The Mental Approach to Drumming

by on March 7th, 2015
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Today, as drummers, we’re all spoiled – endless DVD’s, videos, books, websites – all of them offering a mind-boggling array of technical, performance and musical advice. Just deciding which ones to watch or read is a task in itself – then you have to decide which parts of those DVD’s or books you need to learn, which bit of advice is going to work for you (that’s the important bit)- by which time, you have double vision and a grinding headache!

However, the solution is here – there is one piece of advise this old pro can give you which applies to EVERYTHING – yes, EVERYTHING!!

No matter what material you are using to learn this wonderful art of drumming from, what particular skills, or what exact piece of music you might be trying, there is one aspect of drumming that is the lynch-pin of the entire art – an aspect that, because we take it for granted, will seem very obvious at first glance – until you stop, put down your sticks, and have a much closer look at it!

And that aspect? – the mental approach to drumming.

Yeah sure, we all know that to do anything you have to have a certain mental capacity, we all use our brains to learn, so what is this bloke on about?

Like I said, it seems obvious, but when you break down that mental aspect, and actively think about what’s going on in your head when you’re drumming, or learning a new technique, what you find can have a profound effect on both your physical approach to the art, your self-confidence in your own ability and ultimately, your technical and musical skills.

So let’s take a look at this mental thingy!
The best way to put this is by listing, so here you go –
1. When we learn anything new, neural pathways are formed inside the brain – physical connections that create a pathway in the brain that, if you like, hold the memory of that action, or knowledge.
KEY: The more you repeat that action, the stronger the pathway becomes – the benefit to us – the more natural the action seems to be, and the easier and easier it becomes to execute. We know that ‘practice makes perfect’, but this is how it actually works. The human body needs to repeat an action at least 500 times before it even begins to recognise the action as a muscle memory, but the great thing is, if we know this, it greatly improves our confidence that if we practise regularly and with focus, we will DEFINITELY IMPROVE.

Knowing this gives you confidence that your hard work will indeed pay off, that all the time you are hammering out those tedious paraddidles, even if you FEEL you are not making progress, you can take comfort knowing that you ARE, and that it is very much worth the grind!

Okay, so that’s the ‘physical’ side of how understanding the mental side of drumming can help our confidence and encourage us to practice. Now here is the other side – HOW we view our practice, performance and goals can also make a huge difference. So this is really the thought processes we can harness rather than the biological aspect as above.

I take great care to point out the following to my students, in an effort to boost not only their confidence, but faith in achieving their personal drumming goals: When you watch you role model drummer, be it Weckl, Gadd, Smith – whoever, and you think ‘Jees, I’ll never be that good’ – then DON’T!!

DON’T think like that. I know that these guys have years of experience, years of playing and usually a certain amount of natural ability, but if you think like this, you’ve sold yourself short before you’ve even begun. Remember this; – the ONLY main difference between you and these guys is time. They have often had 8 hours a day to hone their craft for years.

Most of you guys are either in full time education or holding down a day job. So you do not have this kind of time to practice – but come on, we already know that humans work the same – the more you repeat something, the better you get, the stronger those neural pathways become; so to close the gap, to get closer and closer to being as good as these guys is getting in as much practice as you can. The pros are not super human – they ALL got as good as they are by doing the same as you – practicing with vigor and passion and joy!

So okay, we may not ever get the time to reach the skill level of these drumming heroes, but you must take confidence and excitement in knowing that it really is only the amount of time you’ve put it that separates you from them – and take on board the fact that keeping this at the back of your mind should spur you on to better yourself again and again and again!

You CAN be a great drummer – you CAN be as good as you wish you were now. Just put in the time and it WILL pay massive dividends.

Last but my no means least, is another strange but wonderful phenomenon that occurs in the old brain box – I call it ‘subconscious reinforcement’ – sounds creepy, eh? But relax, this does not involve any surgery! It’s an observation I have made from years of practice, and you may already have discovered it yourself.

I find time and time again that this happens; I’m in a regime of focused practice of a particular technique, and I give myself a few days break, even longer sometimes, after two or three weeks practice. Then, when I start up again, and this is the wonderful part, I am, 99% of the time, far improved past the point when I stopped those few days ago.

This may sound odd, but I promise you , it happens. The key is strong, focused practice for a good two weeks BEFORE a few days rest. This seems to give the brain time to let the muscle memory and new neural pathways to subconsciously reinforce all the work you have been doing.

It’s as if this allows the brain to divert the energy it would have been using to help you learn (as you practise) into strengthening the new technique you have taught it. Now, I certainly don’t have a physical explanation for why this happens – all I can do is assure you that for me, and many of my students, it works.

So, there you have it. All of these mental aspects can and will effect every areas of your drumming, so remember, whatever DVD you are emulating, whatever book you are learning from, use these mental aspects – keep them at the forefront of your mind and apply them to your individual situation, and allow them to boost your confidence, your outlook, your ability, your technical and musical self-expectation and the endless joy that drumming should always bring.


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