we're seeing there, or who try to do it, and the kid sounds basically 98% as good as any of them. Same level of artistry, which is not a compliment to the kid. To me it demonstrates what a dead end this type of playing is. If a little kid can play badly this impressively, it drags down the whole endeavor. 

The cause of this is that in a number of areas of drumming, teachers have figured out how to get make essentially non-musical but goal-motivated people sound impressive. The kid got one of those teachers, and had a very good aptitude for learning that way.

Terror-stricken viewers always ask: 

Q: He sounds this good when he's 10, what's he going to sound like when he's 20? 

A: Not necessarily better.

He doesn't sound good now. I never want to listen to anyone do this, at any age. 

What job is this playing in service of, what gig is in danger of being stolen? Right now, it's a neo-vaudevillian child wonder show item for the purpose of getting views or partial views on YouTube. Maybe being a social media performer is a valid career. It's not the same as being a musician.

Musicians are not in competition with things that are not music. Not having musical concept does not inevitably lead to having a musical concept. Like not understanding existentialism doesn't inevitably lead to understanding existentialism. 

People who play a lot of music do usually figure it out to some extent. Emphasis on play, and music. People who just do drum stuff on social media do not figure it out. 

The reality is, there is no competition, there is just you and your life learning and playing, and making whatever music you have to make, in the situations available to you in the real world, off the internet.

You could ask yourself is could Billy Higgins do any of what that kid is playing? Zigaboo Modeliste? Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones? Mel Lewis? James Gadson? If not, what does this say about them? Does it say the kid is better than them? 

Answer: No. It says what kids do, however impressive, does not matter


Ted Warren said...

Agree 100% Todd. Thank you for this.

bkpdrummer123 said...

Thank you for this blog. I typically cringe when friends of mine share these types of videos with me. I usually reply with something like “wow, unreal, etc.” to avoid giving out the “old grumpy drummer who never made it” vibe. I completely understand why my non-musician friends would think this as they dont and never will understand our pursuit to learn the music and instrument is a life long journey, amd posting videos on youtube for clicks may not necessarily be a part of the journey for everyone….

Todd Bishop said...

Thanks Ted!

BKPD: I had a long conversation with an acquaintance who was trying to convince me of the wonderfulness of the child drummer / Foo Fighters video. My perspective that I patiently explained to him is that it simply means nothing to me-- I am a musician, this is not what I do. I've encountered hundreds of young people who can play impressively. I'm interested in mature artists.

I don't believe that getting a lot of money and adulation at a young age, for something that is at best quasi-music, is good for a person's musical development. I wish her all the best in whatever career she pursues, but I'm interested in music.

Calling it jealousy ("haters") is what people do when they know nothing, and they're defending something indefensible. I don't frame it as judgment of the person, I just say this is not what I do, this is not my job, this is not what I'm interested in.