by Kalani Das, MT-BC
The best advice comes from the great performers who find joy in sharing their experiences with others to help us become better players. Below, master percussionist Kalani shares his techniques for exercising and training your drumming chops. Have other exercises in your routine? Share them below!
Hand drumming is a physical activity, just like any other athletic activity. The movements required in the fingers, hands, wrists, arms, as well as the general requirements for maintaining proper posture, can create tension and wear and tear on your body. To ensure a lifetime of enjoyment and reduce the possibility of injury, it's crucial that you develop some kind of pre-playing warm-up routine.
I recommend beginning with a gentle hand massage, wringing your hands, and gently massaging your fingers and wrists. Gently stretch the wrists by maintaining constant slow pressure in both directions. Hold your hands out in front of you, arms extended and fingers splayed apart. Rotate your hands clockwise then counterclockwise to stretch the wrists and stimulate the muscles in your fingers and forearms. Gently massage your forearms working your way from your wrist to your elbow. Finish with palm to palm clapping which will help get the blood moving. When you're done with this quick and easy routine your hands should feel warmed up and ready to play.
Use a metronome
Developing a sense of timing and rhythmic acuity is essential for all musicians. But it is critical for drummers and percussionists. It's not enough to just be able to play a rhythm, you need to be able to play in time, and hopefully produce a musical feel or groove at the same time. Being a drummer or percussionist means being a rhythmatist, someone who has a highly developed skill set when it comes to understanding and being able to produce solid rhythmic forms in different styles of music and on different instruments. When you practice, use a metronome to guide and structure your playing. I recommend models that are loud enough to be heard at the same time as you're playing your drum. If needed, you can amplify most metronomes with a pair of plug-in speakers or an amp. Practicing with a drum machine, loops, or recorded music is also something I recommend, but I really like the simplicity of a metronome when working on your tones and other techniques.
When you play along with music tracks, I recommend that you use speakers rather than earbuds or headphones. Playing along with speakers will allow you to hear what you're doing on your drum and it will prompt you to tune in to the music as it blends with the sound of your instrument. Using earbuds or headphones can mask the sound of your drum and prevent you from being able to make the changes you need to improve your sound. If you are unable to use speakers, I recommend using your earbuds or headphones in only one ear, leaving your other ear uncovered so you're able to hear the sound of your instrument.
Use a mirror
Having a way to get immediate and objective feedback with regard to your technique is another important tool you can use for improvement. I recommend purchasing a closet mirror which are inexpensive and easy to setup and store. Place the mirror horizontally on a stand or the wall where you practice and observe your arms and hand movements as you're playing. This will allow you to accurately assess what you're doing and make changes in the moment to improve your playing. You can also use a video system, but a mirror works just fine.
In my many years of teaching, I've noticed that students often want to add to their repertoire of rhythms by learning more and more patterns with increasing complexity. While this is certainly a reasonable goal, it's also important to remember that in addition to moving into areas of complexity, it's also crucial that you not only maintain your fundamental techniques, but that you also strive to deepen and improve them. This means working on your tones and basic techniques involved in playing any rhythms, regardless of their complexity. If you talk to any master drummer he or she will certainly tell you that they spend a great deal of their practice time working on rudamental and fundamental techniques and concepts. I recommend working on basic techniques after you've warmed up, then moving on to practicing patterns that are familiar, followed by learning new material.
I'm confident that if you incorporate these tips into your practicing routine, you will see fantastic results in a short amount of time.
I'm always interested in hearing about your successes as well as fielding your questions. Leave your comments below and let's get the conversation going!
To learn more about Kalani and his instructional materials, please visit the Kalani Das Google+ page.