Playing the djembe drum standing up is very different then playing seated. You now have more volume but you also have a weight on your shoulders and therefore, lower back as well. Playing standing up takes time and patience to get used to and to learn and special training can help for this as well. You most definitely want to be doing your yoga, stretching and back, shoulder and neck exercises for strength,flexibility and stamina.
I also suggest practicing standing at home when (and if) you practice drumming at home. If you are playing in classes this is another great time to practice standing up. Any chance you get is a great time to play standing up. Every little bit counts and eventually you will get used to it. But, sitting down will not build up the muscles or stamina needed for playing up!
Some people prefer to play standing up as it gives us a different feel and interaction with others dancing and playing as well. Also, we can change our position to relate with different members of the ensemble we might be playing with. Also, being mobile helps us to move easily into or out of situations we may or may not want to be in . Being seated therefore, leaves you with no options of where and who you play next to and no options for adjusting your sound.
When wearing a djembe it is very important to focus in on your posture and bend at the knees. Allow a very slight bounce to happen, like a shock absorber in a car or motorcycle. You don’t want to bounce to much, you’ll have to see what works for you. It’s going to be different for everyone.
Many of us who practice a lot have developed a habbit of watching our hands. When you are standing up playing (or sitting), you actually want your head up. That is to say looking out towards the center of what ever is happenng. If there is a dancer you definitely want to be watching them or him or her. Keeping your head up, looking out and connecting with others is always a good plan.
Your head is like the weight of a bowling ball. If it is pointing down while you are playing you can be putting undo stress on your neck and upper back as well. Be conscious of where you head is and also if you are scrunching your shoulders. interestingly enough,one of my teachers showed me that there is actually a move in Guinea called “the crab” where you do scrunch your shoulders!
Most drums are over 20lbs, so that is a lot of weight tobe carrying over time.Any training you can do to help offset this is going to help you. Weight traing can actually slow down your muscles so be careful with that. For me I have found different yoga type of exercises for the shoulders help tremendously. You will have to research that yourself. But, please do and don’t put it off until after you are injured.
We want holistic preventative measures taken before anything happens and that is why I am writing this article. Since we did not grow up carrying drums on our backs, this is new to us. So build up and prepare for it.
Many of us stand straight and put too much weight on the lower back. Especially if you are not moving and standing in the same position. Over time this can create problems for some of us.
You also want to have some slight, gentle and easy fluid movement happening and change positions regularly,unless you are a superman/superwoman. Jumping around can also be detrimental to your spine for obvious reasons. You need to find the balance of movement and playing that does not interfere with each other and compliments each other. Some people do a standing in place exercise where you move your feet evenly to the four pulse of any beat imaginary or being played through your music system.
You keep an even beat with your feet in the simplest possible dance step (simply put left foot out and then right foot and so on) and while you do this you play the drums in the air in a steady roll. Some people jog and do this. This actually builds up all your drumming muscles as well.
Also, it is important to have a rock in your step, dance step or some movement so that the weight is constantly being shifted off of the shoulders. It is important that your are playing with proper very efficient and effective technique when you play standing up.
If you are playing unconsciously, heavy handed or too strongly, for example trying to be heard for several hours at a large drum circle…you can hurt your back from the constant down pressure.
This is why you always want to be imagining, visualizing and therefore playing with a bounce technique and constantly lifting and pulling up when you play the djembe rather then “attacking” in to the drum and pushing in. You want the sound to be lifted out naturally from the bounce your hands are creating like you are bouncing a basketball.
It’s not about how hard you hit the drum it is about using proper and efficient technique. Minimum output and maximum return.
Your strap is also important. I like karate belt like material and widths. You don’t want it to be to skinny or it can dig into your shoulders. You also want it to be detachable ( not permanently attached) so you can wash it easily. Speaking of which, I always carry an extra strap in case one of my sweaty buddies wants to switch drums or I want to try someone else’s. It’s a nice courtesy either way,
I highly recommend practicing in a mirror so you can see and self correct and negative playing tendencies or posture problems using common sense. Watching yourself will reveal many potential problems or habits you may need to correct.
If you really want to play standing up and the drum is simply to heavy there are ver new and interesting drums coming out on the market that are super light and still maintain 90%-99% of traditional djembe sounds. Writ eme for more information on these if you like.
When using the bounce technique you want to think of your arms as diving board and your hands as your feet bouncing on the board. You drop your arms, using the weight of the drop to create the bounce rather then using muscular force.
On a final and important note I would like to point out that even the smallest change in your playing style, seating height or standing position can often alleviate pain or stress and change into a huge result for the positive.
So please feel free to experiment and always check in with your own body. If you are feeling pain, something is not right!