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What My Favourite Drummer Taught Me about Writing

Lessons from Jeff Porcaro

I’m sure you know Michael Jackson’s song “Billie Jean”. Remember the drum beat it starts with? That’s Jeff Porcaro on the drums.

The groove at the beginning of “Rosanna” by Toto. That’s Jeff Porcaro, too.

Wikipedia says Jeff Porcaro was best known for being the co-founder and drummer of the rock band Toto, but he was also one of the most recorded session musicians in history. 

He played with Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Miles Davis, Dire Straits, Al Jarreau, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Michael McDonald, Bee Gees, Sérgio Mendes, Pink Floyd, Diana Ross, Boz Scaggs, Bruce Springsteen, Steely Dan, Barbra Streisand, Donna Summer, and many more.

Jeff died in 1992 but he’s still my favourite drummer.

He was not a super technically proficient musician who could play 300 km an hour. His drumming was simple and always in service of music. If you have a basic understanding of musical composition and pay attention to the drums of the songs he recorded, you’ll notice that he never played anything that didn’t need to be there. Where another drummer would have played a complicated combination of notes, Jeff played one only.

Listen to how “Hold the Line” starts: one hit on the snare drum. That’s all.

So clean, precise, and succinct.

So musical!

That’s how I want my writing to be like — like Jeff’s drumming. 

(Photo by Denise Marie Luko —, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)


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