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!

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