Just like an athletic event, drumming can involve physical demands which you must be prepared for; not only for the sake of your performance, but for your health. Preparation, exercise and stretching can help maintain your overall health so that you can return to play night after night, year after year. Drumming is however NOT a competition. Often the physical nature of drumming leads to a competitive nature...who is the fastest, who is the "best". These are questions are irrelevant. Drumming is an art, not a competition. That being said, the physical nature of drumming deserves respect for the forces involved.
Daily and pre-performance stretching are essential for maintaining musculo-skeletal health and for maximizing your performance. Go slowly and try to perform your exercise activities in a relaxed, unhurried manner.
Good cardiovascular fitness can pay huge dividends by increasing your ability to perform for longer periods. Good cardio-vascular health can also enhance your ability to perform well throughout a long set by helping you maintain good technique. When you get physically fatigued, your technique will begin to suffer and you will eventually begin to use other muscle groups to perform. This leads to break down of your technique which can lead to injury.
During your routine practice and at rehearsals, pay attention to your form and technique. Work on staying relaxed and do not use all of your energy on a single song or section. Pace yourself and aim for a consistent energy level. Quality is indeed more important that quantity. Relaxation and good breathing technique will allow you to perform longer with less fatigue.
For drummers, it makes sense to maintain a "well rounded" routine which encourages strength and flexibility of the upper and lower body. It makes little sense to achieve massive upper body strength at the expense of cardio-vascular health and lower body endurance. Your exercise routines should be balanced between cardiovascular work and strength training.
Did you know you can help maintain your cardiovascular health while helping maintain your weight by walking just 20-40 minutes a day? You don't need a gym membership or equipment. All that is needed are proper fitting athletic shoes! You will be surprised how good you feel after just a few weeks of daily walking or hiking.
I have found Tai Chi to be a really effective way to relax and stretch while improving balance and fluidity of motion. Drumming is generally a high speed motion which uses fast twitch muscle fibers. AsTai Chi is a martial art which uses slow speed motions, it is a great counterpoint to the rapid speed motions we perform as drummers. I recommend Tai Chi practice as part of a balanced fitness program. While a Tai Chi instructor is great, there are also a number of excellent DVD's available which can get you started. David Carradine's Tai Chi Workout for Beginners and the rest of his Tai Chi DVD series is very good, especially since those of us who remember his calm and relaxing voice!
Proper warm up should consist of several minutes of gentle low intensity stretching. The legs, lower back and neck should be warmed up and gently stretched. The fingers, wrists, arms and shoulders should be stretched as they play an important part in generating speed and endurance while playing. A further benefit of warming up, includes preparing the cardiovascular system for increased physical demands.
Proper stretching is done slowly and under control with no bouncing or tugging.
1) Neck and shoulder stretch:
Let neck bend to side. Allow gravity to fully take effect and traction your neck downward. Then gently assist lateral bending of your neck. Keep your shoulders relaxed.
and Finger Stretches in Flexion and Extension:
With a straight elbow, while holding the hand at the knuckles with opposite hand, gently pull wrist downward. Keep elbow straight and hold for 10 to 20 seconds. Perform this several times.
straight elbow, while holding the hand at the fingers
with opposite hand, gently pull wrist and fingers
backward. Keep elbow straight and hold for 10 to 20
seconds. Perform this several times.
Check your Equipment
Get in the habit of checking your equipment prior to rehearsals and shows. This helps to keep your gear in good condition and can alert you of potentially dangerous components.
Drumsticks - Pay attention to your sticks! A "buzzing" stick is as good as broken. Discard it. A shattered stick is very dangerous and can inflict serious injury to your eyes. Of course, good technique should include an awareness of where your sticks are moving. Avoid rebounding in close proximity to your face and eyes. also see "No Fly Zone"
Shattered sticks can also injure audience members! Throw away damaged sticks and NEVER throw sticks into crowds!
Use high quality sticks whenever possible! Companies like Regal Tip use high quality wood stock with tight wood grain which can be less likely to shatter.
Stick size is often over-looked. In general drummers use a stick size that feels good, and over time we get used to a certain stick length and diameter of drum stick. It makes sense to take a moment to look at your stick size. If you have smaller hands and use a large diameter stick, you may be expending a great deal of energy just trying to hold the stick. Likewise, if you have larger hands and use a thinner stick, you may benefit from a larger diameter stick.
Drumstick size, length and composition all interact with you UNIQUE hand size and playing style. A stick which may "buzz" in your hand may feel fine to another drummer. I very strongly suggest playing with several different sticks until you find the type which limits "buzz" and reduces impact force, while feeling like an extension of your hands.
If you have been playing for many years, I also suggest that you re-visit your stick selection every 5 years or so. A stick size that was right years ago may not be the optimal stick for you now!
If you use nylon tip sticks, make sure you use a high quality stick! If the tip falls off the stick the tip of the stick becomes a fairly sharp point. This can do damage to you, others around you and your gear! As a nylon tip player for over 30 years, I have seen and experienced nylon tips falling off. Whenever possible I use Regal Tip nylon tip sticks as I have NEVER had a tip come off.
I know this is a blatant show of bias toward Regal Tip. I happily acknowledge that I am a Regal Tip endorser. My experience has shown that Regal Tip makes very high quality sticks. Regal Tip pioneered nylon tipped sticks and somehow, they have managed to produce a tip which does not come off or break.
According to Regal Tip, he majority of Regal Tip drumsticks are made out of hickory. This is the same lumber that is used for handles for the striking tool industry, such as axe handles and hammer handles. There are a couple of characteristics to hickory that are advantageous when striking a drum or, in the case of axe handles, a log. Hickory has a “whipping” quality when struck. Just like there is flex to the wings of a plane, there is also some flex to your stick when you hit your drum. This flex is one of the reasons that hickory sticks are so durable. They don’t snap as easily as some other types of wood which don’t have that inherent flex.
- Drum thrones and stools can wear out and collapse causing severe injury.
Give your throne a good
check every once in a while at the same time you spray it with
WD40! Proper positioning is part of your technique. Allow for proper posture
which maintains the curve in your lower back, while affording good mechanical advantage
for your feet.
Cymbals - A cracked cymbal can be dangerous if not spotted in time, particularly a crash cymbal which can create serious cuts if the cymbals is choked at the cracked edge. Injury can also occur during set up and break down. If you spot a cracked cymbal remove it from your kit.
Make sure cymbal sleeves, screws/crowns are in good shape. A falling cymbal can be a serious hazard.
The Stage - Drum-risers have caused accidents. If the rigging is unsteady report it as soon as possible! Take your time when entering and exiting the stage/riser. I have seen several cases of crew and performers injuring themselves on stages and stage risers, including a severe leg fracture. Do yourself a favor; be careful and look where you are walking. A stage can be an unfamiliar, poorly lit and dangerous place.
Set up and Break Down- It's dark and late. You are tired and you have no one to help get your gear off stage and packed up. This is a dangerous combination! I have treated a patient who had a heavy road case dropped on his thumb, resulting in complete amputation of the thumb! You can limit your risk by asking for help, and thinking and looking before you move or lift. Slow down and reduce risk.
Electronic drum pads have come a long way over the past 20 plus years. Hard, unforgiving playing surfaces have given way to softer, more realistic surfaces. The harder Simmons pads often brought finger, wrist and elbow fatigue due to the intense vibration caused by the abrupt impact of stick to surface. Newer pads allow for a more natural impact which absorbs some of the energy to the stick impact, meaning less force imparted into the drummers body. Kick drum pads continue to be a bit of a problem however in that manufacturers of mesh head kick pads require a somewhat tight tension on the mesh head. I suggest using as loose a tension as possible on the kick pad mesh head.
and utilize good drumming technique. While drumming is an art, there are
certain principles which require your attention. Proper technique
makes you more efficient with your energy, distributes stress
through your joints evenly and makes you faster. Here are a few
things to consider:
Stay relaxed in the upper body and face.
Breath through a relaxed mouth. The best way to breath is with as little air resistance as possible. Breathing through your nose alone increases air resistance. Think about how an Olympic sprinter runs...Relaxed.
While there are as many different stroke techniques as there are drummers, remember that a combined stroke which uses arm/forearm/wrist and fingers, spreads the work load and can increase power and speed. There should be very little tension in your grip; relaxation is key to speed and endurance. Rebound should be used to help reset the stick for the next stroke.
Positioning of your equipment is also critical and may play a part in injury prevention.
Injury to the face and eyes can occur from broken or shattered sticks or rebounds into the face or eye. While I never advocate "defensive" drumming, I do think it is a good idea to use techniques which keep stick positions and rebounds away from the face and eyes. I think of a triangular zone where I try to limit stick rebounds; like a "no fly zone" so to speak. If we look at the picture below, I try to use techniques which limit the amount of stick tip intrusion into the red triangular space. Of course there are times when stick rebounds will intrude into this space, but the idea is to limit the amount of time the sticks intrude into the no fly zone. This will lessen the risk of impacting the face or eyes with a stick. Especially important if and when a stick shatters. Splitters can be dangerous, so I prefer to lessen the chance of having a shattered stick hit my eye.
All too often drummers develop poor posture habits. Slouching over the kit is a sure way to injury your lower back and neck. Maintain the curve in your lower back by sitting tall and standing tall. When you slouch you dramatically increase the gravitational load on your lumbar spine. Furthermore, when you lessen your lower back curvature, you increase the forward weight-bearing of your head. This in turn increases the load on your neck, leading to increase stress in your neck and shoulders. Build or re-build your kit set up from the ground up. Make sure that your positioning encourages proper posture and easy access to your gear.
Always stay well hydrated. This is especially true if you don't already drink water. During a gig or rehearsal your normal demand for water will increase dramatically as exhalation and perspiration increase water loss. Do not wait until you are thirsty before drinking water. When ever possible, drink water during your set. This is especially true if your gig is outdoors. Staying well hydrated will lessen fatigue, and enhance your performance.
A good target amount of water is to drink up to one half of your body weight in ounces of water per day! (if you weight 150 pounds you can drink 75 ounces a day!)
Eating well prior to a show or while on a road trip can be difficult, as uncertain time schedules and poor sources of quality foods prevail. Try to eat well 70% to 80% of the time, so you can better endure the junk food or rich food you will no doubt be eating. If at all possible, prepare in advance by keeping a healthy snack or two in your bag. Apples and nuts keep well and make excellent snacks. Health/nutrition bars are good, as they encourage water consumption! When on the road try to maintain a consistent eating pattern. Keeping your metabolism at an even pace makes a great difference in how you feel and perform.
Eating several smaller meals, reducing your intake of simple carbohydrates (rice, bread, potatoes, sugared drinks) while increasing fruit and vegetable intake can be a great aid to reducing unwanted and unhealthy weight gain.
New nutritional science tells us that not all fats are bad. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats contain important omega-3 fatty acids and additional components which are essential to good health. Nuts, fish and certain oils (olive, avocado, canola) are full of healthy fats.
The BEST nutrition book (not a diet book!) I know of was written by Dr. Walter Willett. It is titled, Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating. I highly recommend this book. It should be required reading for everyone.
Drumming legend Bill Bruford was kind enough to add his thoughts regarding nutrition. I quote him directly, "Eat your broccoli!". If eating that particular green veggie has anything to do with Mr. Bruford's immense talent, I for one will take his advice!
It is important to remember that in a world in which rich foods are readily available, every day does not have to be a feast. Although it is important to "live your life and enjoy the moment", it is equally important to treat your body with respect and not over-indulge every day.
While it may not always be needed, noise reduction ear plugs may be needed if volume levels are high. If possible have your monitor mix as low as possible while still enabling adequate sound levels to hear everything well. If there is little time, or if you have a reluctant sound engineer, rotate the monitors away from you a bit. This is a "low tech" method I have used many times to help save my ears for another day!
If you wear hearing protection, don't forget to dry your ears well after shows and showers. Trapped moisture can lead to fungal infections and water entrapment.