Does age matter when playing or performing drumming and percussion music? Yes and no.Many of us who have been playing for a while would obviously like to keep playing for a while. I myself am over 50 years old. I am constantly playing with players half my age and sometimes more. Of course there are always going to be some age or physical limitations, but there does not have to be any cramp in your style and with the proper maintanance and care of our bodies there should be no reason why we can not play well into our 90’s! They do in Africa!
Many people new to drumming are over 40 years old. Drumming is for everyone and you do not have to be a certain age , race,type or color to drum. As they say in NLP, “if one person can do it then so can you”! In my experience teaching over 25 years I have found that almost everyone can reach some level of enjoyment playing conga drums, djembe and dununs no matter what their age or prior experience.
Here are some tips and advice for drummers of all ages, but especially for drummers over 40 or 50, who are just starting out or even for those of us who have been playing a while, and would like to continue to do so. My experience in a nutshell is that age does not have to be big a factor in your playing experience if you play wisely. Playing wisely means to develop your technique efficiently and effectively. You want to have maximum out put with minimum input. So you are getting the most out of your playing technique and not wasting energy.
I practice drumming regularly in front of a mirror as you may have read in other articles here to help develop and self correct my playing styles and any deficiencies. You can really tell a lot by watching yourself in the mirror. You can also take lessons and or get study materials almost anywhere on line from Youtube to the many drumming sites and blogs on the internet these days to help you learn and develop your technique, or even better take actual classes with a real person! There really is no excuse to not have good, efficient playing skills, other then lazziness or lack of effort. All it takes is some time invested and some effort and practice.
Playing wisely also means what strategy you use when you are playing drums. You do need to think about what you are playing, how you are playing it. Hand drumming and playing drums effectively and efficiently is not a mindless effort. Pay attention to how you are hitting the drum and make sure it is not sloppy and you are not banging your hands. If you are driunking or smoking herb or any other substance you should be very observant of how you are hitting the drum as sometimes on these
substances people are hurting themselves and not realising it at the time. But they will feel it later.
I like to compare drumming at a performance, dance class, drum circle, drum party or whatever to boxing. You do not want to go out in the first round and throw every punch you have as hard as you can (unless of course you are a young Mike Tyson).You would get winded and tired out. You need take your time, get warmed up and most importantly pick your spots for soloing or for standing out or even for pushing the rhythm.
PIcking your spots means to wait until you really feel in your flow to solo, or to pick up the tempo or intensity in your personal output while playing. Don’t jump out too soon and make sure you remain
relaxed and composed when you play. We all need to watch our breathing when we play. This means to make sure you are not holding your breath at times, swallowing your breath or other odd things we all do at times with our breath.
If you are playing djembe in an African dance class you might want to wait until you are really warmed up properly before you jump out to solo. Don’t play as loud as you can when you first sit down. Let it build up. When you do solo, always save some energy for the end of class. A very wise older drummer told me that when he solos in dance class he never goes 100% out in the beggining and always saves some energy for the end. This sounds very simple but it is very hard to hold back for many of us. Try this method out, you will be surprised how well it works.
Check in with yourself frequently and constantly. Don’t ignore feelings of pain or discomfort in your body. Adjust your body so you are comfortable and don’t feel that you are locked into a position or that you have to stay a certain way. Experiment with letting up a little if your hands hurt while you are playing. Check your sound level. Do you really need to be playing as loud as you are? Or, are you playing loud enough?
When you solo on congas or djembe drums you also need to pick your spots. What this means is to play with phrases and drum language. We percussionists and drummers call it “phrasing”. Phrasing leaves space in between groups of notes. It is a very musical way to play. Less is more, and musically speaking as an older player phrasing works better then trying to do loud rolls as fast as I can, or as fast as much younger drummers for instance. In terms of developing speed, practice playing fast under relaxed conditions at home or woth friends or with a metronome or drum machine. Then you can see and learn how to play quickly without tensing up. Many people tense up because of fear or the increased intensity level they feel when a rhythm increases in speed. If you actualy decrease your output volume and intensity when the rhythm increases you can reverse the tightening effect and play faster easier and effortlessly. It just takes consciously retraining your bodies first initial response or reaction. You’ll be surprised how easily and effectively this method works. Try it, you’ll like it!
Drumming is sometimes an extreme sport. Drumming professionally for me is like being an athlete. Depending on the situations you are in there can be a huge physical output of energy. Especially If you are playing in bands at all hours of the night like I do. There is physical activity from carrying drums around as well as playing drums. And sometimes you are playing in places with a huge lack of oxygen. So if you are in these situations and you are not a gifted youngster with unlimited amounts of energy that can keep you going all day and night regardless of the conditions, you need a program or regimen to prepare for these types of drumming situations so you can stay and be healthy.
My suggestion is to have an effective yoga, stretching and or exercise program and proper nutrition and hydration before, during and after you play. Keeping hydrated is very important. I make sure I always have water with my on stage and that I drink a lot before I play and during breaks. I stretch and do drumming exercises before I go on stage, in breaks and after playing. While others are drinking beer an smoking I am stretching and hyping myself up to have a great performance. People sometimes comment they do not have time to exercise and practice drums. But if you watch tv you can do it while you watch . If you are at a desk job there are tons of exercises you can do while you are working.
I also carry some sort of energy bar or quick burning snack with me to eat in between sets or on breaks during a gig, dance class or performance as well. One of my friends we nicknamed “snack daddy” because he is never caught without a snack on him or in his car. We make fun of him, but he is the first one we go to when we forget to bring our snack!
If I feel a lack of energy or that I am getting tired while I am playing on stage I immediately check my output level. Am I playing too loud? Am I playing too many notes on my conga drum patterns? Am I playing too much or two loud when others are playing loudly? You must learn to manage your energy output over the entire time you plan to play. I have an older friend who is an accomplished djembe teacher and performer who told me he never plays 100% in the beggining of a dance class and he always saves the bulk of his energy for the end of the class. On a lsightly different note, my teacher Bolokad Conde told me, “what people remember is the end of your solo, not the begining, so don’t blow the ending” (or run out of steam) at the end!
In a band situation in a jazz group when the pianist is playing I drop my levels down quite bait for musical dynamics and also resting my muscles. When the drumset player is soloing I do not try to compete with him. When it is time for me to solo I work my way into it from a calm and relaxed space and place and do not try and force it.
Forcing the feeling, forcing your drumming burns unnessacery energy and wastes energy. Sometimes when we are not warmed up yet or we just sit down to play we do not have the feeling in our bodies yet to play and feel the music properly or harmoniously. Some people try to force the feeling, to push too hard, play too loud or play too many notes to try to “get in to it” so to speak. I have seen this and done this myslef countless times. The remedy. relax and settle in. I went to a drum jam on the beach the other day. the group was playing a very fast ,nice Tiriba. My ego wanted to jump in, but my training said “wait”. So when the leader asked me to solo, I said no. For once I waited until I was warmed up and feeling comfortable and they were playing the familiar Guinee rhythm Soli, so I jumped out at the appropriate time. A much better way to go.
If you are playing in small rooms or anywhere it is loud (which is everywhere, actually!) it is important to carry high quality ear plugs that deaden the harmful levels of noise. Take it from me, someone who has lost a great deal of hearing! You can get the plugs from an ear doctor or specialist or lower quality ear plugs from a drug store. Don’t take your hearing for granted!