Many people have written to me saying, “OK, I agree I need to practice, but where can I practice”? Maybe it is too cold to go out to the park, or you just don’t feel like dragging your drum around? Or maybe someone has complained about “noise”?
I do not know how many times I have had noise complaints from my neighbors about “strange sounds both night and day”! The drums can definitely bring out the worst in neighbors at times. I have had people come to my house completely enraged. Yet strangely enough the same people do not complain about lawnmowers or carpentry early in the morning (my pet peeves)!
What is it about the drums that get’s people so riled up? Is it fear of the ancient powers? Who knows? But I do know some times we need to play quietly so here are a few tips on how to do so.
One trick I use is a towel over the drum, and a towel stuffed in the drum as well. This works for both djembe and congas, although I have not tried it on dumbek or bongos. It deadens the drums sound just enough to not bother anyone and you can stell get a feel for what you are doing.
Another trick, and this one may sound weird is playing with thin gloves on. It won’t help your feel for the skin but you can still make a sound and it keeps things dead.
The problem with this one is your hands getting hot or sweaty but try it out, it may be O.K. for you.
I also like to practice playing as quietly as possible as a technique as well. The goal here is to try and see how quietly you can make a tone, slap and bass. The bass for me is really, really hard to make quietly. You can still practice rolls and other harder to play techniques even quietly.
For me one of the important aspects of practicing is for the drum to teach me new ideas. I like to just jam on the drum and see what pops out, so for me this still works with the low volume playing.
There is actually a style of playing West African djmebe for quiet situations with fingers and finger tips (instead of full open hands) that several different teachers have shown me. I am not sure if they have a noise problem there in Africa because both times I was there it was noisy all the time from dusk to dawn, but it was a very cool playing style none the less.
So learn to play your instrument as quietly as is humanly possible and you can add it to your bag of tricks for variations and slip it in your solos for variations in dynamics as well.
Of course when you practice at low volume you will not get the cardio or exercise workout you would normally get at full volume but it is a decent substitute.
Some people go to greater measures. I have had several sound booths, actual structures made out of wood and sound deeding materials. I go inside the booth and play as hard as I want any time of day and night. My first one I got was a used vocal booth from some kind of “make your own music CD” in a mall. Then I actually had one made for me at vocalbooth .com.
It is quite expensive but it does do the trick. There are many variations to the them of sound deadening rooms, walls and devices. You can search on line and anything you can imagine is available for a price.
Another idea is if you have a neighbor who has complained about your drumming, ask them to please tell you when they go out or ask them what is their work schedule and use that time to practice. This has worked quite well for me when ever some one shows up at my door complaining.