Garage Days revisited

I'm visiting family for the week and am lucky to continue my practice since there's a drum set at my brother's house. Housed in the garage, I've stepped out each morning with cup of coffee in hand and allotted for extra warmup time due to colder conditions.

I'm admittedly a softy, as I think I've demonstrated here in this blog. I get reminiscent of younger days and early years on the instrument. I do wish I had the discipline and focus that are emerging in my shed sessions since I've come back to drumming as an adult, but I have fond memories of garage days nonetheless, figuring out songs I saw on Headbanger's Ball or listened to in my brother's car. 

There were definitely times my drumset collected dust in a garage (out of sight out of mind). Days that turned into weeks which transformed into months into years.

It must be human nature, as the blog feels it's turning into that, something getting dusty in a digital garage, the ultimate in 21st century first world problems. But the problems still present themselves, movement on and away from the drumset and rhythmic puzzles that tease me daily.

The garage never goes away. It doesn't care how long you were away, just as long as eventually you get back to it to sift through the dust and get back to work.

The Dream House

My brothers will never let me live down Christmas 1986, the year Santa delivered an enormous Barbie dream house.  A dream house!  Not the RV (my Barbie and Ken were already driving a silver Corvette), not a condo, a DREAM HOUSE!

The family devoted the rest of Christmas evening 1986 to construction of the DREAM HOUSE.   I was responsible for assembling the groceries (itsy-bitsy stickers placed on choke-hazardous plastic pieces aka Barbie's TV dinners) while mom assigned the major duties to my brothers.  Assembly took many hours and flooded into the subsequent days of Christmas vacation (much to my brothers' chagrin). Alas, we made good headway and construction was complete well before the New Year and Barbie and Ken moved in to the Dream House as happy newlyweds.

 Reaction to my first drumset, a.k.a. Love at First Sight.

Reaction to my first drumset, a.k.a. Love at First Sight.

It ended in an annulment as Ken fell for Skipper down the street.  The Dream House was abandoned after 2 weeks of extensive use in my family's living room.  Soon thereafter, the Dream House was relegated to the garage - the graveyard of unused, unwanted, space-consuming articles and objects.  The Dream House stood but ultimately became a remnant of the emotional foreclosure of lost love and broken dreams, and a testament to the low-attention span of an ungrateful 11 year old. 

Fast forward to Summer 1989, when I arrived home in my oversized Van Halen t-shirt to find a CB Percussion 5-piece drumset purchased and assembled by ever-handy brother.  There it shined in the very living room where the Dream House stood just 3 years prior. It was my first drumset after years of banging  away on coffee tables, books, and homemade traps constructed from boxes and duct tape.  

On most weekends thereafter, I could be found carefully disassembling my drumset.  Hoops and heads were removed, any stainless steel surface in sight polished with Windex, and each drumshell lovingly dusted.  I inhaled the fumes and absorbed the grit of cymbal cleaner through my fingertips. I tuned the drumheads, problem solving and experimenting with tensions to zero in on the appropriate sound for stadium hair metal play alongs.  I hand shredded pieces of newspaper to stuff in my kick drum for the optimal fear-inducing thud. 

I tirelessly played with that drumset, not only from sitting on the throne with sticks banging away, but exploring every nook and cranny of the instrument with screwdrivers, drum keys, and WD-40 in hand.

These days when I change a drumhead,  I flashback to those weekend mornings of Play.  You know what you love. You know it from the earliest of ages.

Still, with all that said and done and hindsight being 20/20, deepest apologies to mom and brothers for the Dream House fiasco and for my lack of grace/gratitude demonstrated Christmas 1986.


Caravan - Jo Jones

I came across this video during practice,  resting between some kick drum work and the overall wrangling of foot control I've sidestepped for most of my drum life.

It looks like Jo Jones is virtually swimming through the air in this video.   Even his facial expressions -  his eye movements and his jaw - model relaxation and volition.   I pine for this kind of expression, rhythmically and physically, this command of not each note, but the air and space in between.



Practice notes: The Space Between

This past November, I was able to practice every single day. The parameters of daily practice involved at least 15 minutes of focused exercise with no distractions, a.k.a no "multitasking" of rudiments with an ongoing Netflix binge in the background. Some days I was able to pull in 15 minutes, other days up to 2 hours. Not surprisingly, linear drumming emerged as the area of my playing that needed the most attention. I've known this for a good deal of time now, but have cleverly/stupidly overlooked this part of my vocabulary. With daily practice, you can no longer sidestep the obvious.

Linear drumming involves fills or patterns where no two limbs are playing at the same time. Early on in my playing, I developed a nasty habit of "keeping time" with my right foot on the kick drum throughout very hand-driven, Tommy Lee-inspired fills. In linear drumming, this nervous foot chatter does not fly.

So much of my approach to the instrument, or to movement in general, involves what I can act upon - what do my arms and legs need to do in order to make this beat happen. I can play RKKL RKKL RLKR LKRL until I'm blue in the face, and pretty much did for 30 days straight.

But making something happen doesn't always mean that it actually works. At a certain tempo (100 bpm to be exact, ask Justin Timberlake while he was singing Rock Your Body through my headphones), my 16th note linear patterns involve all the notes technically being played but not rhythmically making sense. To a degree, some of it is an issue of speed. But as I examined the pattern at painstakingly slowed tempos, my attention turned away from the actions of limbs and more to the control of space in between. This might be crazy obvious to most of my drumming friends. I've heard it time and again as well in my drum life, listening to Neil Peart interviews as he describes the "dance" of the limbs between each note that he learned from Freddie Gruber. But to feel the ways I am able/unable to control the space intervals between each note has unlocked an understanding of the instrument akin to that mysterious glowing box in the movie Pulp Fiction, looking from inside out of what makes a groove groove.

It continues to blow my mind how the things I learn about drumming are universal principles in a way.  A groove doesn't happen in a vacuum.  It is a series of relationships - between each note, between each measure - to illicit the Big Picture and a feeling. A beat can happen but a groove has to make sense - not just with each strike of the drum, but with the space between.

The Throne pt II (aka Gonna end up a big ol' Pile of them Sitbones...)

I took a my friend Fred into the home to see what it might look like to sit on the ischial tuberosities. I originally wanted Fred to sit on a drum throne, but as a professional skeletal model, he has the misfortune of an ill placed metal rod in an unmentionable area. Still, I was able to fashion a seat of sorts to compensate for this, so we can visualize what sitting behind the drumset is like.

The two points contacting the makeshift "throne" are the ischial tuberosities, or the aptly named sitbones. They are at the furthest point South of each pelvic half. Looking at the pictures after our photo session, the sitbones remind me of the rubber feet of a floor tom. With two bony knobs at the bottom of the pelvic bone, the sitbones act as a point of contact to the throne like floor tom feet to the drum rug. Similar to floor tom feet, the sitbones make contact at particular angles to support the weight from above and absorb vibrations from below.

The pelvis itself is a hub of so much activity, both in terms of anatomy and movement. It supports the spine and head from above (sidenote: the average adult human head weights approximately 11 lbs or 5 kg!). Movement in the pelvis will influence movement most everywhere else - down to the legs, up the spine through the neck and shoulders. It absorbs the shock of the legs walking down the street. It houses abdominal organs involved in digestion and reproduction .  It serves as an important attachment for numerous muscles and ligaments affecting most all movement. Even the largest back muscle, latissimus dorsi, has connections from the pelvis (at the iliac crest) and to the humerus (intertubercular groove) - even your shoulder is connected to your pelvis.

Rehabilitation therapists and ergonomists love to talk about the "tilt" of the pelvis in sitting.   With good posture, sitting nice and solid on the sitbones and feeling balanced through the spine and head, the top of the pelvis will tilt slightly forward (anterior pelvic tilt). You can further lean forward until you're off your sitbones or lean back as well.  In playing with posture and the sitbones, the back and shoulders will compensate for staying balanced and not toppling over.

Fred kindly attempted to demonstrate this on his sitbones (from left to right: good posture, leaning forward, leaning back).  In pictures 2 & 3, he toppled over.  In picture one, he sat solo.

My own journey has involved some crazy realizations in this area involving the sitbones. With foot control and developing some speed for the kick drum pedal, I've tended to lean onto my left sitbone and tense through my entire right side.  The kick drum work deteriorates quickly.  My right hip fatigues.  Lately I've concentrated on maintaining balance on my sitbones, getting control and relaxation first and watching my BPM increase slow yet steady. The hip is happier, the ankle more nuanced in controlling the pedal under the forefoot. Movement depends on balance - the body loves it, and so does my drumming.

The Throne

There's a saying in rehab: Proximal stability = distal mobility.  In plain terms, if you want the far ends of your body to grab and kick stuff, then you best have a good foundation from which to work.  As a hospital occupational therapist, I can't really well expect a person to be able to eat a grape off a spoon if the shoulder (and subsequently, the trunk...and subsequently the hips...) have the structural integrity of green hospital jell-O.


The distal/far reaches of a drummer are assigned seemingly impossible tasks for concurrent execution.  For left-AND-right-arms-AND-legs-AND-hands-AND-feet, each limb has specific assignments independent of one another at any given time.  And our foundation for all this octopus-like mobility starts at the Throne.

In a sitting position, we think of our "buns" on that seated - those gluteal muscles absorbing the seat and the seat supporting the glutes.  That's the way I always thought of it in my pre-therapy life.  But in reality, it's the pelvis we're balancing on from the throne.  The left and right pelvis form the shape of a bowl, with our sacrum and coccyx (tailbone) at the base of the spine from the back of our body.  It holds and protects organs and structures involved in our digestion and breathing.  The pelvis is also our shock-absorbers in when we're walking around so the spine stays safe from the jarring of stair climbing and jogging. So in reality, the "butt" that contacts my Roc-n-Soc is actually two bony nubs at the bottom of the left and right pelvis called the ischial tuberosities (also known as IT or sitbone).  The sitbones are good to be acquainted with if you do any amount of sitting in your day, and as drummers we sit... A LOT!  And all that sitting can be a lot more stressful to the body than one would think.