Many drummers begin a gig or a practice session by grabbing their sticks, their favorite beverage, sitting down at the kit, and letting 'er rip. They struggle through the first five or six songs, then - as their muscles become acclimated to the drumming process - they begin to play better.
Well, maybe the Saturday night gig at the American Legion isn't the place where you're going to be "discovered" by that hot band or promoter, but if you take that attitude into a "serious" gig with "important" people watching, they'll be gone by the time the fifth song rolls around. And you can bet they'll be thinking, "Not bad. Not great, either."
Being prepared is what it's all about for me. That's one of the themes of this website (in case you haven't noticed!). So, in order to help you be more prepared, I'm going to begin our monthly series of lessons by giving you some reasons for regularly warming up before each gig and practice session. I'll also give you some warm-up exercises I use.
I read an interview with Buddy Rich in a recent Modern Drummer; he was explaining to the interviewer how he never practiced. I cringe when I see stuff like that, because it gives impressionable young drummers the notion that, "Hey, Buddy Rich doesn't practice, so why should I?" Well, when you get as good as Buddy Rich, then you can do without practicing, too!
Same thing with warming up: some drummers claim not to need to, like Richie Hayward of Little Feat. However, for every drummer you read about who eschews warming up, I can show you fifty who embrace it. Why? Because it helps them be a better drummer. Isn't that why we're here?
Warming up loosens up the muscles and joints and prepares them for the rather strenuous job ahead. Just as you would never go jogging without stretching your muscles, you should never drum without first warming up!
Don't risk injury or embarassment! Make it part of your routine.
Following is a series of warmup exercises and routines for the drummer. Follow these in order. Some of them also make good practice routines on their own!
(I just received an interesting email from a drummer named Marco who says he does his warmups upside down - hitting up against a surface rather than down, and he doesn't lay on his back to do it! Sounds highly beneficial to the upper arm muscles....)
Begin by doing some basic muscle-stretching routines. Rotate both arms in arcs over your head. This will loosen up the shoulder muscles. Do this until you feel comfortable with the motion. Then, reverse the direction.
Next, clasp both hands together and try to reach over your head, moving the hands as far back as you can. Keep the arms straight. This loosens up the muscles of the chest.
Another good chest muscle loosener is to clasp both hands behind your back and lift them towards your head. Keep the arms straight. This also gets some important back muscles.
Next, hold both arms at your sides. Turn both arms inwards, with the thumbs going towards your back, so that your hands are facing out. Now keeping the hands facing out, lift the arms up away from your body keeping them straight, so that your upper body makes a cross. You should feel stretching in the bicep. As you continue to do this, slowly move the arms further behind you.
When you're done with these, shake out your arms. You're ready to begin using your sticks!
These are most effective is you do them in order. As always, begin slowly, working up to your fastest possible speed, hold for about a thirty seconds, then slow down. Make sure the speeding up and slowing down is smooth. (You might want to use a practice pad, so your band mates won't have to listen to you!)
This little exercise is great for limbering up the forearm muscles. It's also a great practice exercise for developing arm and hand strength and speed! The idea is simple: play quarter notes only with the right hand. When using this as a warmup, don't push your muscles past too hard: keep it comfortable.
When using this as a muscle-builder, hold the fast speed until your muscles burn, playing through the pain. You can add this to your practice routine: you'll see improvement within a week (if you do it every day!).
When you have finished with the right hand, move to the left hand:
Work this one through the burn. Remember to start slow, then go as fast as you can.
When you have finished with the left, go back to the right. Do three reps of this (the second and third rep can be just at your fastest speed, not speeding up and slowing down), then move on to the next warmup.
Yep, it's our old friend the Paradiddle again! The object of this one is to maintain a consistent tempo through the various speeds. Again, start slow, then speed up; first leading with the right, then with the left:
Do three reps.
This is a flam variant that I use to get going. It helps the muscles work through those little, fast, intricate doublets and triplets. Work at a fast, steady speed, pause for a minute, then repeat (don't do the slow-fast-slow thing with this one). Three reps.
The Double-Stroke Roll. Start this one slow and work up to speed, hold, then slow down. Pause for a minute, then repeat. Three reps.
This warmup is intended to help with dynamics. Watch the accents! I intentionally threw in some tricky sticking: this will help you with doubles and triples while working on dynamics. Work through it as you did the previous warmups.
If you play a double bass pedal, you might want to consider doing these with your legs as well! It might look a little goofy sitting as a table with your legs bouncing up and down, but drummers shouldn't be afraid of looking a little goofy now and then!
As always, feel free to develop your own warmups. The object is to prepare the muscles for work. Make this valuable practice part of your routine. And, if you have any cool warmups you want to share with others, drop me a line!