Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Drum Lessons

Since so many of us are playing Rock Band, particularly the drums, I thought I'd give you guys some information on the drum lesson I took, just in case any of you are considering taking lessons yourselves.

Like I said last week, I signed up at a local drum shop and had my first lesson last Thursday.

I had two reasons for wanting to take lessons. The first was that I wanted to make sure I was using proper technique, because the issues I've been having with forearm tendonitis are probably at least partially attributable to how I play the drums. I wasn't sure my grip or physical alignment was anywhere close to correct, so I wanted to get evaluated.

The second reason is that I wanted to play enough on a proper kit to be ready when Rock Band-compatible electronic kits get released this fall (I'm hoping for this summer, actually, but that's probably too optimistic). Drum manufacturers are going to want to cash in on the Rock Band phenomenon, and I'm looking forward to playing the game on a better quality kit than what comes with the game.

The first thing we talked about in the lesson was grips. I've been playing with the American grip, which is a form of match grip (you hold both sticks with the same grip, unlike traditional grip), but I was so sloppy that I'm not even sure I was using the same grip all the time.

The instructor said that he taught German grip, and he said that he thought it would be very helpful with my tendonitis. Here's how he explained the difference: French grip is thumbs on top, and elbows in close to your body. German grip is elbows out and palms down. American grip is in-between the two.

The way he explained German grip, having your palms down is a natural position (the same one you use when dribbling a basketball, for example), and the stress on your forearm is less than with the French grip. If I use French grip and compare, I can feel more lateral stress in my forearm than I can using the German grip. You may not be able to feel the difference, but if you have tendonitis (like I do), I think you could.

He mentioned (and I should have known this, but didn't), that many drummers wind up having to retire because of physical issues, and tendonitis is one of the primary problems.

It didn't feel completely natural using German grip at first (having the elbows further out feels a bit awkward), but after a few days of practice, it feels fine.

Then he had me play for a while on a drum kit (traditional, not electronic), playing some simple beats, which I think was part of an evaluation.

The first thing I noticed was the hi-hat. Unlike the Rock Band kit, a regular kit isn't "lined up." Above and to the left of the snare (red in RB) is the hi-hat (a type of cymbal, which is either yellow or blue in RB depending on the song). So you're reaching across quite a bit, which is different, but it's not hard to adjust.
Here's where Rock Band experience comes in. What he was asking me to do was easier than even playing on Medium level, so we moved through different beats pretty quickly. No, it wasn't the same as playing on the RB kit, but I knew how to keep tempo, and I already knew how to use the kick pedal, which is a huge adjustment when you start playing.

I don't know how far along I am I compared to someone who's never played the drums (or RB), but I'm guessing it's at least 1-2 months, and most of that 1-2 months is probably deadly dull. So Rock Band is a fun way to learn some basic fundamentals without even trying.

I have an instructional book now, and in-between lessons I work on basic beats (I'm working on six this week, and I practice 15-20 minutes a day). I'm also learning different snare drum patterns.

All in all, it was a blast. I've never taken a music lesson of any kind before, so I was really intimidated at first, but I'm glad I went. So if you're thinking about taking lessons, and you can find a drum shop where you feel comfortable with the people who hang out there, I'd highly recommend them.

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