Drumming

I’ve pretty much always had a drum or two around the house, either bought on holidays or bought for me as presents. But I rarely do much with them. This is the current one:

Small djembe drum

A small djembe

(The pic, by the way, is courtesy of Chris Cafferkey – it is my drum, but the background is a Seminole-style patchwork quilt she made a few years back).

I ended up doing a bit of drumming round the fire at a pagan gathering a while ago – where I was doing the fire stuff you’ll see in previous blog entries – and when I saw an ad for a local drumming workshop, it piqued my curiosity.

See, here’s the thing. Being a writer, I spend about 110% of my waking hours in front of my computer, writing stuff – or researching and preparing to write, or editing. It’s all very right-brain, word-based, analytic stuff. I write some things that look like stream-of-consciousness, but when they get fitted into stories it’s all carefully manicured and tailored to the plot… And the idea of crossing over to the ‘other side’ and doing something more physical, more visceral, perhaps, appealed.

So I went to the workshop. And learned a lot in a short space of time.

First, I’m crap at drumming. That much I already knew. But I could keep a simple beat going, at least. Apparently if I bothered to practice every day for say three months I could get pretty good.

Second, I learned some basic technique. For djembe this is essentially the bass slap, the higher-pitched ‘tone’ when you hit towards the edge of the skin and the ringing tone you can get from a glancing blow on the very edge. Yes, there are many more techniques. I said I was a beginner and these are basics. I found my own way of working out a rhythm, running it to a lyric in my head. Actually I already knew that one from years back, but doing it again was a challenge. And I learned I’ve very right-handed, struggling to lead into any beat with my left hand.

Third, and most importantly, I was impressed by the teaching/learning style. I guess I’m used to ‘learning’ being a case of discussing something, working it through in a conversation of some kind, and then putting it into practice. Almost every type of learning I’ve done, from academic to shiatsu to first aid, follows this general pattern. This, however, was very different. If you want to learn to drum – you drum. You see and hear what the workshop leader is doing, and try to replicate it, and then he goes off into something else that makes the beat more complex or interesting, and you keep going, and then he comes back to the basic beat and takes you off in another direction. It’s a whole lot more intuitive and I found I was using my whole body, almost doing a sitting-down dance, in order to keep time.

Which takes me to a fourth observation, which is how stiff my body is from all the sitting-down-thinking-and-typing I tend to do.

Lots more as well. I noticed how the drum I was playing was reverberating to the other drums, for example. And how loud a drum really is when you go at it (which at home, with neighbours, I almost never do). And I’ve decided I need a bigger drum because the 8-inch diameter is basically the whole length of my hand, which makes a bass slap tricky.

I’m going to keep going. At home, and not necessarily in that particular workshop because it’s Afro-Caribbean based and that’s not my particular thing, but maybe there are other groups elsewhere. But the more left-brain, intuitive, rhythmic side of me needs to come out from wherever I’ve been hiding it. And it’s a good upper-body workout as well… It must have been inspirational because I’ve started randomly hitting and slapping things just to see what they sound like and whether I can copy a rhythm – the rhythm of the dishwasher as its working, for example…

I’m sure there are more ‘analytic’ sides to drumming; but for the moment that’s not how I’m engaging with it. I’m seeing it as a counterpoint to the other stuff I do, not a replication of it.

In other news, I’m planning on going to a music event of a totally different kind, Stench, at Fabrika, Leicester on Saturday (they’re running Sunday as well, but I’m not sure I can make it then). This will be home-made electronic music, the kind where people have fiddled and rebuilt and customised various electrical appliances to make interesting sounds. Should be fun.

And for now, it’s back to the sitting-at-keyboard-thinking-and-writing thing…

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  1. August 4, 2010 at 8:44 am

    Hi Jon,

    Sounds like you had fun. Drumming has taught me better posture, which is really important, when you are spending a lot of time in front of the computer…

    So you should drum more to write better it seems 😉

    James

    If you want to learn more about drumming, come and have a look at our online drumming community – djembefola.com

  2. August 4, 2010 at 9:33 am

    Thanks for your post.

    Drum more to write better? I think that pretty much sums it up.

    Thanks for the link – I’ve just checked out a couple of the articles and will go back later to read more.

  3. August 4, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    Hooray!!!! Left brain is clever and can do lots of clever stuff, if you switch right brain off for a while and let go of being in right brain control. Go for it!

  4. August 4, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    I think drumming (and juggling) actually help left and right to work together better…

    Studies have shown that juggling actually increases the quantity of white matter in the brain because of the new connections that are created as you learn something new.

    You’re certainly right that about creativity coming from resting your brain or doing something else 🙂 I find that creativity takes me many attempts with a decent break in between.

  5. August 5, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    I don’t drum, but I play the violin (time permitting, not at all lately…), and I find the same thing. playing music just seems to loosen everything up. Sounds like great fun!

  6. August 5, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    Thanks for all the comments. I should obviously spend more time away from the keyboard, doing left-brain stuff!

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