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Look The Way You Want To Sound
The other day, while I was trying to come up with a topic for this article, I gave drum lessons to two new students, and as destiny would have it, the subject became clear as day. I believe that the problems these drummers experienced are common to many young players, and when I pointed out what they were doing incorrectly, the predicament disappeared.
The first student did something that I often see done by many young drummers. When he would play a beat, and especially when he would try to do fills, he would occasionally arch his body back away from the drums. This prevented him from having a grounded center that would remain stable and give him a strong foundation from which to play. The result was comparable to a fighter pulling his punches. Whenever he did this, his sound dissipated, his dynamics and tone quality varied, and so did the feeling of any kind of flow. It also gave the impression that he really wasn't sure what he was doing. I drew his attention to this, and suggested that he constantly monitor his posture so that he would play into the drums, and stay conscious of his sound at all times in order to get the fullest sound no matter what the dynamic level. He instantly sounded and looked like a much better drummer. Obviously, since one of the main jobs of a drummer is to keep the band together, you need to look and sound confident.
The second student had a different habit that kept him from getting the fullest sound out of his drums, and affected the way he looked when he played. He would bob his head in a nervous, unrelated tempo, and also move his elbows out whenever he tried to play fills. He thought he couldn't come up with interesting things to play, when in fact all these nervous mannerisms actually kept him from physically being able to get around the drum set. It was as if his body was fighting itself, so when he tried to play a fill, his arms didn't really know where to go. When I suggested that he relax and keep his upper torso stationary, all of a sudden he could get around the kit with no problems. His sound was much bigger, and again, he looked much more in control.
Tension is another proclivity that can prevent you from playing at your full potential, and make even the simplest movements much more difficult. Some drummers unconsciously hold onto their sticks too tightly, or hold their breath when doing fills. Sometimes the tension in a drummer's body is clearly visible while he or she performs. If you think you might be doing any of these things, take the time to train yourself to relax. With a little self-examination you can catch yourself at these bad habits. At the first sign of tension, consciously tell yourself, as well as feel yourself relax. After you do this for a while, you'll start noticing an improvement in your performance. Being aware and in control is the key.
Many great players look good as well as sound good. Having a strong center of gravity, and using your limbs to play into the drums, can really pay off. If you think you might have any bad habits, or other energy-wasting motions in your drumming, play in front of a mirror, and try to look the way you want to sound.
Images and Information from DRUM! May/June 1993, page 45