Drumming&Listening Journal ( ongoing process )
I am concern. I have been constantly exposed to volume levels that I consider harmful and that over time have generated, not only the progressive deterioration of my auditory system, but also loss of motivation when playing my instrument and being in contact with music in general.
I am trying to find possible answers to my questions and to start a process of reconciliation and reconstruction as far as drumming is concerned.
"Dynamics and drumming" is my starting point.
How important is intensity/loudness on the drum set?
Does loudness equal power?
Intensity is acoustic energy, it is the quality that differentiates a soft sound from a loud sound. It depends on the force with which a body is played and the distance of the receiver from the sound source.
Without due care, when playing drums the amount of decibels to which the performer is exposed can lead to damage to the auditory system and even to the total loss of perception of sound vibrations, therefore, focusing the development of technique on achieving greater intensity would not be a healthy way to go.
Is it possible to play drums (especially certain genres such as rock, pop, funk, punk, metal, etc.) without partial damage to the auditory system?
This is an aspect that is not usually important during learning, until hearing loss or injury is a reality. It is essential, as a preventive measure, to use proper protection (e.g. earplugs) as much of the time as possible and to have regular check-ups with an ENT specialist.
This does not rule out the possibility of playing drums with total or partial hearing loss. Since not only we perceive sound vibrations with the ears but with the whole body. The percussionist and drummer Evelyn Glennie has lost most of her hearing at the age of 8, but this condition has not prevented her from developing her musical path. Her reflections on listening are of great value to me. She explains, for example, that her performances are barefoot, so she can perceive vibrations through her feet - "my whole body is like a huge ear in that I can use it to register rhythms, textures, dynamics..."- she explains.
I consider consistency and control to be essential skills, beyond "playing louder" or "playing faster". Contrary to what videos and photos of popular drummers show, these do not depend on the size of the movement, but on making the right movement, following physical principles that help to achieve, for example, a fast bounce on the drumhead. For this it is necessary to develop full awareness of the movement at the moment of practice to be able to "not think" about the technique afterwards (when improvising, playing a composition, etc).
it is possible that most drummers making very big moves on stage are doing more theatre or dance than actual drumming technique.
“In the world of modern drumming, the instrument appears to be very much dominated by a male presence. The drum is often considered masculine, which is possibly a result of its evolution from an instrument of war. Seeing these drummers perform with such speed and power may be misconstrued as an act only possible by the dominant male of the species. This erroneous and outdated view is changing gradually as the years pass, but it will be a long time before the drum is considered equal between the two genders. This is unfortunate, as even for the heaviest and loudest styles, good technique can produce more volume than simply using brute strength.”
“Interestingly this is a modern situation, or at least only present for two thousand years. In ancient civilizations, it was not so much a god who was the all-powerful creator of life, but the goddess. As the drum has always been considered a spiritual object that can communicate with or influence actions from deities, it was looked upon as a woman’s instrument. Furthermore, the rhythm of life was always connected with the female, such as her menstrual cycle, which was closely connected to the lunar cycle. Drums were also associated with fertility, reproduction, and female sexual vitality. The rhythm of a drum was sometimes used to help women through the labor process or played over the fields of crops to help them achieve a greater yield.”
Excerpt From: Matt Dean. “The Drum”
how to achieve full awareness when playing?
How can I achieve as much relaxation as possible and play effortlessly?
What are the parameters that influence and what exercises can help to achieve this goal?
The body and mind are one. Any stressful thought will stress the body. Some deep breathing is helpful to achieve relaxation and focus.
consider arms and legs as extensions of the mind
Posture: How am I sitting, do I feel the support of the seat bones on the seat, how is that support? Am I comfortable? I should accommodate the instrument to my body and not my body to the instrument for more comfort.
The grip of the sticks: It is important to generate awareness of the size, skin, joints of the hands and each finger to generate grip on the stick, as these are extensions of my shoulders/arms/hands.
Wrist movement: the joints must be loose and relaxed to achieve a good bounce of the stick.
The position of the arms: as close to the trunk as possible. Forearms parallel to the ground for fluidity of wrist movement.
A useful exercise:
With my eyes closed I perceive the support and/or position of the body parts (I take around 5 minutes) and I play one by one the bodies of the drum set. I observe my breathing, how I am sitting, the grip of the sticks, the position of my feet. Am I overexerting myself? How can I do this with less effort?
Then I play a rhythmic pattern with all the full set, both hands and both feet. This exercise helps me to concentrate and gain confidence.
why eyes closed allows better concentration and more awareness when opening them after the excercise?
One answer could be found in the theory of perception by Marshall McLuhan. It states that the sound image needs to be strengthened by other senses. Not because the sound image is weak, but because human perception is highly dependent on visual perception; that is, the sense of hearing needs sight to confirm what it has perceived.
Of course there are many visually impaired / blind musicians, visual perception is not determinant but its absence can be of help to strengthen the other senses. If my system is insecure because I cannot visually confirm the movement/sound, by closing my eyes it is possible to strengthen auditory and body awareness.
To further regulate the intensity of the drum, in addition to developing awareness and control of the movements, I thought it necessary to change the sticks for brushes.
The first brushes, better known as "fly swatters", were the resource of the percussionists and drummers of the early twentieth century as an alternative to the drumstick to soften the sound of the snare drum, as it used to cover the band and it was very difficult to achieve a balanced sound with the other instruments. The recording techniques of that time were much more precarious and therefore this lack of resources generated a new way of playing and approaching the dynamics of the instrument.
The brush technique is very complex and requires a lot of development time. I have tried the sonority on different surfaces trying the difference between brushes made of nylon and metal.
Ed thigpen "the essence of brushes" 1991
How to Play Drums with Brushes
Practicing Drums Anywhere (Using brushes in a pizza box)
5 Tips For Better Brush Technique
Kiko Freitas - Brushes