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How I feel my way on the drums

Updated: Feb 25, 2023

Today, 4 August 2021, marks four years since I began playing drums -- and, incidentally, four years since my fiancé and friends banded together to purchase me a drum kit of my own. I look on this day very fondly, because this was a turning point that helped me to truly begin to shine with the drum kit -- the instrument that has called to my heart from the very beginning.

Also, as I have mentioned in previous posts, I really only could have gotten to this point because of that one opening made for me by those closest to me: this was not achieved by hard work alone. Everything that I have is a gift -- and this knowledge puts me in the mindset of wanting to help others who have not yet had that chance or that gift.

This post is only going to shine a tiny sliver of light into how I practise, how I think, and how I feel, when I'm behind the drum kit. That said, I hope that it may provide some insight, bring some hope, or otherwise prove an interesting read to you.

A picture of me playing drums -- specifically, the kit at Soundskills, the community centre near me. It has black shells. The bass drum on this one is peculiar in that it doesn't have a resonant head, but instead, is muffled by three cushions.

Thinking my way through practice

I'm still working my way through various exercises that help me to build four-way limb coordination. How I navigate through these exercises varies. Sometimes, I concentrate on what's happening with my hands (especially on the snare drum), while what goes on with my feet remains a background process.

Sometimes, I use my (very mild) synaesthesia to help me to think about a drumbeat as a sequence of colours. I know that any drummer who has synaesthesia isn't necessarily gonna agree with me about what sounds give which colours, but to me, the bass drum -- my favourite sound on the kit -- does not bear my favourite colour of red. It is lime green. The snare drum sound is red, and the hi-hat sound is blue. All other sounds are golden yellow. These colours are fixed for me, and seeing a rhythmic sequence in these colours helps me to visualise it as if I were seeing a pattern drawn on paper.

I don't doubt that as I develop further, I might develop other ways of thinking through the rhythms I play. Right now, I can only think of the above-mentioned methods off the top of my head.

Feeling my way through play

I don't know who originally made the quote below -- please comment if you know, so that I can correct this post and properly credit the person who originally said this!

When I was a child, I read a quote that went along the lines of, "When you practise, practise technically, but when you play, play from your heart."

I've had to consciously train myself to feel my way through the music with other instruments, but I've not needed to do that with the drum. It called to my heart ever since I was a toddler. I've felt the air vibrating in my chest with each thump of the bass drum; I've felt as though the air around me was charged with some sort of electricity with the crack of the snare drum. To this day, I try to not take these observations for granted. These are part of the "magic," for lack of a better term, of what makes playing the drums so enjoyable to me.

Of late, I've even noticed rhythms around me from everyday, mundane situations -- for instance, how my walking rhythm is noticeably slower than that of a song I'm listening to when I'm out and about, and by consequence, it forms a polyrhythm. (For those of you who do not know, a polyrhythm is what happens when two rhythms play together that don't sound like they derive from one another.) I've imagined everyday rhythms like these to take on the sounds of the drums that I play, and it further deepens my appreciation for rhythm.

But the most important aspect of my playing, to me anyway, is how I compare the act of playing a drum kit to a dance.

All four of my limbs are in motion -- and they move to my own beat.

I would happily do this rather than actually dance, knowing that my movement sets the beat for others to dance with me, and that it is powerful.

Closing thoughts

Writing this post has made me feel wistful, because I remember what it was like on this day four years ago. I remember being so emotional upon receiving my drum kit. I remember feeling excited to play it, and I remember vowing to use it well.

I don't know what scattering these thoughts out there will do.

But a number of you who have seen me play and speak about my instrument know how passionate I am about it, and I hope that this passion may come across in my words. I hope that it may light a spark in some of you, or perhaps prompt you to take it up again if you've not played for very many years. I hope that these words may bring about good.

If you're a drummer, or are passionate about drums, or simply enjoy listening to them, hit me up on my socials or via e-mail (links on the Contact page). I'd like to talk with you, and potentially geek out about the rhythms and songs that make us tick. If you need encouragement, please let me encourage you. Let us encourage each other.

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