He bangs the drum

Part II

Now. Let’s get a few things straight. Playing the drums is hard. I mean, it’s easy in a certain sense. The sense in which you take a stick and hit big things and they make a noise. In that sense it’s a doddle. I’m sitting on the drum stool with a drummer I have intense respect for watching my every move. And he knows what sort of knowledge I bring to this particular table. The sort of knowledge which acts as a great inhibitor. But, like I said in the previous post, time to get over myself. Time to play some drums and see what all the fuss is about.
We start with the grip. How to hold the sticks. The right-hand is quite orthodox but the left-hand is (unsurprisingly) recalcitrant. I struggle with orthodox grip, so try match grip, the funny sideways grip you see in marching bands. This sort of works, but I soon swap back, though I tend to use the arm rather than wrist in the left wing, but eventually fix this by twisting my hand more. It is, naturally, quite difficult and takes some concentration. I notice the first oddness.
My left-hand stick has two faults. The first is the fact it scoops at the drum head rather than going straight down and straight up – this means it glances the skin rather than hitting it square, with the obvious lack of sonic pleasingness. The second is perhaps more of a problem, and more difficult to diagnose. My stick doesn’t know where the drum head is.
This may sound like a rather surreal problem, but its of vital importance for groove that the player knows exactly where the dead centre of the note is. Perhaps a sporting analogy will help. When kicking a football, the foot must kick through the line of the dead centre of the ball if it is to go straight. Any slight deviation from this plain means that the ball will begin to spin just a little, altering its trajectory. As with balls, so with notes. The player who knows where the note’s centre is can control the note at will. The drummer is the player who provides the unifying ‘this is where the big, fat, juicy centre of the resides’ for the band, and the fatter the centre, the bigger the groove.
The thing with grooves, and tight-as bands, is that everyone knows where this note-centre is. As a guitarist or bass-player, you have to predict where the note-centre is, so you can lock in with the drummer. Groove is a predictive art, and when everyone concludes it’s in the same place, greatness results. The great drummer leaves you in no doubt as to where the note centre is going to explode, so everyone hits it with ease (that’s what Mike does, by the way).
My left-hand doesn’t know where the drum head is … which is going to make co-ordination practically impossible …
You see, sometimes I know too much. I don’t blindly and blithely blunder ahead, full of confidence and blarney. Not I. I see what’s around the corner and wonder whether I ought not turn left instead of right.
But we press on. I play straight four, with eights on the hi-hat, adding stuff until I’m playing eights on the ride, quarters on the hi-hat via the pedal, kick/snare on the 1 and 3/2 and 4 respectively. Add some fills, a tom roll … and we’re away.
Now, it’s difficult to tell whether it helps or not, and it was foolish not to hav done some sort of dexterity test before and after, though I could flick change out of my left palm, which is normally impossible. But I’ll happily state that my being felt more at ease with itself afterwards. This makes me wonder whether a) I shouldn’t start keeping a PD journal with relatively objective tests within, and b) whether music, and especially rhythm, helps. Certainly I know that the tango was useful. I shy away from the PDJ because, as I said to Mike, I don’t want a graph of my life as it ebbs away.
But what’s going on?
I have some ideas about that, but they’re going to have to wait.

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