When I was a young boy of 8, I got my first drum set for Christmas. A gleaming blue and silver jazz kit modeled after Ringo Starr's set in The Beatles. I went along to a series of drum lessons that lasted all of about a year or so and got somewhat used to the beats that I was taught. I caught hell over the fact I could not get the Bossa Nova beat because my hands just did not want to cooperate. I wound up sounding like a robot playing a set of drums. No feeling - just the beat. After my parent's divorce when I was 10, I only picked up the sticks twice in that first year and then I came home after a summer at my grandparents' place to a house without a drum set. It had been sold to help with certain issues. I forgave my mother for doing so (many years later mind you). I did not pick up the sticks again until I was 19.
I dated a girl who introduced me to a group of folks that included this charismatic drummer named Gary Stone and I said "Cool! I used to play!" He was the consummate rock drummer, emulating Tommy Lee from Motely Crue; a phenomenal drummer. One night in his shop during a practice session, he looked up at me after a song and smiled. He got up from behind his set, walked over to me, shoved the sticks in my hands and said "Go. Play. Show me what you got." I think I swallowed my own stomach. I sat down shaking like never before and I was sweating profusely.
The bass player, Dave, struck up a simple blues riff that I hesitantly played along to. The next thing I remember doing was getting off the drum throne two hours later. Everyone was all smiles, high-fiving, hugging and basically just having a great time. Apparently, I had done very well. The next few years, I played incessantly. I no longer focused on what I was doing. Instead, I discovered this intense feeling of rhythm that I had not experienced before.
Throughout my career as a musician, I always experienced this intense energy whenever I sat down behind the drum set and played. I did not understand this energy until recently. I have met some amazing people that I am honored to call my lifelong friends and they have shown me that drumming is a way to tap into our own rhythm and energy and we can use it to facilitate positive change. So, there it is. That is what I experienced when I played for people in my bands.
As children, we all sound like robots when we first play an instrument. Go to any middle school concert and you will hear a bunch of robotic sounding instruments making robotic sounding notes. This is because each and every child has to get used to playing an instrument and discover its possibilities. As an adult, if you pick up a drum for the very first time and play it, you will undoubtedly sound like the robotic children from the concert you attended. Stiff armed, unsure, self-aware, focused on the sound and what your arms and hands are doing because you want it to be right.
My advice: don't focus. Sure you will need to get used to the instrument, but WE ALL HAD TO! Do not let your first meeting with a djembe frustrate you to never pick it up again. That does not honor the rhythm we all have. Instead, respect yourself and your own rhythms. Take your time, get to know the instrument, play it. Don't let it sit in a corner for 12 years gathering dust. The drum is not a decoration, end table, book end, or shelf support. It is an extension of your own personal rhythm.
Be careful. Drumming can become addictive. My collection used to be just a single djembe for a number of years. Today, my collection consists of another beautiful Djembe, Ashiko, conga, bongos, bodhran, frame drum, 2 doumbeks, a Pearl export series with a Premier snare and a set of cymbals that are very lonely without stands to sit on.
Now - Go. Play. Show me what you can do!
Honor the rhythm... respect yourself... and drum! Thank you for sharing your story with us, Eric! Drummers, tell us why YOU love drumming and drum circles! We'd love to share your story, too!