Little old drummer boy, barumpa-bum-bum
I don’t have an actual bucket list of things I would like to do written down, per se, but there are a few things that, if given the time, I would like to pursue. And learning to play drums has long been one of the items on my todo list. So, after my brothers and I returned home from our vacation in Colorado and Utah (around the middle of June), I got in contact with Matt Fincher at Arkansas Musicworks in Bentonville and arranged to have a session with him to see if I had the aptitude to learn drums.
Drums, like any other musical instrument, is governed by timing, and the mantra among drummers is that the ABCs of drumming stand for “always be counting.” Since I have pretty much been impervious to learning how to read music from little on up, I was somewhat apprehensive about my ability to learn the rudiments of music, such as the timing of various notes and how to count time.
Matt taught me how to use a metronome to beat time and, since most of the music I am likely to learn, is based on 4/4 timing, I have, for the most part, concentrated on learning the timing of whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes and sixteenth notes. I tend to get a little confused when I am supposed to beat on the “and” between notes instead of beating on the number — or having to go from beating on the notes to beating on the “and” between the numbers. But Matt says, if you can count the measure, you can probably play it; and, so far, I have found that to be true. The first thing he has me do is to count the practice measure and then play it.
Another problem I have had to contend with is the fact that I am a strong right-handed person, so I have very little control when it comes to using my left hand. This can be a problem with using drumsticks since you have to use both hands equally well. So Matt has me do practice drills where I beat eight beats with my left hand, then alternate hands for eight beats and then back to the left hand and so on. When I started this drill, I set the metronome for maybe 60 beats per minute. As the weeks passed, I increased the beats to where I have no problem keeping time with the metronome at 200 beats per minute. Just as an aside, the world record for drumming beats per minute is over 1,200. But that wouldn’t be trying to play along to a metronome. I will say that beating the practice pad with my drumsticks is a really neat way to relieve stress. Sometimes, I just walk around the house beating time on whatever I come to — the stair rail, the granite top on the island in Linda’s kitchen, the dining table or whatever. Sometimes Linda has to tell me to be quiet and go practice downstairs but, generally, she leaves me to my own devices.
Soon I will need to find a set of drums but, so far, I have used a practice pad which is a stand with a small drum head on it that you use while you are learning stick control.
Proper stick control includes how you hold the sticks and how you wield them. The sticks need to be held in such a way that they will rebound when struck on the pad. And they should be gripped lightly between the index finger and thumb. The other fingers should wrap loosely around the stick without affecting the swing of the stick. The base of the stick should bounce against the fleshy part of your palm as it bounces off the pad.
There are two ways to hold drumsticks. In the “traditional” way, the left hand is usually turned up while holding the stick. In the “parallel” method, the sticks are both gripped with your knuckles turned upward. With the parallel method, the proper way to beat the drum looks exactly like you are knocking on a door with your knuckles. All the action should be in your wrists instead of your arms. I only use the parallel method.
So, last week, I took my first guitar lesson, which went well enough that I signed up for those too. Now I am busily practicing drums and acoustic guitar.
That should keep me out of trouble for at least a little while.
Sam Byrnes is a Gentryarea resident and weekly contributor to the Eagle Observer. He may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed are those of the author.