I know it’s easy to say “relax when you are drumming”, but how do you actually do it? I am always telling people to relax when they play and I also continually hear my teachers saying it to other as well. It is one of the most important things you need to do when playing any form of drumming from drum set, to conga drums to djembe or dununs. You can’t play stiff or contracted or the rhythm just does not flow. It’s also hard to have fun when we are tight or uptight. relaxing when we play is a technique and it can actually be learned! Playing drums is all about technique, and relaxing is one of the root, base techniques to playing and enjoying drumming.
So just how do we relax when we play drums? First off we have to start with a vision. Or visualization. We need to realize, that relaxing or being relaxed when we play is not smoking a joint and playing hunched over our drum with drool hanging out of our mouth. We need to visualize ease of motion. And full power channeling through our arms and body. The relaxed we want is diving board relaxed. Bouncing with ease. There is still power, but the bounce from the spring board gives us the power. The weight of our legs on the diving board is in our case the same as the arms dropping threw the connected wrists and hands to the drum.
I also like to visualize a spring or rubber band. The snap from the rubber band is what we want. A whip is another good analogy to use in terms of what to go for or visualize in our technique. The whip cracking is our pop. These are the visuals or type of visuals I like to use. You can come up with your own of course.
When I tell people they need to relax when they are playing they often look at me clueless.I am thinking of a friend and I in class recently. He was so tight and his face was so stressed out. People in out society often don’t know how to relax. We all lead very stressful lives. But we don’t want to bring this to the drums or drumming is not going to be fun.
Many people use drums as a way to express their anger or frustration and only end up hurting themselves and other peoples ears. Drums are not for expressing anger and frustration. They are for spreading unity and love. Keep this in mind. When you are heading to play drums have the right mind set. “I am not going to get stressed” and even
more so, “I am going to have fun tonight”. This is so simple but it works!
There are physical exercises and techniques that are very simple and work as well. One of them is called breathing!
Many of us hold our breath when we solo, clench or tighten up our face and squeeze our shoulders in.Check in on your breathing when you are playing. Make sure it is relaxed and even. You do not want to swallow your breath which is very common. This can give you “drummers farts”!
Another very useful and funny looking technique is to completely stretch your mouth open all the way occasionally when you are playing. Or at least before and after you are playing and in any rest stops. This helps relax your face and neck muscles where your head attaches. Try it right now, you’ll see. Feel where it connects when your mouth is all the way open.
Make sure you find, develop and use exercises that are specifically meant for arms, wrists and hands. I have several on Youtube and I have posted several from others on my Facebook pages. Stretch before you play,in any break you have and after you play. Some master drummers actually build stretches into their solo techniques! One of my teachers has a move where he plays a very cool roll, then does an intricate stretch that looks like a dance move. No one ever thinks it’s a stretch, but it is! And it works. And I use it too!
If you are playing drums in a dance class or in any situation that calls for you to be playing a repetitive part such as basic accompaniment for west african drumming or tumbao for afro cuban drumming, now is a perfect time for you to practice and engage in relaxation techniques. When you are playing make sure you can hear others around you not just yourself. How loud do you really need to be? Most of us (including myself) could actually take it down a notch. The trick is to keep the intensity with out the volume and stress. We want the music to flow through us.
If we keep this in mind, that the rhythms are coming through us, it helps us to kick back a bit and observe the rhythm happening rather then to stressfully control it. Try to find the place where you lock into the rhythm then just let it flow through you. I am suggesting this when playing simple parts.
Soloing is a different animal completely but we use all the same techniques for relaxing yet staying alert and vibrant. Another great technique for relaxing while you are playing is one of the simplest and easiest to do. Smiling! Smiling relaxes the face and allows a wonderful energy to be communicated through you as well.
Another important practice or technique is to keep centered and not be pulled off by others playing off, or by others actions. I have been in several situations where my teachers have been yelling “attack, attack” at the drummers. They want more out put, they want intensity. During these trying times it is hard to stay relaxed.But i remind myself i know what they really want. They want intensity and maybe the rhythm to go a little faster.
When we play with too much tension we tire out easy and the rhythm arrangement can lag. A useful technique for speeding up is to actually slightly drop the volume you are playing at which is exactly the opposite of our natural untrained tendency to tighten up and play louder when the rhythm goes faster. If you use this technique you can actually relax into the rhythm as it goes faster and you will not tighten up and burn out.
Furthermore if your fellow players are aware of this technique and all of you or at least several of you do this, ease up on the volume while increasing the speed…it actually creates what i like to call a natural vacuum effect. It sucks the rhythm together and the whole piece can really take off!
A lot of relaxing or not being relaxed all starts in our own minds. We do have to trust and surrender to the process. And when we see our hands going faster then we thought they ever could, don’t judge that. Just be there in the moment. Often when the magic really starts to happen in a relaxed and spontaneous way some inexperienced people freak out and stop playing because something is happening that their mind is not use to. You have to trust and surrender to this. Be ready to see, feel and experience some incredible things when you learn to relax, let go and surrender to the drum. The energy will and does enter all those who are ready to be there for it. But being uptight, in your mind or stressed is not the way to receive it or to have fun playing drums.
My motto is “minimum input maximum out put”. We want to effectively play, strike make the sounds and speak on the drums in the most efficient and effective manner.