Even though I’ve been drumming most of my life, something kind of strange has happened in the last couple of years. I’ve improved! That’s not to say that I wasn’t improving before, of course I was. But the improvements I’ve seen in the last few years have been significantly larger than the steady improvements of years past.
I’ve been drumming since my early teens and have noted a few jumps in my playing over the years. There is when we first start to get the hang of it, then when we first start to get good enough for the stage. Over the years I improved at a steady rate. However, I did something in the last few years that has led to significant improvements in various areas of my drumming. Want to know what it is? I changed!
Yep. As simple as that. I took a look at things I had been doing almost since the very beginning of my drumming career, examined them and tried different ways of doing them. And it made me a better musician all around.
I would like to share with you the things I have done to improve my drumming, and how I now approach this mindset of change to advance my drumming a lot faster than it used to.
After years of playing 5A’s, I was forced to give 2B’s a try when my local music store had nothing else left. They took some adjusting, but after a few weeks, I got used to them.
When I went back to my standard 5A’s, a very strange thing happened indeed. I was finding it much harder to keep control of my sticks and I was having to squeeze and hit much harder.
Upon further analysis, I realized that the extra thickness of the 2B’s made it easier on my grip since there was more wood to grab. With more stick to hold on to, I didn’t need to squeeze so hard to keep control. Similarly, because of the extra weight of the 2B’s, I didn’t need to hit as hard to still get a good sound. So now, I’m a 2B fan through and through.
Another thing I hadn’t tried in years was adjusting my drum set. What has helped me the most is bring my ride lower and closer to me, as well as the hi-hat. I used to have them placed to look “cool”. But now I have them in such a position that my elbows barely leave my sides. Whether I’m playing the hi-hat or ride, my arms are relaxed and my elbows sit close to my hips. This allows me to avoid taxing my shoulders from having to lift them up all the time to reach the drums. I have played 6 days a week, 3 hours a night for the last 8 years. Being relaxed has greatly improved my drumming technique.
My stool positioning is also something that’s helped me stay relaxed. By moving my stool closer to the kit, but sitting a little further back on the stool, I have now taken a lot of weight out of my feet and placed it on the stool. This has made double and triple kicks (on one pedal) so much easier.
Footwear is another change. I started out as normal. Just wearing my regular sneakers. Then about 6 or 7 years ago, I decided to give barefoot a try. I really liked the feedback it gave me and played barefoot from then on.
But about a year or so ago, I saw Bernard Purdie talk about footwear. He mentioned that not only feedback is important, but also the foot’s ability to slip and slide at will on the pedal. Now playing barefoot was giving me literally the most amount of feedback possible. But I had no slip. To solve this I simply put my socks back on. And this has allowed me to keep the feedback but have some slip. This plus the stool positioning has literally transformed my bass drum ability.
Less is more
The last thing I did was get rid of three toms. I had 6, now I have 3. This may seem like a limitation at first, but it has really allowed me to focus on the musicality of my playing. I no longer need to worry about using all of the toms for my fills. I only have three so I can easily get to them all. And just because I have less doesn’t mean I am less musical.
Now that’s not to say that you can’t be musical with a larger kit. Of course, you can. Just look at drummers like Portnoy, Mangini or Bozzio. But for me personally, the fewer drums I have, the freer my mind is to concentrate on the actual music and not have to focus so much on the technical side of drumming.
This is what has worked for me and improved my drumming the most in the last few years. Of course, it will be different for everyone. You don’t necessarily have to implement these same strategies to see a positive change.
The take-home message here is that change needn’t be a bad thing. Sometimes as humans (drummers are human right?) we tend to get stuck in our ways. When without realizing it, we are limiting our growth. So I for one will never be afraid to change again. At the end of the day, If you try something that doesn’t work, you simply go back to the way it was before. At best you will have a new and improved way to approach your drumming. And at the very least, you will have learned what doesn’t work for you. And continuing to learn and grow, is the ultimate goal of any musician.
What changes have made the largest impact on your drumming?