I recently received the following question from a drumscore user that I thought deserved its own article as it raises some interesting points.
RE: What Do You Think About When Drumming?
This might seem a strange question but I sometimes struggle to remember what I should be playing and where I am in a song, so I’m wondering if I need to train mentally as well as physically? All the drum lessons I’ve seen are focussed on physical movement and co-ordination so maybe there is a need for some mental exercises as well?
I’m sure if I performed the same songs every night/week they would become second nature and I wouldn’t even be thinking what I’m doing but, especially when I’m just starting to rehearse live with the band and the songs are still quite new, do you have any tips or tricks for how to keep the concentration but stay relaxed at the same time? Are you thinking of the song structure and counting bars? And/or listening out for what the other guys are playing (but bearing in mind they many not play exactly the same thing each time!).
I think this highlights an aspect of playing a song that a lot of drummers may miss. Wether you are playing/performing an original song or a cover, it isn't just about hitting the right notes in the right place dependant on the part you or another drummer has orginally written. It's about playing a piece of music and a very important part of this, particularly in a live setting, is Improvisation. Obviously you need to know a song to play it, what I'm saying here is that 'knowing' a song and playing the song the exact say way every time aren't the same thing. The fundamental point of my answer is that when I'm drumming I'm generally thinking about the song I'm playing, not my drum part.
When I’m practicing something new on my own or at a rehersal with a band, I focus on things like how the parts sounds, weather my technique is looking ok, making sure I'm keeping a good tempo and that I'm fitting in with the other instruments nicely. After a short while, when I become more familiar with the song, I generally start singing one of the parts in my head. That’ll be the vocal/guitar/bass depending on the song and what I’ve written my part to follow. When I get to that point I'm less focused on my part and I become 'part of the whole'. If I'm 'locked in' to the song, I find I don't need to think about what I'm playing as the other instruments are telling me what to play.
When it comes to covers, I listen to the songs as much as possible so that they work there way into my subconscious. Again, that fundamental point of listening to the song and not just the drum part is important here. I'm not focused entirely on the drum part, it's as much (if not more) about things like the vocal parts and guitar riffs as these are your queues that will still be there when it comes to playing the song live. Once these parts get in my head, I find the structure of the song comes with it and that another instrument will remind me of what I’m supposed to be playing at any given point. Knowing which section comes next and wether you’re meant to be stopping or not is far more important that knowing if your meant to be playing on the ride cymbal or if there's any ghosted 16ths in this section.
It's very rare I find myself counting bars. This only tends to happen if the part is really complex or if I'm having to play a song live with very little practice. Even then I rarely count bars, I count guitar/bass riffs.
I personally thing the thing that most people miss is the listening to the song away from practice, that’s what really sinks the song in for me and I think that can be called 'mental training'.
The part about songs becoming second nature after playing them a lot is true, repetition over time is a great thing for learning stuff and when you've gotten to that point playing live gets really fun. Because you're not having to think about what you're playing so much, it allows you to think of far more important things like how to make your band laugh by doing something stupid or what you're going to have for dinner tomorrow.