Ten Steps to Becoming a Better Frame Drummer

check out Layne’s blog http://framedrummer.tumblr.com/

Part One, Steps 1 – 5

Let’s begin by getting to the root of the issue of being a drummer or percussionist or perhaps any type of musician:  Repetitive Obsessive Behavior.  I prefer Behavior over Disorder!  But just face it, if you are a drummer you are OCD:  Obsessive-Compulsive Disordered tapper on table tops and steering wheels, pots, pans and anything else that has an interesting sound.  However, lucky you, drumming is the perfect channel for this syndrome.  In fact you must have some shading of this within your makeup to really excel at drumming!  A conventional definition of this syndrome includes: repetitive, ritualized behaviors you feel compelled to perform.  You are unable to resist them and break free.  Well, just pick up your frame drum and pour it all into practicing!  Let the incredible harmonic overtones of your frame drum bring you into a balanced and relaxed state.  And speaking of relaxed, that brings us to the first rule.

1.  Relax.  Number one, figure out how to play tension free!  Hah! I’ve always found that walking up to a fear stricken, tensioned out student and saying, “relax” serves to send them into total rock like paralysis. So I use the word soften.  Focus on teaching your body to soften while you play.

If your fingers are cold, warm your hands and arms up before you play.  I rub my hands and arms vigorously with a medicated dark roasted sesame oil, an aryuvedic yoga oil treatment, and then soak in a sink of hot water.  Take a dark hand towel reserved for this purpose (sesame oil is persistent) and vigorously rub dry your arms, hands and fingers.  If there’s not time for oil treatments, tackling that pile of dirty dishes works great also.

At first you’ll need to concentrate on relaxing your fingers, wrists, and arms as you play.  But once you’ve accomplished that you’ll notice that perhaps your neck and shoulders, back or even your legs or hips are tense.  Just know that tension, or tightness steals energy from you. When going for playing fast and clean for a long period of time you don’t want to waste energy by keeping unnecessary tension in any muscle group.  When you practice for more speed or harder techniques, try for softer or easier. Your best performance will come when you are at your most relaxed.  One of the ways I work at relaxing while playing is by taking long deep breaths timed to my rhythms.  And of course I’m practicing with my metronome.  So you want to find a comfortable length of time for your deep slow breaths, perhaps four measures breathing in (or whatever is comfortable) and then four measures breathing out.  I find that doing this type of breathing while working on more complex and faster material mysteriously changes my perception of time and actually seems to make time slow down.  At first you’ll have to concentrate and practice to keep the breathing going but soon it will become automatic and you will just drop into your deep breathing rhythms while you play.  This is so great for many reasons – it keeps you calm, relaxed and oxygenates your body to meet the energy needs of your muscles.

One specific thing to watch out for when playing a frame drum held in your hand is: No death grip.  Keep the holding hand as relaxed as possible for what it needs to do.

Olympic Gold Medalist track sprinter Carl Lewis’ coach said, “the faster you want to go, the more relaxed you have to be”.  A quote from Bruce Lee on the subject of speed, “The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be.”

2.  Professional instruction.  See your teachers on a regular basis, don’t spend all your time playing with people not as advanced as you are.  (Special warning for teachers!!)

If you don’t live within reach of a frame drum teacher you can:

Practice with instructional dvds.

Play along with YouTube videos, there’s tons of instructional videos for many styles of frame drumming on YouTube.

3.  Practice with a metronome.  I always practice with my metronome, I love it!  In fact it is hard for me to practice seriously without one.  A metronome is essential for many reasons, including:

A. Developing memory of tempo

B. Developing your internal pulse, which gives you the ability to keep solid time

C. Developing the ability to record in the studio to a click track. When you get called for studio work you’re going to have to nail your part first time out to make the right impression.

D. It is a great tool for measuring and improving yourself systematically.

There will be a whole upcoming blog devoted to using your metronome!

4. Sing your rhythms.  This is such a powerful way of learning new rhythms. Make the rhythm into a mantra that completely captivates your conscious mind.  Almost all traditional cultures teach you to sing the rhythm – if you can sing it, it won’t be long before you can play it!

5. Practice in front of a mirror.  This is an incredibly powerful and somewhat magical way to improve your playing.  You can notice strange ways the body is expressing tension or an out of balanced posture or tense facial expressions.  If you are working with a video of a good teacher set a mirror up next to the video monitor facing you so that you can watch the video and then check your posture and technique against the posture and technique of the teacher.

Part 2 of Ten Steps Coming Soon!

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For those of you on Facebook a typical drummer doing his homework: https://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=10150301500502534