This article was originally written for, and published by, Modern Drummer Magazine.
I offer it as a template for this Drum Journal… enjoy!
We tap on things incessantly, and we don’t know why. We grind our teeth to the rhythms in our head, and don’t know why. We are pulled to the music, and move to it, but we usually only move our hands and shift our feet…wanting to be a part of it…and don’t know why. Everyone has a heart beat. We are all made of rhythm, but drummers are unique. We are called to manifest this heartbeat, and then, like a “glass against a wall” we connect this beat with the Earth’s pulse. We are a ground wire, so to speak, that bridges nature’s rhythm to the outside world (This is not to say that other musicians don’t feel this primal pulse, but they were not called to be the anchor point). The drums have been a tribal healing instrument for thousands of years and gurus, healers, and teachers have used the vibrations of the drum to energetically align the body to heal. This is heavy! When called to drum, we are asked to physically, and energetically, ground the music. This doesn’t mean that the drummer is perfect, or always right, when it comes to rhythm and feel…but it does mean that we have been uniquely asked to keep our minds open, our ears open, and our hearts open, in order to more clearly “tune in to nature’s pulse”. (If you are driving a car, it doesn’t make you the best driver in the car, but you are the one selected to be the most aware, the most responsible and have the best view of the road).
I like to think that we have been given this honor to play drums, (by whatever force turned you on to it in the first place), and with this responsibility, it is vital for drummers to treat the calling with respect. Hopefully these words of advice will remind you and guide you toward a more spiritually energetic place.
1.Do your homework.
Whether practicing for a lesson, preparing for a gig, or researching a book, homework means the same thing…set a goal and do the work to get there. The point is not to let anything get in the way of being in the moment, when it is time to play. By having the foundation under us, we are able to free our mind. I can recall gigs when I did not memorize the songs, and used charts. I was a step away from fully feeling those songs, and distracted from interacting with my fellow musicians. Even cheat sheets can take your mind into the “thinking zone”.
2. Be physically prepared.
Our bodies take a lot of abuse, as drummers. We lift heavy gear, we set up and tear down, and we hit things for hours. All the while we are expecting to stay nimble, fast, relaxed and strong. What body builder do you know that can run a marathon? Well, we chose it, so it is our job to maintain our bodies to the best of our ability. This means getting enough water (at least half a gallon a day), eating well (3 meals a day with protein, fat and carbs in balance…see The Zone by Barry Sears, for specifics), and stretching, toning and relaxing our bodies. As energetic ground wires, the better shape we are in, the more pure the channel becomes.
3. Be thankful.
It is easy, in this industry, to whine. We work hard, or we don’t work. There is rarely a steady paycheck, no retirement, and no paid vacation. It is a tough ladder to climb, and even tougher, to enjoy the climb. But, we were given a gift, and we must be thankful. It is an unwritten, spiritual law…and it changes everything. I had just gotten off the road opening for Faith Hill. We toured strong for a couple of years, and it was time for me to make a change. A few months later, I found myself in a lounge bar, playing “muzak” for six people who didn’t even know we were there. I had a miserable attitude, and asked the bass player how he managed to not go crazy. (He is a successful, well-known player). He said, “I am a professional musician. No matter what the job entails, I must look on it as a challenge and a gift that I am playing, making money, and making music. Gigs come and go. They are good and bad. All you have is your attitude about the gig to take home with you. Treasure your gift in all situations, and it will always be there for you”. This is priceless information that I have used countless times since. Be thankful.
We are drummers, for whatever reason. We are on a path of healing and sharing. Doctors use x-rays and labs as their tools for healing…we use rhythm. We are conduits of the primal pulse, and it is our responsibility to respect this gift, and honor our place in the muse.
In the articles to come, I will address specific ways that drummers on-road, and off-road, can enhance their physical, mental and spiritual energy, and I will be talking to pros about their philosophy on playing, and how they keep “it” alive. Using my background in fitness and health, I will describe ways to eat, drink, play, and work, that will make it easier to be the best drummer you can be.