Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Drumming with an Injury

I've been getting some questions through email, Twitter, and via the Drummer Etc Facebook page. In the past I've addressed them privately...long drawn out emails...and then i started thinking, "Why not post the questions and answers for ALL to see?" I figure that if one person is struggling with it, maybe alot of others are too. So here's one from Alex via email...

Just thought I'd drop an email to tell you that the blog is great, and to keep up the good work. I read yer post on carpal tunnel, but I was writing to ask if you've ever gotten into any sort of serious injury or had an operation that kept you from drumming for a while. I ask because I recently had a small skin problem removed and along with it, some pretty gnarly stitches on my left arm. The doc said I'd have to stop drumming for a bit to make sure the wound heals properly. It should only be a couple of weeks but I'm still pretty bummed about the whole thing, cos my left arm is my weak arm as it is, and now this... ah well, I'm just hoping that after I get the thread removed I'll be able to play (painlessly) again. So... yeah. I was just wondering if you had ever had a likewise experience, and what you did to recover the practice lost and what not. Hope the email doesn't weird ya out, and again, keep up the good work!


What's up Alex...

The email doesn't "weird me out" in the least man...I really do love hearing from you guys! Now, on to the problem at hand...

That sucks that you had to have surgery...hopefully everything is alright...those stitches look NASTY (That's Alex's arm in the pic above...)

I actually did have a situation somewhat like yours when I lived in New Orleans. I was working at a restaurant part time for about 6 months(The Bourbon Street gigs got slow after 9/11) while also playing. As fate would have it, I wound up cutting the first knuckle on the ring finger of my right hand...doctor said I was lucky, a hair deeper and I would have gotten the tendons which would have done permanent damage. They stitched it up and put a HUGE bandage on my hand that wrapped around to my wrist. Problem was, I needed to play to make rent...so I stupidly took a gig the next week...I played, trying to baby the finger, but wound up bleeding through the bandage. I made it through the gig, but I shouldn't have been playing....I could have done permanent damage...so follow what the doc says. As for the practice...what did I do?

Well, instead of looking at it as lost time on my bum arm, I tried to think of it in a more positive light. I focused on my left hand and my feet. I went through all kinds of hand and foot exercises using just my left hand and my feet...what kind of fills could I come up with? What kind of grooves could I pull off with just my left hand and my feet? It was actually a pretty great growing experience...but it wouldn't have been if I had focused on the fact that I couldn't use my right arm.

Even though your left hand is your weaker, your right could always use some work...or maybe you take the time to just work on your feet? See what kind of grooves you can play with your right hand and right foot...what kind of fills could you do...practice your rudiments between your right hand and right foot...or between your left foot and right foot...

The point I'm trying to make is, don't look at it as a negative...try to turn EVERY situation into a positive one. I know you FEEL like your left hand is going to lose alot of ground, but you'll be suprised at how much muscle memory you have. The key is going to be keeping your mind sharp...if you stop practicing altogether, not only will your chops get rusty but your thinking will too, and that's a double edged sword.

During my time as a personal trainer, I've learned alot about muscle memory. When you first start a regular workout routine, it seems like it takes FOREVER to get in shape...months of hard work. However, I work with quite a few clients that have just been released from physical therapy and are now trying to recondition their muscles back to the level they were at pre-surgery. And you know what? It doesn't take near as long...there's a thing called muscle memory. When you quit a regular workout routine and then go back to it a year or two later, your muscles "remember" what they could do before and it takes a fraction of the time to get them back in shape. It's the same way with drumming...you'll feel like you've lost alot of time, but in reality it will come back with a couple of weeks worth of hard work.

The big key is to not get frustrated. You're going to feel handicapped when you try to practice without that left hand...because you're used to playing things a certain way. This is going to break you out of old habits and cause you to look at things in a new light...something we don't often make ourselves do.

I've had times in my praciticing that I spent WEEKS just focusing on my jazz ride cymbal pattern, or my right foot, or the hand and foot coordination between my right foot and hands, or just my left foot, or whatever. Eventually, if you're serious about playing, you're going to begin to break down individual parts of your drumming...what better time to start than now?!

This is also a great opportunity to dive into some listening exercises. Too often we get consumed with how much practice time we're logging and we forget to take the time to expand our mind, open our ears, and discover some new influences. Take 30 minutes of your normal practice time and listen to a style of music that you've never taken the time to listen to. That could be salsa, jazz, big band, carribean, pop music, 70's funk, whatever...the important thing is to immerse yourself in the songs. Listen instrument by instrument and try to figure out exactly what makes that style tick. What's the drummer doing? What's the guitar doing? Are there certain fills or grooves that are associated with that style of music? In other words, take yourself to school on it. No, it's not playing the drums...but your still involving yourself with music, your still sharpening your mind, your learning some history, expanding your influences, and I gurantee that when you sit back down at the drumset you'll have a whole slew of different ideas to pull from.

The main thing to remember is to NOT STOP PRACTICING!!!

I think you'll find that you're not going to lose near as much ground as you think you are.

Hope this helps...and thanks for the question...

Hope you get your bum arm back in order...and just remember...DON'T GET DISCOURAGED AND NEVER STOP PRACTICING!!


This advice could go for any injury. I've gone through several pulled muscles, sliced knuckles, wrist problems...life happens. You just have to go on about the business of becoming that drummer and musician you have pictured in your mind. If you get discouraged and stop practicing everytime life throws you a curveball, you'll never get to where you're going. I have a kid and another one on the way...family responsibilities, work, gigs, home repair projects, church...it all adds up, but it's the same concept. The one thing I've learned that keeps me sane and focused...ALWAYS HAVE A LONG TERM MENTALITY. You're not in it for the short haul...you're in it to the finish...so just suck it up, get creative, and just watch how much you improve!


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