What I'm learning in music school
As you know I started studying music last year in Lucerne, Switzerland. I’ve just completed the first year and have four more years of studying ahead of me. I’m learning a lot, I have great teachers and I have a lot of time to practice, life is great. I thought I could share some of the things I was taught this year. I don’t want to go into detail because that would simply be too much and I’m by no means qualified to teach any of these things myself. Still, I’d like to take a moment and capture the most important lessons from the past year. It’s all drumming stuff, no history, no theory etc. Nothing I’m saying here is absolute. The info here is just what I’m currently thinking, so in future posts I might contradict myself. Read this text as a source of inspiration and not as a source of drumming lessons.
During the first few weeks of the first semester I was kind of disappointed. The drum program was pretty much given and the drum teachers, of which I had two, pushed the program quite intensely. With both teachers we focused on technique, which at first was hard for me and my ego, as I always thought that my technique was great. I didn’t feel that the teachers were acknowledging my technique in which I had spent so much time and effort developing. Well, my ego eventually stepped aside and made room for me to understand what we were doing. Both teachers were trying to disassemble my technique and reassemble it from the ground up. I’m telling you it was really hard for my ego to let go of my pride and let the teachers do their thing.
Listening to music
Listening to a lot of different music is great and important. But what we often underestimate is listening to the same music over and over again. Only then will you be able to really learn something from it. Hearing the music once doesn’t really impact your playing, phrasing or feel. Listening to it a hundred times will have a greater impact on your playing. Just take a drummer you really like and listen to his/her recordings over and over again. Of course transcribing is a great tool, too. But we all know that transcriptions take a lot of time and most of us don’t really like doing them.
Sing everything you play
Sing it before you play it and while playing it. Singing can expose phrasing mistakes and misinterpretations of grooves. Those little mistakes might be hard to detect while playing.
Experiment with different sticks. Different woods, tips, lengths, weights etc. Don’t just check how they feel but also how they sound. The stick is crazy important for the sound, but most of us (or maybe it’s just me) focus too much on what they feel like instead of what they sound like. The sense of feel is easily corruptible. Just do a 30-45min warm up with heavier sticks than you're used to and don’t even touch the ones you usually play. When you start the practice session switch to your regular sticks, they’ll feel off. Of course, when you’re used to a certain pair of sticks trying out a new pair feels weird, but it only takes a couple of hours to get used to the new ones. Make sound a priority.
Practice at extreme tempos
Most grooves have a comfort zone. A range of tempos where the groove feels good. Playing those grooves at extremely slow or fast tempos can make them really difficult to play. At slow tempos you’ll have to start thinking about each hit as there’s so much time between the notes. You’ll suddenly be uncomfortably aware of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. At fast tempos you’ll quickly loose your ‘cool’. The groove will most likely sound rushed and nervous. The goal is to play a fast tempo but still sound groovy and relaxed.
Importance of the different Strokes
I remember one lesson where we sat down and used a pad. The teacher asked me if I knew the different strokes. I had no idea what he was talking about. He then showed me the upstroke, downstroke, tap and the full stroke. I was like “of course I know this, I play drums man!” All of these strokes occur when using the Moeller technique. I couldn’t believe he would ask me something like that, but then we started talking about the importance of each of the movements and the position of the sticks, hands and arms during a stroke. All parts are very important but what had never been brought to my attention was the importance of the upstroke.
Especially when playing fast the upstroke is crucial. When playing at slow tempos each hit is played separately and usually a stroke is a downstroke. That means that the stick stays close to the head after the impact and doesn’t go all the way up again. At slow tempos this makes sense, as to execute a proper stroke one needs the energy from the upstroke. So that means that during slow tempos for every hit the upstroke needs to be executed as well.
Now with fast tempos there is no time to do a separate upstroke for each hit. You now automatically combine the rebound from the previous hit with the upstroke of the following hit. It comes naturally, especially when playing only one instrument for example the snare. Now imagine you play singles on the snare with occasional hits on the toms. Usually the distance from the snare to the tom is used as upstroke. To give the upstroke more importance one has to slow down first. Now you can execute the upstroke (only) using the rebound from the previous hit and move to the tom earlier.
When I practice like that I feel like a clown. Because I’m playing a slow tempo and making huge movements that at the moment feel unnecessary. Lifting the stick high in the air right after the impact also forces you to know in advance where the following hit is going to land. Please, do not play slow tempos like this. But practice fast tempos at slow tempos first with this technique and your fast tempos will be cleaner and feel more fluent. Often faster tempos can sound and feel rushed and nervous. This exercise can be one of the many ways to improve the flow during faster tempos. I hope I didn’t explain it too complicated, it’s actually really easy.
These are some of the many things I learned this past year. I hope some of it is useful to you.