Abandon Stability

I've been obsessed with the bounce and rebound of the drum stick for a long time, going as far as purchasing different sticks with different weight distributions and sizes along with different drum pads with different rebound responses. Why though? The fact is that, as drummers, we have to know the rebound well enough that we can accomplish techniques and effects with as little trouble as possible. For me, I thought practicing with different tools and learning how to make them work helped me accomplish that, forcing me to learn to let go in different ways and not just one specific one. 

The key to learning how the rebound works is the simple, yet often misunderstood, fact of letting the stick go. But I thought we have to hold the stick? It's a paradox. Think about how you walk. You don't think about picking up your first leg, moving it forward and placing your foot on the ground, shifting your weight forward and repeating the process, You simply think about moving toward your destination. You already know how to walk so you don't have to "do" anything. That's exactly what I think the goal should be. Know the fundamentals so well that we don't have to "do" anything but go for our intended destination. So yea, we have to hold the stick, but with the right mindset and practice, perhaps our grip won't be based on holding it, but allowing it to be a part of our hand, an extension of our own bodies. The more the techniques are "second nature" and the tools we use are simply an extension of our bodies and mind, the easier it will be to accomplish the effects and goals you want to achieve. 

Rest

I firmly believe that, with any action we do, when it's as close to the feeling of rest as possible is when the best outcome happens. This is not easy and I find, especially in percussion, that many don't get as close to this point as is actually possible. This is caused by a growing "cultural" need to control the stick to get what you need. While accuracy and consistency are possible with this mindset, the things that suffer are sound variability and physical malleability. If we over control the stick, it cannot rebound freely, hindering its motion and the instrument's response to it. Usually, the trend that tries to counter this is using bigger muscles while having loose hands and this does work. However, this accomplishes one sound and unless something changes, the sound will have the same character, just different volumes.

My instructors were.....crazy. Not only could they navigate the natural rebound of the stick without hindering it, but could control the types of rebounds to get different characters, lifting for bright sounds with the wrist while using arm weight for dynamics and so many other combinations. While some may not even notice these differences, you can definitely tell the difference between one who does do this and one who doesn't. Again, this is not an easy thing to accomplish because you have to be as close to an almost meditative state as possible, or else it doesn't work. Any ounce of tension will be heard, felt and distort the flow of energy in the playing.  So controlling your ability to get and stay in this "zone" is crucial to making it habitual.

This, ultimately, is my goal with anything I do and it hasn't failed me yet, but I can't stress enough that it's not easy to do or to accept. Everything is easy; that's the philosophy behind it for me. If everything feels like I'm just walking down the street, that's the feel. Why do yoga? All the crazy poses and they just tell you to do them like it's the most peaceful, no stress, easiest thing ever. The ones who accomplish that are the masters of not only their body but their mind. The perception of the "hard" position is that it's both possible and easy to do. Why not the same for our playing? Why kill yourself playing soft? Just let the soft happen. Let that moment dictate your motions. This is freedom of motion at its best. This is freedom of expression at its greatest! Just rest in it.

Finding Ease

As soon as I finished the ASMR blog, people asked how I learned to "control" the triggers and how I could use my own movement, specifically efficient movement, to do it as well. The idea of efficient movement was also inquired about, and my friend Sasha asked if I'd write this blog. I'm going to try to keep this as concise as possible, keyword try. I won't go into too much background behind things unless it's really necessary and will include as many ideas and exercises that I can. Here goes nothing!

With ASMR, I had to figure out which trigger was the strongest and created the quickest response. With that knowledge, I started to try to find other triggers, compare their potency with my strongest one, and would try to use that trigger as often as possible until the potency grew. Now, I'm not 100% sure that that exercise actually made triggers better, they may have always been that way, but the brain is extremely powerful and I do believe that it is possible for people to accomplish that. So let's say that the sound of water bubbling on the shore gives you that sensation. What I would do first is go for the sound as the trigger, as it's probably what you are paying attention to. Next, find the sounds around the water, like the wind in combination with water, or the distant water movement that's far from the shore.

Next, I'd pay attention to the movement of the water as it goes to and from the shore. If you notice, your body probably anticipates the sound as it gets to the shore, so you feel almost a growing tension and release as the sound comes and goes. First, I'd watch the water and attribute not only the sounds to it but also the feeling, so if I see something that reminds me of the movement of water, it will trigger it. Eventually you can attribute the general idea of flowing movements, not just like water, to the sensation.  A cool thing to do also is match your breathing to the water movement. Since the body is doing an ASMR tension and release with the sounds and sights, if you breathe along with that you almost feel like you yourself are causing the sensation, or at least are one with the appearance and disappearance of it. If this sounds like a meditation, it definitely is one! For me, breathing, when I focused on it like that, could trigger ASMR as well. I honestly feel that if you truly focus on anything, and sort of become one with it, in the sense of the breathing with the movement of water as if you're a part of it, it can trigger it. It's just about finding a trigger to compare it to in order to gauge how strong it is and has become. Now, if I meditate on pretty much anything, it triggers it. No wonder I'm so happy all the time! 

Within the ASMR "exercises" are the basics of my efficiency "training." I only say them like "that" because our habitual definitions to both are more tension oriented, like we're trying to do something in order to get the results instead of allowing them to happen naturally. Of course we have to train the body to do what we want, but we also have to let it figure it out by itself. When we were learning to walk, we didn't go through a process of doing exercises specifically made for walking. Yes, our parents might've put us in a walker, but our decisions to move were our own, not a dictated one but a guided one and we learned to walk on our own terms. I take the same approach with everything that I do in my practice.

Specifically to movement itself, though, after taking one Feldenkrais class, I decided to just explore the idea of finding and eliminating unnecessary tension in my activities. What Feldenkrais basically taught was to take a movement, let's say picking up a cup of water, and examining it to the point that you can only use what is absolutely necessary to accomplish the task (fingers, hand, wrist, forearm, upper arm) and getting rid of anything else. The key is to do it super slow so you notice if anything else starts to get "activated" or tense. Usually what happens when we go to take a drink is, our shoulders try to get stable or rise up. So you would say, I don't need those things, relax them and continue slowly, finding and eliminating anything else that comes up. Try reaching for the glass first and eliminating anything that you don't need to reach. Once you have it in your hand, don't over grab on the glass, accept as much of the weight as possible to the point that it might slide out of your hand (maybe use a non breakable dish just in case, but something with weight). As you go to take the drink, really pay attention to your upper body as it probably will try to "get stable." Try to get as loose as jello and just take the drink.

Again, this process can be very meditative as you are focusing on slow deliberate movements, almost like you're doing tai chi. For drummers, we would pay attention to our grasp of the sticks and our movements towards and away from the instrument. A cool thing I found on YouTube was a saxophonist doing a similar exercise of slow movement with his breath. He would basically play only so much to barely hear the note to practice his breath control, but I also think that this naturally slows the speed and intensity of air so that you emulate some sort of resistance, even though there is none, and keep the direction that you want. That's basically what slow movements do, emulate resistance while still going for the action. So when I walk to work today for example, I'll pay attention to my body and see if my arms or shoulders are tense and relax them, and when I get to work I'll warm up slowly getting rid of any tension in my basic strokes. As you practice thinking this way, you'll create a habit of pinpointing areas that are being used that you don't need, like if you brush your teeth and your left foot is tense, you'll naturally go into a standing position that relieves that tension.

The other thing I noticed was that, even if I could get the noticeable tensions out, sometimes there would be an inward hesitation or forcing of a movement. My arms would be relaxed but it would feel like something inside was still tense. I personally thought it was just more tension, but this idea from Bruce Lee got me thinking otherwise: "From your thought to your, how much time was lost?" So I decided that it was completely a mental tenseness, as if my brain was preparing my body for the movement too much in advance. So practiced quickening my reflexes from completely relaxed to doing the task, standing completely still and not moving until I absolutely had to move, kind of like waiting for the start of a race and reacting to the signal.

This again was a meditation for me because now I could sense the intention of movement in my body. If I thought about lifting a stick up, my wrist would get warm because of the mental emphasis on it. I could visualize myself moving and still feel the body parts that I was thinking about. The side effect of this was that I could even feel weights of stick or instrument either by visualizing them or looking at them. So, I can look at a pair of sticks and based on my previous knowledge, get a general sense of how they will feel weight wise, throw wise and how my body will have to interact with them to get what I want, without physically touching them. Eventually this ability would apply to all of my instruments, and now I can feel every instrument without touching it. That was really cool when that happened.

Along with the visualization, if there was a certain sound that I wanted to create, my body could naturally figure out what to do in order to make that sound. Let's say I wanted a dark sound with a strong attack. Generally the more weight I add, the warmer or darker the sound, and articulation can be achieved by shortening or lengthening the interaction between the head and the stick. I would add a bunch of weight to darken it, and get off the drum as quickly as possible to sharpen the attack. So, now when I audiate in my mind, my body reacts to what I "hear" and activates the parts necessary to do those tasks. When you combine the audio reaction with the reflex idea, you get a very powerful tool. 

If you apply this to rhythmic or time exercises, you can train your body to react in time with the metronome without even picking up your instrument. This is what people generally call "working on your inner clock or time." You take a metronome marking, sit there and listen to it, and let your body react to each pulse. If you're a wind instrumentalist, you probably will sense the intake and outtake of breath as well as the use of it in "playing" in time with the metronome. More importantly, you feel your body pulse along with the metronome. For me, I feel the beats more in my head and stomach, but it may be different for others. Because I practiced this with a lot of different tempos, I can now guess BPM's pretty close to what they are. Once, someone had a metronome on 35 and I guessed 34. Not that you need that, but it's really fun to test yourself with.

Lastly, with tuning. I'm obviously not an instrumentalist that has to tune all the time in quick succession, but when I do have to tune it's equally as important. The way I think about tuning is the same. I hear what the centered note is and find a physical reaction to the centered note. Usually what happens is, my ears feel very wide and open, as if you were ease dropping on a person across the room, and I feel like I'm listening to the air. When I do this, it triggers my ASMR and when the note is centered, I'm at the most balanced and strongest sensation. When I'm flat, the sensation get's more potent but less intense, and when I'm sharp it get's less potent but more intense. This is just my personal way of tuning, but it has worked and I haven't had to rely on a tuner as much anymore in practice because of it.

This was a very general overview of what I think about and do to practice these things and there are tons of details and options that are available. Generally, I try to do as little work as possible in everything that I do, become super reactive to what I see, feel and hear, and try to connect my inner self to whatever I am doing, seeing or listening to. Please feel free to email me if you have any other questions, or if there was a specific idea from this you'd want to see a blog on. I hope this was helpful and again, thanks for reading. Happy searching!