Janet Weiss of Quasi and Sleater-Kinney Shares ’10 Ways To Be a Kick-Ass Drummer’

April 08, 2010 Guides + Lists

Quasi photo by John Clark

Forget Janet Weiss’ gender for a minute. Ask anyone who’s ever seen her locomotive-like work in Sleater-Kinney, Quasi or the Jicks–she isn’t one of the greatest female drummers of all time. She’s one of indie rock’s greatest drummers period. And here are some of the reasons why. Ten of them, in fact, including how to dispel all those just-the-drummer jokes and why she always brings a fan with her on tour…


1. Obviously, the first way is…KICK SOME ASS. Drums are powerful, glaring, unmissable, crude, bulky, clumsy, inappropriate, primal and AWESOME. The person who masters the unwieldy cylinders must own these traits. No wimps allowed. Drums are not for the faint of heart. Play the melodies in your head, make up your own style, no matter how simple or complicated, and you will kick plenty of ass.

2. PRACTICE. This is clearly not rocket science. However, a relative amount of hand-eye coordination is involved…as is the ability to do several different physical tasks at once. Your brain will need many repetitions of specific exercises in order to feel comfortable and free-playing beats. Feeling comfortable and free is the goal here, getting in that embarrassing place known as THE ZONE. Practice is the only way to be able to improvise and cut loose when it matters.

3. LISTEN TO THE GOOD BANDS. For most of us, music school isn’t in the cards. Most of us learn by ear, and that involves dissecting the drums we hear on our favorite records. Pore over the music that moves you…investigate how the drummer propels the music, and how her personality makes it cool, exciting, rickety and solid.

4. IMITATE THE GOOD BANDS’ DRUMMERS. A lot of learning comes from imitation. I had so many teachers who I would try and copy: John Bonham, Keith Moon, Tobi Vail, Mitch Mitchell, George Hurley, Mick Avery, Sara Lund, Gina Schock, Mo Tucker, Topper Headon, Melanie Clarin, Ringo, Bill Ward, and many, many, many more. I looked to these unique players to help me define my own sound.

5. GO TO A LOT OF SHOWS. Watching drummers in person will give you confidence. Standing as close as you can to the drums, you’ll pick up tricks, and you’ll learn what you like and don’t like. Most things seem easier when you’ve got a human in front of you showing you how to do them. Listening to records is important, but watching live is imperative.

6. TRY NOT TO MAKE FUNNY FACES/LOOK GOOD. We’ve got a lot of making up to do in this department. Drummers are often sweaty, primal beasts. That can be rad. But being cool and foxy isn’t bad either. I drag a fan around with me so I my hair doesn’t stick to my face when I whip it around. Stuff like that.

7. LEARN WAYS TO PLAY QUIET. There’s going to come the day when your band leader writes a sensitive song. You must be ready. Break out the tambourine or the maraca, turn your snare off, play more toms. Think of the Velvet Underground…that’s what I do.

8. DO YOUR FAIR SHARE OF LOADING AND SHOW UP ON TIME. Let’s prove those drummer jokes wrong once and for all.

9. PLAY LONG FILLS. Yeah, this takes a while to work into the arsenal, but nobody’s going to give you shit when you drop an eight-measure fill at the end of a phrase. Nobody.

10. EXPRESS YOURSELF!!!!! Get noticed back there. Drums are the coolest instrument, and the one to which people respond in a physical way. Don’t be afraid to let folks know what you’re about, where you came from, what drives you. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, to improvise, to explore, It can be scary playing such a loud apparatus, but when it all comes together, it’s totally worth it.

Quasi’s latest LP, American Gong–their first as a trio since forming in 1993–is available now on Kill Rock Stars. Here are two rather kick-ass songs from it…

  • Denver Warner

    I really like that you use feminine pronouns.

  • Gordon Wood

    Do you drag that fan around by the hair or the scruff of the neck? No wimps allowed, indeed.

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  • Reader in Chicago

    Note to Self-Titled editors: Janet meant “pore,” not pour. But this is awesome!

  • These tips from Janet rule! Gonna re-post on Tom Tom Magazine’s website: A Magazine About Female Drummers. Thank you for this rad piece. xo Tom Tom

  • Claire

    shit this is awesome. also no. 2 explains why i was never able to get into drumming (specifically: hand-eye coordination.


  • Cynthia

    All really good advice…for someone who has some talent to develop. Otherwise this will only encourage people who would be better served keeping it in the garage!

  • Janet you are awesome. I love the drums and you’re definitely in my top ten of the greats of drumming.


  • dan

    i make way too many dumb faces when i play drums….and it can’t be stopped.

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  • Steve

    Great article.


  • my guitarist emailed this to me! hint?

  • Andy

    I’ve played drums for 11 years, and this is really cool, I’m glad I read it. I honestly, in my immature ass mind, never thought of trying to look cool. Well, that’s gonna start! Fuck yeah!

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  • Russell Haines

    Yeah, several months later I`m inspired to respond….. Awesome! As someone who has bashed the unwieldy cylanders for 35 years, this just reaffirmed why I feel being a drummer is the most fucking fun thing on the planet. To the naysayer that said some should keep it in the garage: I hope you don`t have children, kids that are learning their instrument benefit from encouagement like this…..

  • Russell Haines

    Absolutely true: “Nobody will give you shit when you drop an 8-measure fill at the end of a phrase. Nobody.” Not only will you see people in the audience go “HOLY FUCK”, but most of the time your bandmates will turn around, look at you and go “HOLY FUCK”! What a great feeling…….

    • Aldine Jan Padillo


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  • Walking in the presence of giants here. Cool thinking all aonrud!

  • Jod’l

    Almost all those 10 ways are my ways too.cool. i just want to improve myself.number 2 is the best way.hehe

  • Dirk Diggler

    Typical guitar player turned drummer because it fit the situation. Same as most of the bands on the Warped Tour.

    Moves are very 8th grade, no imagination. Not a drummer, not even trained to be a drummer. Most of the points above are band 101. And yes, someone WILL mind if you do a eight measure fill…LIKE THE GUITER PLAYERS! Truth is unless your Dave Grohl, no frontman wants you outshining him!

    This should have been titled “How to learn to play the drums after your short guitar career tanks.”

  • EZ

    I’ve played for years and years. I still play alot of shows, and most of them are very well attended. But after so many years, not getting paid, and the singer and guitar players getting all the attention, it seems that it just isn’t worth it anymore. When everyone else is inside fighting off the chicks, there I am on the sidewalk breaking down my kit by myself. Drums are the least noticed instrument in the band. So I think it’s time to quit and move on. I’ve just lost total interest, even if the show is packed or sold out.

    • Sulpizio21

      Never quit.

    • Aldine Jan Padillo


  • My sides are hurting SO BADLY from laughing SO HARD!  Kick ass drummer you are NOT!
    RS mag’s article about you is BOGUS!  You are no match against the HUGE list of kick ass female drummer’s that are out there!  Compared to top male player’s you don’t even get a slot to stand in line!  Wake up and and face REALITY!  It’s ALL HYPE, about your drumming ability!

    • Herbinpdx

      Who cares? Does it really matter how she started? Doesn’t really matter if what she plays a simple? No. If the song is good and catchy people like it. How much money have you made playing your instrument?

      • Aldine Jan Padillo

        TRUE MEN………………….

  • I’m making note of these things … maybe I might learn a few things from my uncle ^_^

  • YazStone71

    I am a guitar player, but I think my real love is for the drums. I couldn’t afford a drum kit, never had the space at home, and the noise would have been deafening. But I love to play the drums. And these tips are really good. Most are about being a good musician, not just a good drummer.

  • joe

    Play sober. Save it for after you play. You will be less tired half way through your set and sound tighter even if you are one of those who think “I play better after a few”.

  • jay thakkar

    i am from india and i learn drums by myself with some groove books , rudiment practice on a pillow and lots of tapping on my belly , on floor , on head … every where but still behind drum set i feel like i dont know anything…

    i dont play drums regularly though cause of neighbours , studies and incidents happen every now n then.. once i start playing.. i keep practicing grooves for 15 16 days then some thing happens which puts stop for a month on playing drums like exams in college.. project pressure …. fever to someone in neighbourhood etc etc…

    now i m practicing all the things by myself n dont have any great instructors like she has… whom should i copy and what should i do to really improvise my drumming… please help

  • Pinga

    Don’t play long fillls, the rest is awesome

  • Aldine Jan Padillo

    i also play drums,and the funny thing is when i get angry,i smash the set> one time at the battle of the band; i destroyed their pedal and their bass drum too………….