Maybe you are a beginner or perhaps you have been drumming a while. A challenge or problem that we all face at one time or another in our drumming life is “where do I fit”? What is the type of music I really want to play and who are the people that I want to play with or learn from? Do I want to freestyle or play traditional music?
To answer this and other questions will take self exploring. It is a fun journey and here are some tips that may help you on your way I hope!
I believe strongly that the drum has been a very powerful and positive tool in finding balance in my life. It brings a certain power to my life and an energy that is tangible and stays with me even after I am done playing. Not only is it fun and great exercise but it feeds my creative urges as well. I look forward to the next time I am going to play even as I write this.
Meanwhile, almost every day I also try to balance my life, to do my personal meditation, some stretching or yoga, swim, walk and drum if I can. But it all takes valuable time. If I am some where where there is not a pool I ride a bike or try to jog.
If I miss any of these things too long or too often I feel it. But when I do not drum, I really miss it and feel it more so then the other things in my life. And since everybody leads a complicated or busy life how do we fit drumming in? To me it is simply about prioritizing. People always tell me they do not have time to practice their drum, exercise or do drum stretching or yoga or even
practice. But you can always find ways to do whatever it is you need to do. Call me a fanatic, but when I am in a bank line or waiting for someone or something I often will practice something like a difficult solo phrase or flams on my legs.
When I am on the bus, train, car or plane I will do various yoga stretching. And as far as yoga or exercise you can always find time to stretch even while you are on your computer and really the botom line is about desire. If you really want to or need to do something you will!
I mention yoga and stretching because after 30 years of drumming I have found that it is necessary to counter balance my body with yoga, stretching and various exercises that help relax, or release tense muscles from drumming. Almost everyone I know will have to face this issue at some point in their life. So better to start now then later! It is never too late to start a healthy exercise and lifestyle program and it will only make your drumming and life better as well.
Drumming and playing percussion is healthy in and of itself and can open so many interesting doors to finding our own inner creativity, passion and more.
Sometimes in the past and early on in my drumming career I had to find out and ask myself, “what am I doing on the drum”? Who do I want to be and why am I playing it.?
Or moreover, why is my entire life dedicated to it? I was drawn to the drum magnetically (which you might be as well and why you are reading this article). The drum has a powerful pull and I used to run to hear it whenever there was someone playing outside somewhere.
When I was younger in my early twenties I wanted to be a combo of a Cuban and later a West African drummer as well, a Giovanni and Mamady, or a combo some of the African guys and some of the Afro Cuban guys.
In my early days I idolized Olatunji, Ladgi Camara and Los Munequitos and Los Papinas. They were the top drummers at the time and for hours and hours I would try to copy their licks off of records and cassette tapes (prior to VD and VHS).
I found this very helpful for getting the feel as I did not grow up in the culture of drumming and knew nothing of it other then what my early teachers told me or taught me. There was not a lot of info available in the late 70’s as there was no internet or drumming groups per se.
I have always said if you want to learn the music of a particular culture you need to eat their food, learn their ways and participate in their lifestyle so you can learn it intrinsically, through your body not just through a drum class, percussion lesson or book.
I decided I wanted to fully immerse myself in music and drumming from the Africna diaspora and tired to fully embrace their cultures, their food, language and lifestyle.
It was fun. I did the best I could and traveled to these countries numerous times and even lived in Africa and Cuba two times as well.
But eventually I found out that I would never fit in to the other cultures by trying to be that which was not me. I had to be myself.
I am not African and I am not Cuban. Nor can I play like those guys. And that is not the point. It is important to immerse yourself in the culture of the drum at some point and to learn and respect the drums and musics history as well. And for me the point is also to have fun, and to enhance your life and balance your life. And adding or maintaining a drumming “practice” to your life will definitely do so.
I still love the food, the culture the people and so on, but now I embrace my own culture and find balance bringing in a variety of different practices and ways of being. My point is to find out how to integrate drumming in your life. If you want to study full time, that is great and I totally support this and if you want to play part time or every once in a while that is just as valid. It is about you. Where does the drum fit in to your life?
Today, despite doing my yoga, walking, having a very healthy lunch I still felt like crap. We have a new kitten who has some health issues and having a baby pet is similar to having a baby (up at all hours) and we have not been sleeping well on top of some other issues as well.
I practiced my congas lightly in my apartment so I would not wake up anyone but it just wasn’t doing it for me. I could not really dig in like I wanted to because I live in a condo and I do not want the neighbours to complain as well.
Some days I go full out playing pretty loud in the little music room I created and hope for the best in terms of not disturbing anyone but today I needed to really work some things out on the drums.
So I took my djembe up to the roof top. At first I could not quite get into it, but finally I pushed myself and I started to feel the fire burning. I really got into it and I felt the charge that happens when we play drums, the energy burst and the connection. It felt so damn good to play!
I felt the combination of the physical, creative and “magical”, maybe even spiritual for lack of a better word. And while I stayed in this space I felt the tremendous force coming through me.
And right before I started worrying about the sound level and who was going to stop me from playing (it had gotten quite loud in my fit of peak), I realized this is why I play and this is what I need in my life, this is where I get my personal power and this is what I draw from.
After I got done playing I was also a little sore. I am not as in shape for heavy duty drumming as I have been in the past and I could feel it. Instead of drumming more, I stopped, did some stretching, took a break and then went swimming. In the old days I would have just stayed at the drum until I fell over or spasmed out.
So what is the difference now? Well now that I have been playing for quite a few years I have seen that in order to drum all the time, if I want to drum all the time, then there has to be a balance to it.
That means for me, yoga and stretching as well as doing other things that compliment my life and drumming as well like walking distances or swimming. Something to keep the cardio up and to compliment the drumming and the toll it can take on your body.
I decided a while back that I am in it for the long haul. I am a “lifer” so if I do miss some time drumming it does not matter, I’ll make up for it. Take your time getting into drumming and learn to relax with your drum practice. Most people that get involved to enthusiastically will eventually drop it because no one can play every dance class or just drum all day and night every day of their life.
The drum be it congas or djembe, helps to balance my life in a very powerful and influential way. If I am feeling bad mentally and I can simply go and play my drum and feel better then this say’s something very important to me.
Life for me these days is cross training . A little bit of this and a little bit of that. I can’t just play djembes all the time, I love congas too. And I need to eat well, get rest and have a life that goes beyond the djembe and drumming.
The concept I am trying to get across and the practice here is to avoid burnout and keep your body going in a healthy way as well so we can play as long as we can move into our upper years.
Learning djembes or congas or any other percussion instruments or being a part time or even full time percussionist does not mean that you have to sit in a room all day and practice Giovanni licks or try and copy Mamdy Keitta riffs of his CD’ or videos. I have been there and done that and truth be told I do still do this for periods from time to time. But you do not have to. And just because some one else does this does not mean you have to.
Drumming is for everyone. It does not matter your age, race or if you are a man or woman. It does not matter what you do or how you play or how good you are.
But what is important is finding a balance in your life with the drumming that works for you and your own personal lifestyle.
I say these things to encourage you to continue playing if you have stopped or to start playing if you have always wanted to try it as well. You do not have to play all the time. Don’t think you have to practice all day. Even a few minutes is better then nothing.
It is also very important to find out where you fit in or don’t fit in, what is the healthiest scene to play in. And if you are studying are just beginning or even deep in your career as a pro percussionist, what is the right instrument or intstruments to play? Maybe it is both congas and djembe, or maybe it is the Sekere.
Try them all and see what works for you. It’s never to late to learn to play a new instrument, especially if you have and keep a positive attitude about it, play from the heart and for fun and see where it goes from there!
If you are a seasoned player it is always good to learn new things and I have started and restarted several instruments and relearned how to play instruments several times. I have even taken lessons from my students students! If you are hanging around long enough this could happen to you too! Burry your ego and learn to learn.
Choose wisely who you play with, study from or hang with as well. If the vibe is not right in any situation , don’t force it. If you are not comfortable in any musical or drumming situation after you have given it a fair chance, move on to a different scene.
These days if I walk in a room and the vibe does not feel right, if I am not comfortable or I feel weird (and it is not a paid gig) I simply leave. I was not able to do this when I was younger, I was too attached but you must take care of yourself and if it is not the right situation for you “get while the gettings good”!
Many people stop drumming because it is too competitive or they are made to feel bad by someone else who is trying to teach them something or power trip with them. It happens over and over and I have experienced it myself as well as heard the stories for many entire career. It does not have to be like that. So if you have this experience move on.
Sometimes people stop playing because they do not have anyone else to play with or do not feel inspired. That is why I love congas, you do not have to have anyone around to have a good time! And although I personally love “full immersion technique” (playing as much as you can all the time) I have noticed people that go into it for a year or more at a time almost always burn out. So pace your self, take your time and balance your life with other things besides just drumming.
As we get older it is important for us all exercise our brains as well, to keep learning. So I always recommend studying the instrument you are playing on . For some people, studying with a master is the way to go. Following him around and doing all his classes can’t be beat. For other people it is learning from CD’s or DVD’s or from their friends. For others it is not even about learning, it is just about creative expression and they find the place to do that at a drum circle perhaps.
Even if your only interest is minimal and an occasional drum circle is all the drumming you want to do, you can still learn to play correctly and to learn technique as well.
This will not only make your experience better but it will make the experience better for those around you. The chain is only as strong as it ‘s weakest link.
Another benefit of learning to play your percussion instrument correctly is you wont hurt yourself or your hands once you learn proper technique.. So please stay open minded and open to learning no matter what your interest level or type of drumming or music .
And I also highly recommend staying open musically as well to different styles and cultural contexts for playing drums and music . For example I experienced jamming with Mamady Keita in a Santa Cruz music shop after his workshop in Santa Cruz one time. It was really interesting and fun and I could tell he was having a great time playing in a different cultural context. I also played rumba with a congolese master drummer. He was playing super cool congolese licks on the quinto, some of the most interesting things i have ever heard.
The beauty is in the openess, the combinations and the balance of doing different things to compliment your drumming, your musical styles and your lifetyle so you remain fit, free and happy, too.
Life is too short to get stuck in negative scenarios. Music and drumming can help free you internally and externally as well. Like anything else learn to develop healthy habits for practicing, playing and performing and remember to respect yourself and others when you are playing as well.
Keep a healthy attitude, an open mind and counterbalance your drumming with some exercise and you will be drumming and having fun for a long long time!