Ask the Pro’s: Steve Barney (Anastacia, Annie Lennox, Jeff Beck, Sugababes)

We are delighted to announce that throughout the Lock down period, we have been busy putting together a new and exclusive 'Ask the Pro's' feature where we ask some of the worlds most respected musicians how they learned to play their instrument and what advice they would give to new musicians.

These features are exclusive to Progress Music Academy and offer a real insight into how they did it and how you can too.


Photo credit: Dirk Pagels Photography, Simon Buck Photography.

The fourth instalment is from Legendary Studio Drummer Steve Barney (Anastacia, Annie Lennox, Jeff Beck, Sugababes, Mike and the Mechanics):

1. Did you have lessons or are you completely self-taught?

I had lessons from a great Norfolk-based drummer called ‘Slim' Harris - but equally, I’m also very much a self taught player.

a) If you were self-taught, how did you teach yourself to play drums?

I grew up in a house where Dad was always blasting out his favourite records… Genesis, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Rainbow, Led Zeppelin, Supertramp & 10cc were bands that all regularly featured on his record player/tape deck… I would play along to the songs, trying to emulate what I was hearing and while I was far from perfect, I was fortunate that it felt very natural to me from a young age. Being a massive music fan himself (although not a musician) my Dad noticed I had something & encouraged me to take things from there.

b) If you had lessons, how long did you take lessons for?

I think on & off for about 4 years (maybe from the age of 10 until I was 14). Initially, ‘Slim' had me solely playing on a snare drum (for about a year) showing me rudiments & educating me on sticking technique. Because I was young & naive, this wasn’t the most fun start to lessons, but I later realised it was a huge help and important discipline. We progressed to lessons on the drum kit, taking what i'd learnt on the snare & began to work things around the kit.

2. How important do you think it is to learn to read/write music?

While my own career has not called upon any sight reading, I think reading music can only be a benefit to musician by having this under their belt ready should the situation call for it.

3. We’re there any ‘light-bulb’ moments you remember having whilst you were learning?

Yes ! I knew I didn’t want to be a reader ! I realise this totally contradicts what I’ve said above… but personally, I just didn’t connect with reading music. This was nothing to do with ‘Slim' (my teacher), who was patient & a huge inspiration to me… but I just didn’t get it for some reason. 'Slim' would often put the music notation up first & play the piece before I did. Instead of following the music chart, I watched & listened to what he was doing and absorbed the drum part that way. I realise on the one hand I was failing & cheating myself the ability to read - but on the other hand, I was learning to use my ears & personal intuition of playing from a very early age.

4. Do you have any specific tips for a good practise regime?

For me, while practising/playing drums - whatever you’re playing, focus on making sure that it 'feels good' & your sense of time is solid. When you play with other musicians, they’ll be way more impressed (and likely to call you back) if what you played made the over all band feel/sound good. Practise to your favourite records & listen to the drum patterns - you’ll be surprised how simple & spacious much of the playing actually is. Also, play along to a click/metronome and solely focus on keeping great time.

Play to slow tempos - many drummers will be surprised actually how difficult It can be making slow songs/tempos feel good.
Finally, don’t ever think for one minute it’s all about the drums ! Within a band setting or supporting a singer - be aware of playing what’s required for the song itself and not trying to fit in your latest clever chopsy fill !

5. Do you have any advice for a drummer (or musician) who is just starting out on their learning journey?

Listen & absorb as many musical styles as possible - widen your mind to enjoy it all. We are so lucky just how much great music & creativity has already landed in our world, so embrace it !
While it’s easy to access great concert footage, educational videos & musician seminars on YouTube… there’s nothing quite like getting out there to watching live music.

To close, possibly one of the most overlooked things is to simply be a good person to be around. You might be the greatest musician on earth, but if your attitude isn’t good & you’re not sympathetic to others emotions & personal space - you’ll be remembered for that way before people think of your playing. Ohhh, & don’t be late !

You can catch Steve in action below:

Progress Music Academy

Book your introductory session here:

logos strip