Recently several people have asked me about lifting or using a weight training exercise
regimen to improve their speed when playing djembe. Specifically, arm training exercises.
I have never seen weight lifting specifically for the arms or shoulders help people to gain speed. It is possible it works, I am not a weightlifting expert but i just have not seen it work. And I have tried it several times myself. I am not saying not to do it or that it is bad, just that I have not seen it help increase playing speed or endurance.
I have seen overall fitness programs help people in a positive and direct way. But doing specific arm weight exercises only to increase muscle mass or light weight repetitions does not to my knowledge help you to increase your speed. For most americans that I have taught I have advised against weights.
This is because most of us are already to tight. And further tightening or bulking up does not give us the relaxation in the muscles required for proper drum technique. If you are using weights you therefore have to be very careful about loosing your flexibility and you must stretch to counter balance.
When I speak of relaxing the muscles by the way, I am not talking about being limp. We always want to have a diving board or spring board tension and release. I am just saying that weight lifting can tighten us up and make it harder for us to play fast.
From my personal experience working with trainers and observing others I can also say that fitness programs are a fantastic compliment to any drumming regimen. Yoga or stretching is especially good for preventing injury and strain. Cardio training,anything where the heart is pushed is especially good for overall training and conditioning as well and can help you last longer playing.
The best training for increasing your playing speed and endurance is actually playing. If you can play in situations or with people that push you to or beyond your limits, or beyond where you thought you can go is one of the best methods of training and increasing your stamina and abilities.
Playing in a dance class is great gym like training because it pushes you in a way you can’t do on your own. Unless of course you have tremendous determination and self discipline. In a dance class you have to hold parts at speed and volume with out taking a rest when you feel uncomfortable so it forces you to relax and play strong at the same time. That is the only way to survive. This is exactly what we are looking for. Relaxing and still playing at speed with power.
Playing with people that play faster, stronger or better will take us to the next level. Going beyond our comfort level always increases our abilities. Drumming in and of itself done correctly, efficiently and practiced regularly is really all the training you need. It just takes time and patience and of course hard work and stick -to -it-tiveness!
A great training aid for increasing your speed is a drum machine or drumming program in your computer. What you want to do is program in a rhythm arrangement or something fun to play to.
You want to start at a moderate speed to get warmed up. Once you are warmed up you want to increase the speed on the metronome to a point that is just at the edge of your comfort level. Once you start playing, play what ever you like for example practice soloing leaving short spaces in between phrasing.
You will find it getting easier and easier as you relax into it. As soon as you get really relaxed, then increase the speed of the metronome or drum machine. What you will find every time is that you can play much faster and comfortably then you thought you could at a fast sped. If you can you start can not play at 140 speed for example when you started, then you start at 120 and build up to and go past 140. You can go past the speed you could not start at very time easily if you use this method.
Another method of training I like with or with out the drum machine or computer aid is drum sprints. When practicing rolls I like to practice first slowly, build up to a comfortable speed, then really push myself like I was running a quick sprint, then back down to the comfortable speed. I do this several times. You will work up a sweet in no time using this method.
This is also muscle memory training. Your muscles will remember that they are supposed to go faster if you relax.
Another great and fun training is to practice and play the shekere (aka sekere) the beaded net gourd. If you play the large one it is quite a workout!