Monday, April 26, 2010

Drumming Saved My Neck
Paradiddle This:
Drumming on Both Sides of the Brain

Last February, I started practicing drums every day so that I could keep up with my guitar students in my first Jam Class. I've always wanted to drum, so I got myself a set of Roland V-Drums for my apartment and set about practicing.

Here are some of the beautiful unintended consequences of learning an instrument as an adult, all good for my health:

1) I've lost about 15 lbs. Lifting your legs over and over is great exercise.

2) This has been very humbling in a very good way. I've become more keenly aware of the timelines and tribulations of learning a new instrument as an adult. This has been very informative to my teaching. I've got a lot more understanding of the issues at play for adults learning a new skill.

3) Turns out, I may know my [¡BLEEP!] from my elbow, but it took getting a drumset to teach me my neck from my elbow: I've located a bad habit I've been searching for in my guitar technique for years. I've had problems off and on over the years with what I thought was left elbow/forearm tension. Ever since the fight or flight response kicked in when I went to music school. Fear of making mistakes can literally paralyze you, and I know this first hand. When stressed either by life or by the music I was making, I'd feel tense, sore, or like I couldn't feel my hands.

When I started drumming, I started noticing a particular feeling I was familiar with: in my neck. All these many years I've been unnecessarily tightening some muscles in my neck. I've taught myself this bad habit real well, and it's going to take some time to undo. It'll likely never go away completely, especially when stressed... sigh. But with the help of some exercise, and most importantly, some awareness, it's getting way better.

4) I'm engaging both sides of my brain: Drumming is uniquely ambidextrous. To boot, you even use your feet. Both of them! Doing different things! So I'm getting to know my body anew.

For drums-as-exercise purposes, I started setting up my drumset somewhat symmetrically, so that I can practice everything isomorphically. I wanted to be able to play a drum pattern, and then nearly immediately, play it with mirror image. Like the drummer rudiment, the paradiddle:

The above paradiddle is two limbs, and the first half of the diddle is mirror image of the second half. The two halves make a sort of body puzzle palindrome.

I wanted to be able to play the entire drumset like this, so that I could play all my patterns backwards and forwards. With all four limbs.

WHY is a very good question. I arrived at this train of thought because my drumming heroes are Stewart Copeland, Bun E. Carlos and Ringo Starr. Stewart is left handed, but plays on a right handed kit. Bun has performed with Cheap Trick on both a left handed and a right handed drumset. He goes both ways!! So Stewart plays backwards, Bun is ambi-drum-sterous, and Ringo says something very interesting about his 'handedness' here.

Since all three of these drummers are obviously geniuses, and since drummers aren't typically known for their intellectual flexibility, I thought perhaps that somehow their Left Brain / Right Brain flexibility they possessed through their drumming was making them smarter. I want that brain power! Here I am peeking over Stewart's left shoulder, trying to see if I can imagine the drum world his way. That's my friend Nicole in the foreground:

I knew I wanted something of Stewart and company's drum smarts, so I went for it and started practicing this way. I am starting to learn basic drum patterns playing left handed (or is it Right Brained??). This is especially challenging for my feet.

When I flip a pattern over mirror image to the other extremities, it makes me feel VERY WEIRD. Almost like nausea or sea sickness. But if I hold on, the sensation goes away, and it seems like I've made some new kind of neural connection. Exactly what this geezer needs to stave off my encroaching decrepitude.

Sometimes, when I do this, especially something difficult, I get a weird feeling in my neck: (See #3 above.)

Who's got two drumsticks and plays guitar better because of it?

This guy!
Advancing Guitar Lessons:
Washington, D.C.
Professional Musical Fun
for Beginners and Beyond

Follow me on Twitter: @diddleybow

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I'm in Too Many Bands to Blog!
Hey You! Learn to Read!

A lot of exciting news since the party in December. I've been busy, so I've been away from the blog. The Mid-Life-Crisis-Center is soon to be a reality, and the two bands I was in exploded into four. Lots of stuff going on. And I'm playing lots of music. On lots of different instruments.

I was in two bands, and now I'm in four bands: One cover band and three different original music projects.

The latest two bands are so new, they are as yet un-named: Band X is a kids music project. Band Y is an Black Keys/White Stripes/Jon Spencer Blues Explosion type duo that I started with a student. I play bass in the kids band. Drums in the duo.

The Seminal Whirlies are my Jam Class cover band, and they are about to get a makeover, including, I believe, a name change, as one of our members moves on to do greater things in the Peace Corps.

My main band, The Grand Candy, is mostly what's been keeping me from the computer:

'The Candy' is an original rock music power trio featuring Jon Babu, a fantastic drummer I've known since our days at NEC. We reconnected through our favorite local classic-rocking lead guitarist, Matt Wise.

To keep to the rule of three, I'm attempting to conjure both bass and rhythm guitar parts simultaneously. I'm playing slide guitar on a Jerry Jones electric through an Electro Harmonix POG split into a Mesa-Boogie 5/50 for guitar sounds and a rented 8 x 10 bass rig for bass. Let me tell you, that is some booty shakin' subsonic slide guitar. I'm having a ball.

The Candy has been Jamming for a year or so now, trying on different tunes and finding the sounds we want to use. We're ready to do some house parties. Email if you'd like us to rock your house.

I promise to have some audio of these bands up here just as soon as I can figure out how to do that. Or whenever my intern can figure that out. That is, when I get an intern. Need guitar lessons? Good with computers? Have more time than money? Email me. Soon you'll be in two or three bands yourself.

Oh yeah, guitar advice:
Learn to Read Music

I promise to be back soon with some more detailed and fun guitar advice.

In the meantime, don't forget to work on your music reading. 10% of your practice time should be spent learning how to read notes and rhythms.

You absolutely do not have to do this. It is not mandatory. I don't force my students to do this. It is certainly possible to become conversationally fluent in guitar by being around it all the time. Immersion and practice, practice, practice. The ears are still the best tools with which to learn music.

However, 10% is not a big practice time commitment. We're talking 5 minutes if you practice 45 minutes a day. Not a big deal, and you don't have to practice sight reading, unless you are planning on a career like Steve Lukather's.

However, think of all of the fantastic books you won't be able to read if you don't learn the written form of the language. Think about all the fantastic books you've read in your life, and how they've enriched your life and the language you use every day.

Learning to read music enriches your experience of music in this way. It's not necessary. But it sure is sweet.
Advancing Guitar Lessons:
Washington, D.C.
Professional Musical Fun
for Beginners and Beyond

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