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Ten Tips No Drum Tutors Are Telling You

posted 17 Nov 2014, 07:19 by Chris Morris

This week, I've been noticing the small things. In drum lessons, your tutor will normally tell you that your grip needs improvement, or your paradiddles need more work. You're probably bored of hearing the same thing over and over again. So, I present to you, ten problems that no other drum tutors are addressing, and how to resolve them. We're focusing on the little things, the things that you don't notice, the things that are keeping you from progressing.


1. Stick clashing    


Problem:

This one has been getting to me all week. A lot of my students have been bashing their sticks together, knocking their control all out of balance, and sometimes even knocking their sticks to the floor!


Solution:

Hold your sticks at a 90 degree angle. When you point your sticks together so that the tips touch, you should be able to comfortably put an A4 piece of paper in between them. 


Watching your sticks as you play is also helpful, make sure your left stick isn't going to bash 
against the right stick. 


Having the drums set up in the way you like to play them is also important. Is the hihat too high or low? Is the crash cymbal too far away? Is your snare drum at the right angle for you? All of t hese things can affect your playing dramatically, and might just resolve the dreaded stick bashing issue.


2. Missing the drums


Problem:

You've just come out of a big dramatic drum fill. You're about to hit that crash cymbal to indicate the beginning of a new bar after a successful Keith Moon style solo. You raise your drum stick. You go for the big strike.


And you miss.

Yep, this has happened to me before, and it happens in lessons all too frequently; but not just 
missing the crash cymbal. Lots of my students have been missing the tom-toms, the ride cymbal, and even the snare drum. Sometimes they will hit the rim of the drum instead of the drum itself.


Solution:

This is a simple one. Aim! Imagine a big bullseye right in the middle of the drums. That's your target. Most of the sound from your drums will come from the centre, so it's always best to aim for this part of the drum anyway, unless you're trying to get particular sounds like ghost notes.


Sometimes it can be difficult because you are trying to read music and play the drums at the same time. This is another one where having your drums set up the way you like them is important. I learned a long time ago that having them set up where I like them means I can play them with my eyes closed – or, while having my eyes glued to the notation.


3. Floating foot syndrome


Problem:

This one mostly relates to young children. Floating foot syndrome is where, instead of having your right foot resting comfortably on the bass drum pedal, it hovers above it, and slams down and then straight back up to its floating position, making your right leg feel really tired and maybe even sore. 


This problem also affects the speed at which you could play; having to move your foot so far 
down and up again means that you have to spend all that extra time playing the notes on the bass drum. More importantly than anything, it saps your energy quickly.


Solution:

Keep your foot on the bass drum pedal! There are two ways to play the bass – you could keep your heel on the pedal and raise the front of your foot up and down as though you were tapping your foot along to some music. Or you could raise your heel up and use more of you leg to give the bass more of a thump. Either way, notice that your foot goes up then down. Not down then up.


4. Mismatched drum sticks


Problem:

Drumming with two different types of drum stick. A long one and a short one. A thin one and a fat one. A plastic tipped one and a wooden tipped one. Okay, there's a mountain of drum sticks in the Dundee Drum Academy “stick tube” but you have to be careful when choosing them. Sometimes I don't notice when you've got a 7A and a 5B.


Solution:

Always use a pair of drum sticks. As in, an actual pair. Different types of sticks have different weights and lengths. They will feel imbalanced in your hands, and will affect your playing. It sounds like a very simple rule, but you'd be surprised how often it's broken. Drum sticks, of course, deteriorate over time, so it's important to replace sticks as soon as they become too worn.


5. Dropping drum sticks



Problem:

This problem relates to numbers one and two, but it's also a problem by itself. Sometimes, inexplicably, without clashing sticks together or missing the drums, some drummers just drop their sticks. This is especially problematic when you are playing along to a backing track, or worse, playing live with your band.


Solution:

Make sure you have a firm grip of your drum sticks. Most of the grip should come from between your thumb and the first joint of your index finger. Make sure you're holding your drum sticks correctly too; if you have bad technique when it comes to your grip, you'll be much more likely to drop those sticks.


If you really can't stop yourself dropping the sticks all the time, then it's always handy to have 
some reserve sticks close by, just in case. If you go to see a lot of live bands, or even watch them on TV you'll notice that a lot of drummers have a bagful of sticks open beside them, somewhere easy to reach when they've dropped a stick (or a stick has broken) during a performance.


6. Too much tension


Problem:

This affects most of the students I've taught. A lot of drummers tense up too much when they play, resulting in a rigid, clumsy way of playing. This happens mostly when people try to play quickly; it seems people think that if you need to perform a really fast drum roll, you need to tense up and go for it as though you're lifting weights at the gym.


Solution:

I say one word when I'm teaching my students more than any other: relax. Yes, you need a little bit of strength in your hands to play quickly, and it will come with practice, but don't overdo it. Relax the muscles in your shoulders and arms – remember you should be drumming from your wrists more than anywhere else. 

Also, if you're too tense behind the kit, it will come through in your performance. It will sound like you're having a hard time. I could close my eyes (or listen to a recording) and know whether the drummer is relaxed, or whether they are enjoying playing or not.


7. Focusing too much on the notation



Problem:

Spending time learning to read music is important. It's one of the only things I insist upon for all of my students. But sometimes, there are things in music that can't be written down. A great shuffle rhythm, for example, involved moving in between the quavers and semiquavers that are written down. You could have a hundred drummers play a shuffle rhythm, and you'll get a hundred different versions, even if they are all reading the same notation.


Solution:

Spend time listening to music, and think about how the drums are fitting in with what is going on. Play along with it, try to understand the feel of the music. Listen to some drummers who are renowned for having great feel – Clyde Stubblefield, David Garabaldi, Stevie Wonder. Reading notation is important, yes, but you also have to use your ears and think outside what is represented in the dots.


8. Losing homework


Problem:

Aside from the big things like rent and electricity bills, Dundee Drum Academy's biggest expense is manuscript paper. I go through just about a forest-full every year (although, I'm pleased to say I now use manuscript which was made with paper from sustainable forests!), and it's because you need to leave your drum lesson with something to practise. However, all too often, my students will come in the next week with nothing. Where is the manuscript paper full of exciting things to practise? Down the back of the sofa? In Mum or Dad's car? In the bin? Who knows.


Solution:

Keep your manuscript safe. Lots of my students have ring binders or plastic folders that they keep all of the stuff I give them in. Invest in one. It's great to have all your old stuff as well as the things you're practising now because you can look back and see how far you've come, and it's always good to play through things you haven't looked at in a while.


9. Getting too frustrated


Problem:

When they can't play something the first time they try it, some of my pupils get extremely frustrated. I see this one mostly in younger students – they'll either get too angry, or worse, they'll deem it “too hard” and give up on trying to learn it.


Solution:

Don't.

It's that easy – just don't get frustrated. You shouldn't see the fact that you've arrived at 
something that's difficult to play as something frustrating, but rather, you should appreciate the challenge. If you come to drum lessons and manage to play everything I give you with no problems, then I'm not doing my job properly because you're not being challenged, you're not learning anything. 


Take your time, try things slowly to begin with; you can always speed things up later when you 
know what you're doing. Appreciate the challenge, and know that it will make you a better drummer.


10. Drumming while your tutor is trying to speak


Problem:

Performing a blinding drum solo while your tutor is in the middle of explaining the value of ratamacues. 


Solution:

Please, please, please don't drum while I'm trying to explain something. Just because the drums are padded, doesn't mean that gives you the right to batter them while I'm trying to explain how you could resolve whatever issue we're supposed to be tackling. You wouldn't do that in a bagpipe lesson, would you?


If I counted up all the time it takes me during the year to say “hang on a second” or “stop 
drumming just now” or “listen just now”, I'd probably be up to a few days a year. I'm getting to the point where I'm probably saying those things in my sleep while I have nightmares about my students drumming every time I go to say “okay, so in this bar what you need to do is...”


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