Jim Riley Survival Guide for the Modern Drummer Review

I often recommend Jim Riley’s Survival Guide for the Modern Drummer”  – A Crash Course in All Musical Styles for Drumset. Especially to beginning adults and students who want to learn how to play drum set quickly. They want to start playing with a group or other musicians ASAP. And also, to experienced drummers who want to get more gigs by being able to play in any style and expand their musical opportunities.

I have previously posted Drum Set Method Books Recommendations. These are all great texts. If you diligently practice with these method books, you will develop into a technically and musically proficient drum set player. However,  these books take a “long term” and “in depth” approach to understanding, learning and playing drum set.  But what about the student who just wants to learn some effective grooves so they can start playing in their church praise band or with a local cover band? Someone who would rather see the movie or read the CliffsNotes rather than read the entire book. Or the working drummer who has limited performing experience and/or wants to get out of their musical comfort zone?  Someone who says, “I know HOW to play. I just don’t know WHAT to play”. Jim Riley’s “Survival Guide for the Modern Drummer” is the answer.

Riley - Survival Guide for the Modern DrummerPublisher’s Cover Description

“If you are a drummer looking to expand your knowledge of musical styles, Survival Guide for the Modern Drummer is the book for you. From pop to country, metal to jazz, and Latin and Motown, Jim has crammed his considerable stage and studio experience into this amazing resource. The book includes 124 play-along tracks which were meticulously recorded with just the right musicians for each recording creating an authentic and inspiring library. An audio performance of each of the 318 grooves is also included, making learning the grooves even easier. From beginner to advanced, this book truly has something for everyone. If you dream of taking your drumming to the next level, let Survival Guide for the Modern Drummer be your guide through the jungle we call the music business.”

A solid understanding and the ability to read rhythmic music notation is required. The book can be used by beginning drum set players but not by beginning musicians. There are 10 chapters. Chapter 1: Pop Drumming, Chapter 2: Blues, Chapter 3: Swing, Chapter 4: Country, Chapter 5: Early Rock and Motown, Chapter 6: Dance and Electronic, Chapter 7: Funk and Fusion, Chapter 8: Odd-Time Signatures, Chapter 9: Metal and Double Bass, Chapter 10: Grooves from Around the World.

In each chapter, Jim Riley provides essential grooves and patterns that he has heard or performed throughout his professional career. He states, “The Survival Guide is much more than just a styles-book. My goal in writing this text is to give you the tools to be able to cover any gig situation you will likely encounter as a working drummer…”

Drummers of All Ability Levels

Drummers of all ability levels should use this book. It contains simple straight forward patterns that a beginner could learn to play. And it contains complicated technically difficult exercises that would challenge even an experienced drummer. Exercises 9, 29, 199 and 238 below are basically the same groove. Yet these four examples require a wide range of technical ability to play.

Example 9 Chapter 1 Basic Pop Grooves:

Riley Example 9

Example 29 Chapter 1 Syncopated Pop Grooves Adding Ghost Notes:

Riley Example 29

Example 199 Chapter 6 Dance and Electronic:

Riley Example 199

Example 238 Chapter 7 Funk and Fusion:

Riley Example 238

About the Music/Discs

The two included CDs are what really sets this book apart. Disk 1 contains 124 play-along tracks. Every example has a corresponding play-along track. Any many of the examples have more than one corresponding track with different tempos and/or feels. Disk 2 contains a drum set performance of each of the 318 examples in the book. It’s very helpful to hear what each of these exercises should sound like.

The play-along tracks on Disk 1 are excellent. In the Introduction, Jim Riley wrote, “One thing I hope sets this book apart from the others is the music. I went to great lengths to hire not just one generic band to play everything, but several specialized bands to help you feel as though you are playing in the most authentic musical environment possible.”

I have spent countless hours practicing with these play-along tracks. Even using these tracks to practice exercises from the other drum set method books on my music stand. They provide a welcome change from practicing only with a metronome. It’s a lot of fun. And I am able to practice playing in the “pocket” with the recorded musicians.

Experienced Working Drummers

If you are an experienced drummer DO NOT overlook this book. It’s not just for beginners. As the author wrote, “I have written this text for every level, from beginners to pros, to help prepare you for a career in the real world”. I have been playing drum set professionally for over 40 years. But using this book, I have been able to expand my understanding of different styles. I am able to practice in styles I have minimal experience or exposure. And I can focus only on the essential grooves and patterns that would “work” on an actual gig.

Finally, Jim Riley provides another reason why this book is so essential to the working drummer, “As a musician for hire, you are always waiting for the phone to ring for that next gig. The question is, are you ready for that next call? If you get called for a jazz gig, are you ready? What about a heavy metal cover band? If you get called to do a recording session playing country, can you cover it? The last thing you want to say when called to work as a musician is ‘I’m not comfortable playing that kind of music.’ The fact is, in order to be a successful working drummer, you must be ready to play ALL styles.” You may also want to see: Get More Music Gigs.

I highly recommend Jim Riley’s “Survival Guide for the Modern Drummer”. It gets right to the point. It covers just about every style a drummer would encounter on a gig or in a rehearsal. And the play-along tracks provide hours of motivation and an opportunity to practice and play with “real” musicians.