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Drum Hum

percussion points


OK we all make (or suffer from) cock-ups occasionally, and it seems last month's smattering of Ls and Rs was too much for our typists. For those who worked their way through I hope you haven't had a month of thinking Nicholls has finally gone off his block. Things should have been as follows (starting half way down the column).

"All these are useful. And what about triplets? Here goes.

COUNT: 1 & A 2 & A 3 & A 4 & A
SNARE DRUM: L L L L L L
BASS DRUM: R R R R R R


Add the right hand on the ride cymbal or hi-hat in unison with the right foot, accent the two and four and you get a nice boogie rhythm;

COUNT: 1 & A 2 & A 3 & A 4 & A
CYMBAL: R R R R R R
ACCENT: > >
SNARE DRUM: L L L L L L
BASS DRUM: R R R R R R


Experiment with this, perhaps missing out some of the bass drum beats — it works well. Now try turning things the other way round. Lead with the left hand, and this time try a boogie/shuffle with the right.

COUNT: 1 & A 2 & A 3 & A 4 & A
CYMBAL: R R R R R R R R
SNARE DRUM: L L L L L L
BASS DRUM: R R R R R R




Now, while morbidly musing cock-ups, an entirely different disaster suggested itself. Drummer's ailments. Oh yes, we do suffer, you know. Actually I'm prompted by the occasional twinge coming even now from my right arm. I seem to have contracted some variety of 'Simmons Elbow'. I don't wish to libel that esteemed company, but as Simmons were in there first they've become the generic term for electronic pads and have to take the bad with the good (not to mention the blame for everyone else). I've recently been battering various electronic pads more than usual, and I can only assume I've strained a tendon or muscle.

Whatever it is, I reckon if playing an instrument causes physical damage then I must be doing it wrongly. There's no logic in blaming the instrument. Of course if you've spent years playing an acoustic kit and you transfer to relatively ungiving pads, it's quite easy to jar yourself. One of the good things about pads is that you don't have to play so hard to get a loud response. But what I and many others have found is that in the heat of the moment you lay into them just like a "real kit". Hence Simmons wrist, fingers, elbow... knee!

Yes, I once did a long rehearsal with an electronic bass pad and towards the end I found my right leg quivering, and I could hardly straighten my knee. I also snapped the pedal shaft. I was obviously getting carried away and this is equally obviously dangerous.

Baz Watts (again) of Simmons (again) was working with Bill Bruford last year and while sorting out a sound, asked Bill to hit a certain pad. "Baz", Bruford admonished, "I don't hit drums, I play them." Quite. Therein lies the key. Rock drums are so physical we resort to "hitting" rather than playing with the resultant appalling consequences. And the problems are there with acoustic drums — pads just intensify it.

Footballers damage their knees, tennis players their elbows, dancers generally cripple themselves, drummers are not exempt. When you're perched on a stool for hours, stamping your feet and thrashing with your arms while trying to accomplish weird co-ordinations, the shoulders tense up, the back aches, the legs get tired and strained, the wrists and fingers are jolted. You're a mess.

The trouble is of course, that most of us in Britain, me included, have learned watching the efforts of others, often equally inept, without the benefit of any expert tuition, or even someone on hand to point out our worst habits. You might argue this is good, it's why the British pop scene is so novel and quirky. But is it worth dying young for?

Don't answer that, let's be positive.

When I spoke to Ted McKenna and Tony Beard last year, they both told me they used to spend hours practising in front of a mirror. Try it. If the thought is just too appalling, wear a paper bag with the eyes cut out (start a new trend). You can immediately see how weak and stiff your left hand is compared with your right; how you're sitting lop-sided, etc. Or, if you're like me, minus the paper bag, how you look far too serious while playing. The one thing I feel confident about saying is that relaxation is the secret. I know if I take a deep breath, drop the shoulders, consciously relax, then difficult things become much easier to control. The stiffness doesn't have to go to the legs, the shoulders, the lower back; you don't have to hold onto those sticks for dear life, wracking your fingers and wrists.

As with any physical activity, keeping fairly fit and doing a bit of a warm-up before going all out, makes sense. But equally important to many is a relaxation or 'centering' session. Maybe learn a hit of Yoga. Or lie on your back with your feet up the wall, contemplating the nature of the universe and how you're going to go out there with only positive thoughts. That sort of thing.

Something called "Alexander Technique" is an old favourite with musicians of all types. Crudely put, it's a sort of Westernised Yoga (well, Australian, actually) which improves posture and thus aids breathing, relaxation and relieves muscular tension.

If you do get a severe problem through drumming, or otherwise, and like me end up at your local physiotherapy department, you may find it doesn't help much. On the odd occasion of real trouble I've had, like when a 13-stone student landed on the side of my knee just before a gig, I've been lucky enough to benefit from something called Shiatsu. This involves a serious massage combined with acupuncture without the needles. Hurts so much you know it's doing you good! It works for me anyway, in fact I'm just off to see if I can get my elbow fixed.


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Practice

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Technically Speaking


Making Music - Copyright: Track Record Publishing Ltd, Nexus Media Ltd.

 

Making Music - Mar 1987

Feature by Geoff Nicholls

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> Practice

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> Technically Speaking


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