Stop Calling Them "Chops"!
Let's get this out of the way. I have a pet peeve.... Actually, I have many, but this is definitely one of them. I can't stand it when drummers talk about playing a chop, or playing chops. Used in this context, the word "chop" really means "lick" or something that is played that is predetermined, usually forced upon, or into the music and doesn't necessarily add anything or even belong there.
We all have our go-to "licks". Especially when asked to solo and things just aren't going as planned! That's okay!! These are tools in our tool box and we need those from time to time just to get the juices flowing, or get us out of a mess. I just see so many drummers start regurgitating licks (chops) the moment they sit down at the kit, or the moment they get a chance to solo, and it frustrates me. Have you ever been to a NAMM show, and walked around the drum company section? Wow. You're in for a real "chops" treat! I mean that in the most condescending way possible. HA!
Isn't it better to live in the moment and musically react to whatever is going on around you? Wouldn't that make more musical sense? I think so. This is how I try to play every time I'm on stage or in a group situation. Or when I'm at NAMM and trying out a drum kit or cymbal selection, I try to let the sound of the instrument dictate what I play on that instrument. I'm REACTING to the sound of the instrument and making my decisions and choices of what to play based upon what my ears are hearing and telling me. I distinctly remember being at the Canopus booth this past summer NAMM right here in Nashville, and getting behind the new Zelkova drum kit they had on display. At first all I wanted to play was WHOLE NOTES, because the kit sang so beautifully. I had never heard a drum kit sound so magnificent! Then I began playing some phrases around the kit (not chops, and not predetermined licks) and I was loving how well the kit blended together with itself as I would make my way around the drums. It was like the whole kit was one singular instrument and beautifully in tune with itself.
I think I'm getting off topic. The point is, stop just learning "chops" from the internet and start playing some real music, from inside your soul. I went to see Josh Dion recently and he was playing with a guitar/bass trio. They played approximately 2 1/2 hours of music and not once, NOT ONCE did I hear Josh play anything that was predetermined. His playing was so fresh and literally from the first note he played on the drums, I went "Whoa!". Because it was like I was seeing into his soul. He was putting everything he had into the music. Reacting. Prodding. Reacting again. Making decisions in the moment. etc... He didn't care what kind of faces he made or what his huge mane of hair looked like, or that he was sweating like crazy while wearing a sports jacket and scarf around his neck. All that mattered was the sound he was making on the drums. It was so inspiring and every moment was so engaging.
Ask yourself, is this what I'm achieving when I play the drums? I've asked myself that, and honestly it was a reality check for me, and I'm trying to channel that energy on all my gigs now. Some gigs are easier than others for this to happen. A wedding gig will be more difficult than a jazz club gig to reach this state of mind and of playing. Ultimately, you have to decide what is appropriate for the music you're playing.
Peter Erskine has a great exercise that he has shared online. Sit down at the drums and start improvising. Try not to play a single worked out lick or "chop". The moment you do play a lick, chop, or something predetermined, STOP. Take a breathe. Now start the exercise again. See how long you can go without playing a "chop". Warning: this is difficult!!
Try it! If you agree, I'd like to hear from you. I'm easy to get in touch with. Find me online here at my site, or on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter.