Category Archives: Mindfulness

Tuesday: Never Practice Struggle

The idea to “never practice struggle” was first presented to me by Total Immersion swimming coach Terry Laughlin. I would like to take this idea out of the water and onto the drum (or pad) with today’s lesson.

Challenge: Revisit Murray Gusseck’s “MasterClick” article from the Vic Firth Exchange. The goal today will be to begin playing either:

  • 1/16th-note book reports,

  • or 1/8th-note triplet flam drags.

Once the tempo increases to the point where you cannot maintain the quality and consistency of the rudiment, remove one diddle. In the book report you will play a diddle on ‘1’ to make it a diddle choo-choo,

and in the flam drag you will switch to flam accents.

Moving along in tempo, once you can no longer maintain this rudiment, remove the remaining diddle or flam to make either a choo-choo,

or straight triplets.

Lastly, at a certain point you will remove the flam in the choo-choo and begin playing paradiddles.

Still with me? The idea is to never practice struggle. Begin with a challenging rudiment at a slow tempo, then as the tempo increases switch to a more manageable rudiment at the appropriate time. When? That depends on your experience level and chops.

Post experiences to comments!

Thursday: Change Your Perception

Today, yet another innovative approach to teaching yourself how to play music with sticks: change your perception. Here’s what I mean.

Step 1: Pick a pattern, grid, exercise, or musical excerpt to play. Something you are somewhat familiar with and can play fairly well already.

Step 2: Play the part with your eyes closed. Listen to the sound you are producing. Is it in time? Are the rhythms consistent? Is your sound quality appropriate? Also take a moment to notice how you feel. Where are your hands, forearms, shoulders, etc.? How relaxed is your face? All while eyes are closed.

Step 3: With eyes open, set up a camera to record yourself playing the part. Once you get a good recording, go back and watch it on mute. How do you look? Confident, aggressive, joyous? Surviving or thriving? Notice any and all movements you do. Is it necessary to move your left elbow when your left hand plays accents? Is your right shoulder higher than your left? Are you standing upright?

Step 4: Now go back and listen to the recording of yourself playing the part but without looking at the screen. How do you sound? Is every single note in time? Without knowing the sticking, could you tell a difference in sound hand-to-hand? Is your range of dynamic expression appropriate? Be your own worst critic.

Step 5: Put it all back together. Record yourself playing the part once more, but this time take into account all that you have noted throughout this process. Once you get a good take, go back and watch the finished product, both with audio and video together. How does it look and sound?

Thanks for reading today. If you’ve gotten this far, post a link to your video in the comments.

Wednesday: Technique, Music, Tuning, and Clarity

In the marching percussion idiom there are a lot of factors that influence how a drumline sounds when they play their instruments. Simplifying things a bit, you can boil it down to:

  • Technique
  • Music
  • Tuning
  • Clarity

Exhibit A: The Cavaliers 2011 Drumline playing through their Pre-show and Opener in their Finals Lot warm-up

Their technique can be described as loose and relaxed while maintaining stroke intensity into the drum. But notice, however, that their technique can be as such specifically because their written music allows for space in between the notes, granting the players the opportunity to move fluidly and with grace.

Similarly, their tuning scheme sounds immaculate: you can hear very clear tonal and timbre ranges each for the snares, tenors, and basses. However, without the clarity being achieved at such a high level, the tuning would perhaps sound muddled and inarticulate.

What’s the catch? These are both two-way streets. Music influences technique; technique influences music. Clarity influences tuning; tuning influences clarity. In order for a drumline to look the part while playing with stellar technique, the arranged music better allow for that to happen. In order for a drumline to sound amazing and achieve other-worldly levels of clarity, the tuning scheme must be consistent and appropriate.

Exhibit B: Daniel Allen’s award-winning snare solo at PASIC in 2008

To describe why this solo was so successful, consider the following quote from the seminal psychology study “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance” done by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson in 1991:

In the performance of music, children and adolescents are judged principally on their technical proficiency. Expert adult performers, however, are judged on their interpretation and ability to express emotions through music (Sloboda, 1991). The inability of many child prodigies in music to succeed as adult musicians (Bamberger, 1986; Barlow, 1952) is often attributed to difficulties making this transition—possibly resulting from inappropriate training and instruction during the early and middle phases of music training. To become outstanding musicians at the international level, individuals have to contribute unique interpretations of music (Roth, 1982).

So there you have it. Daniel was able to become an outstanding musician at the international level (i.e., win PASIC) not only because he was technically proficient, but also because he was able to express emotions through music and contribute unique interpretations.

Technique, music, tuning, and clarity. They are interrelated, and both as a performer and an educator, one must firmly acknowledge the role of each in “the acquisition of expert performance.”

I will leave you with Exhibit C: Ido Portal’s video “Self Dominance,” demonstrating unique contributions to a different field, that of human movement and capoeira.

Are you drumming like Ido is moving? Thanks for reading today.

Thursday: Mindfulness Revisited

Skill work: Approach your breathing practice as you would drumming. Spend 5 minutes simply focusing on your breath. Sitting, standing, walking… whichever works best for you. Read “Manage Your Stress” by Chris Kresser to cultivate further motivation to practice mindfulness on a regular basis.

Challenge: How does breathing practice affect your drumming?

Post experiences to comments.

Thursday: Three-Note 16th Grids

Warm-up: Spend 4 minutes playing buzz rolls and three’s (RRRLLL) in a variety of rhythms. Use this live version of “Minha Alma” by Maria Rita for tempo.

Skill work: Work on these Three-Note 16th Grids. Notice how they are different from regular triplet and 16th-note grids. Play these variations slowly, focusing on accurate rhythms, distinct heights, and tight diddles. Begin at 80 bpm, and work towards a medium-fast tempo.

Challenge: Drink water, and only water. The effects of adequate hydration can be both refreshing and surprising. Can you go one full day with drinking only water? What about one full week? Eat what you please, but when it comes to liquids, avoid the sodas, juices, coffees, etc.

Thursday: Breathing as a Skill

Challenge: Focus on your breath for 5 minutes. Sitting in a quiet room tends to be most conducive to concentration, but you could also do this while standing, walking, or playing a double-stroke roll. Allow your eyes to close, and consistently bring your attention to your breath. Your mind will wander, and thoughts will come and go. Relax, and breathe.

Post experiences to comments.