Monday, February 9, 2015

Drumming: The Early Years, Part II

Where were we? Ah yes, sucking!

Not only are those the words of a forgetful prostitute, they accurately describe my drumming skill level circa 7th grade. I totally sucked, and was totally fearful every time I sat behind the drums when playing with the jazz band. You see, I was relegated to the conga drums for performances and most of rehearsals, but would occasionally get a chance to share my suck rather than keep it all to myself near the ends of rehearsals, probably because the other drummer's arms got tired or something.

By the way if you didn't read part one, stop being dumb and click here. When you're done, come back to part two here, if you feel like you can take both parts in one sitting. And when you do come back, start over at the beginning, so you get the full effect. But then I guess you can skip over this bit the second time through if you've actually bothered to read all the way to here the first time through, without reading part one yet.

So anyway, there I am in seventh grade jazz band, clearly communicating to everybody via subtle body language that "no, I am not very good at this, and yes, that makes me uncomfortable" but visions of drum solos in the not too distant future gave me the mental fortitude to plow through all the ugliness. In reality, it's pretty likely that all the other musicians were thinking to themselves "I'm not very good" as well and had no time to focus on my not very good-ness, but mistakes on the drums were just so much more damn obvious so yes my problems were worse and that made me special.

Another issue that kept surfacing was, at the time, I played left handed. There are very few left handed drummers, and some might even argue that there's no such thing, because "right handed" is how the instrument is built, and you adapt, much in the same way some people argue there should be no left handed violinists. To that I say no fuck you, if it's easier to play the other way then play the other way because who gives a shit? So that's what I did, and it was terribly inconvenient. I could never just plop down on a set, because nearly everyone else was right handed, so whenever I had access to a set, everything was set up for a right handed drummer. If I wanted to take a crack, I had to rearrange everything. But I begrudgingly did it, and I played as much as I could as best as I could during that year or so, and then


In March of 1998, months away from my birthday or any sort of gift giving holiday (which I guess leaves just Christmas) my parents probably thought "ah jeez he hasn't lost interest, guess we better do something" and surprised me with a set ALL OF MY OWN. "Oh there's something in the spare room closet for you!" They said, or something like that, I don't fucking know it was almost 17 years ago. I bounded up the stairs and threw the door open so hard the WHOLE HOUSE BLEW UP. Haha, no actually I probably ascended to the closet at a reasonable pace, because like I said, it wasn't Christmas or my birthday or anything so I wasn't expecting any sort of major tell you the truth I really don't remember the events leading up to the big reveal at all, I'm mostly just making shit up. I opened the closet door and blinked a few times. I didn't expect drums so hard that my first thought was probably more like "hmm, someone left their drums here" rather than "@#FUCKING!@%#$@SHIT@#@%!WTF%^" But I did eventually settle on something along those lines.

I assembled the kit in the attic (the left handed way god dammit) and immediately played one of the two beats I knew how to play for probably hours. Glory! Vindication! Disbelief! Immediate stagnation! I was young, so had no concept of effective practicing. For awhile though it didn't matter. The thought that I had a drumset all my own made me feel like a superhero, even though the drum heads looked like someones acne scarred face, and the cymbals sounded like trash can lids smashing together. 

I would play my couple beats, occasionally attempt to mix it up, immediately falter and get frustrated, and then would do it all again. This repeated ad nauseam until drum lessons started a few months later. Apparently I waited a short while to begin lessons because I wanted to get my feet wet and ingrain some bad habits before my parents paid someone to get rid of them. 

Here, make him not sound like shit.

Summer of '98 is when those lessons began. At this point I somewhat competently knew how to play some basic beats with some semblance of timing, which in my mind translated to "I don't need this shit I rule." However, we started with something unexpected: not beats.

Here's a quick lesson. Drums are played with two hands, and two feet, with your two hands doing most of the work. Yes there are exceptions to this statement, death metal etc..shut up. My point is the focus is mostly on your hands when you're first learning, so why not get those in shape first? Two fewer limbs to work on, and it will lay the foundation for a lot of concepts that can be applied to the rest of your limbs when they're ready. 

So to start, we would do rudiments. These were exercises that would get the blood flowing, and if practiced enough, would improve your speed, dexterity, and coordination. They were also boring as fuck, especially when you aren't very good at them.

So I would practice reading music in a snare drum method book. I was already familiar with how to read music, since I had been taking band in school, so I breezed through the first book all smug and shit, even though my drum teacher was probably thinking "ok, you technically got the rhythm right, but it was still terrible for a lot of reasons."  But I get why he didn't intervene further. You can't expect someone that's just learning to perfect every nuance before moving on. Lessons are a delicate balance between introducing new concepts (exciting!), repetition (boring!), putting things you've learned into context (exciting!) and discussing effective practice techniques, since most of the learning is done when you aren't with the teacher (boring!). But, my drum teacher did a good job at keeping me inspired. Each time we got together, I'm fairly sure he could tell that 80% of my practice time since I'd last seen him was spent going "RGBHGHBRHABAHBAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAH" on the drums, and only 20% was spent applying things I'd learned in his lessons, but keeping your hands moving is an important part of improvement, so I guess that 80% wasn't totally wasted. 

Like I just said about 10 seconds ago (maybe 30 if you're a shitty reader), most improvement occurs when not with the teacher. There was no way I was just going to do rudiments for hours a day, so I had to make it fun somehow. I chose to play along with some of my favorite CDs on my sweet discman. My strategy seemed to be "play shit that's way out of your skill set and get depressed about it" but it did lead to some occasional, 
but major improvements. 

Then I gave up on playing left handed cause I was so sick of moving other people's drums around. I was terrible from either side, so I figured better make the switch before I developed skills that I would have to relearn from the other side. I regret nothing.

I would also sometimes have guitar player friends come over. They'd discover a fun riff, we'd jam on it for 30 seconds or so, and then it was just a question of who was going to get bored and stop first. So I suppose all sorts of little things worked together to keep me improving and prevent me from losing interest. 

Then I got busted for shoplifting and got grounded for approximately forever, so I did basically nothing but play drums all day every day for months and months. That certainly helped too.   

After those first couple of years, I was getting pretty solid in Jazz Band, and had a few fancy tricks in my arsenal to convince non-musicians that I was really good, and actual musicians that I would eventually be good maybe. Even though I'd barely been playing for any time at all, I thought I was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. That's right. Eighth grade, and I thought I was going to reach some sort of terminus already. I have obviously since realized that light is a total illusion. There is no "end" to learning an instrument. No matter how good you are, there is always room for improvement, and there will always be someone better than you. Often times these people are much much younger than you, but no worries, we can all hate those people together.

Coming soon, part 3, where I take this shit to the high school, and later COLLEGE LEVEL!!!


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