Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Drumming Can Hurt

Something to keep in mind if you are hosting / facilitating a regular drum circle group, or working as a drummer in a band, is getting injuries. You do get hurt sometimes, and you are still expected to play. You may have two prior commitments already booked this week and then you injure your wrist or something. Or you accidentally get a nice cut on a finger tip carving up an apple. You come down with a sporty bad cold, or the flu. You still are expected to show up and play. Like the old saying goes, “The show must go on!” Well, it’s true and that’s what happens, it does. You have to be there, anything short of a broken arm. You can try to get a replacement, if you know of somebody you can have confidence in. But you will probably never work for them again. And worse, the word might get around about it.

The fact is that sometimes you get injuries to parts of your body, and you have to suck it up and play through them. It gets harder and harder as your body gets older. You have to decide what your physical boundaries are as far as playing injured is concerned. I’ve had to do it with a couple of broken ribs. If you have the flu, do you play? Usually, it’s a yes. If it is, just tell the truth to everyone that you have a cold, and don’t shake hands with anybody.

Since you are interacting with a bunch of people, sometimes complete strangers, it’s a lot easier to catch a bad cold. You’ve got to remember to wash up right away afterwards. When I do errands, or projects around the house, I have to think for an extra few seconds before I start to hammer a nail, or when I’m cutting up some carrots for dinner. I have to be extra diligent, and careful not to injure myself in the process, all the time. Because let me tell you, playing injured is a bitch.

I’ve had to coast it a little bit a number of times, because of getting hurt doing something around the house. Sometimes even by not playing properly for my body, or too hard. You can bruise a hand very easily. I made the mistake of playing somebody else’s drum once, and forgetting to keep in mind, my hands and my body had been in tune to my same drum for years. Its curves, shapes, and nuances. So I got into it, and jammed out on this guy’s drum all night, and really bruised my dominant wrist and upper arm. It didn’t hurt that much until the next day. But it took months to heal up. More often than not, I get hurt around the house doing something stupid.

Another thing I do is try to never schedule drum circles two days in a row. I try to schedule gigs every other day, at the most. I need to give my hands and body at least a day to recover and heal up a little bit. Two jobs in a row like that can be very demanding on you physically. If you are in a band it can be four nights in a row, or more. Working Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in a row is very common.

Here is some priceless advice for you, and your participants. I learned it from a Djembe master. Before and after you play, wash your hands in cold water. It cools them down a little bit, and the odds are you shook a lot of hands today, and could catch somebody’s cold. So there’s the hygiene thing there also. For you, and more importantly for them. But mostly, you have just finished what amounts to beating on something like drywall with your hands all night. So a nice cool down of your palms will help you out between sets. Washing them just before you play, gives them lots of grab on the drum head, so you can get cleaner, and crisper sounding notes anyway.

If I can remember, when I get home, I use a hand lotion that has lanolin in it. That helps heal them up quickly. Some friends of mine use shea butter, use whatever works for you. But anything with lanolin helps to heal them. Or at least soothes them a little.

If you’re feeling a little bruised and banged up, a bath with Epsom salts takes it down a little. Especially if you are a hard core drum circle lover that plays outdoors 3 or 4 times a week.

As a musician, performer, or drum circle facilitator, I am being judged and critiqued all the time. Something many musicians are very sensitive about. People don’t like to be criticized, especially when it comes to the way they are playing music. Your soul is wide open for everyone to see. And you are at your most vulnerable. Having some more skilled musician ask you to play quieter or something can really hurt a person’s feelings.

Our American drum circle culture is much different than the drumming cultures in some other countries. For some of them, it is considered completely appropriate to come up and tell a person what to play. Or that they are not playing correctly. Or to play this, or that part. You sure don’t want to try that at a modern drum circle here in the USA. A lot of people who visit us from other cultures don’t know that. So there can be some vast cultural differences to consider if you run into drummers from other countries. Sitting down with them at some point, and discussing the differences is what works for me when I encounter this. (At a break in the action, or after the drum circle of course.) Most of the time, nobody has explained to them that our drum circle culture is a little different than theirs might be.

Some drum circle facilitators are very critical of musicians or people with good musical backgrounds, or street performers who work as drum circle facilitators. They criticize some of us and deem us as more of a performer, or entertainer. I guess they think of us as performers acting out, and showing our talents to gain some sort of acceptance and attention from an audience, because we are coming from some sort of place of need. Yeah right.

I don’t think that‘s it at all. I like bringing joy to people. I am grateful this day. I am discovering my own way. My own sense of style. It's a beautiful thing. Criticism is often presented in the light of not wanting to be supportive of another’s dysfunctional attitudes in life or something. The assumption is that many of us musician based facilitators fit in to that category.

If you are able to get groups of strangers together and help them to entertain themselves, then they are having fun, and not thinking about all the problems and issues of their mortal lives. They are not even thinking about drumming. They are just living in the now. What’s important is guiding them to be able to live in the moment, so they can heal, and begin the self discovery of who they really are. Without them even knowing it is happening to them.

Having a musical background, or any experience in performing, or bringing any of your life’s experiences into it helps you a great deal, and gives you the edge. It makes the whole process more enjoyable for people. If you have public speaking experience, or anything like that, it makes your facilitation identity all that more unique, different, and effective.

That’s a good way to be criticized, by coming up with an innovative approach to doing things that works. Oh my! You know what that means. I think in reality, the critical ones just want to better market their way of teaching in their own facilitating method template, and be able to market it better to anyone who can afford to pay for their intensive workshop, or classes. They might be the ones that need the acceptance of others.

I think if you want to facilitate drum circles you basically need to become a musician, an actor, a performer, a decent public speaker, and a little bit of a comedian. Because being a good facilitator requires all that. And it can be very rewarding (personally, not financially) But, it is an easier way to make a living then just trying to make it as a musician in a band. In a band, you can really have group dynamic problems. The personalities rarely mesh together like they should. You end up on the road a lot, and even working locally, you end up getting home at 3 AM in the morning. It’s a struggle just to pay the rent sometimes, unless your band has some good original music.

As a musician, or a facilitator, I think you need to be as well rounded as you possibly can. You should be able to play any genre of music at all, any style of music, at any tempo, and, ideally, be able to figure out and play anything within a measure or two of music. That’s the goal I think you should try and grow towards. This makes you a better all around musician, and facilitator.

One way to get better at this is to sit in with bands every chance you can get. If it’s a casual setting, and you ask politely, they will likely allow you to sit in for a number or three. Or go to a few “open mic’s” and sit in with whomever you can. Even if it’s just one guy on an acoustic guitar. Are you going to get it every time right away? No. But that’s how you grow faster. A true musician can play anything at all in the drop of a hat. Many times, when I sit in with a band, I have absolutely no idea what they are about to play. Because most of time, they don’t tell you. So you start out softly with a simple all around basic pattern, that you can adjust it to within 10 or 15 seconds, and build it from there. With most songs, or jams, I use a sort of Latin default beat that sounds sort of like, ba dum ba Slap, (pause) ba dum ba Slap, (repeat).

That works in just about any song they throw at me, unless it is a swing, or blues tune, that’s in 6/8. Come up with a default start for 6/8 and 4/4, and you can launch into it, and adjust to anything right away.

You can be a drum circle facilitator if you have no musical background, it is just going to take some more work to be decent at it. You should study music a little bit, and be able to keep solid time. As I mentioned before, you can get a metronome to help you to learn how to keep time if you need one. They’re inexpensive now. And you need to be comfortable, or at least appear confident, with public speaking. Being able to speak clearly, project, and annunciate in pubic, and being able to engage people is an important part of facilitating.

I think one of the most important things of all is having a good sense of humor. It lightens the mood, and puts the uneasy at ease. Watch a few comedians on TV if you have to. Comedy helps people relax with you, if you joke a little bit or can get a few laughs with a clever line or gag. They know right away you don’t take yourself too seriously. I always try to get a laugh or two in the first ten minutes. I think about it beforehand, and have a few lines in mind ready to go. Most of the time, you can think of something spontaneous that’s funnier. Wear something funny, like silly hats, or pull out funny percussion instruments for them to try out. It’s just important to get people laughing, any way you can do it.

Keep a keen eye out for anything that might be funny in the room, ala Robin Williams. Try your hand at writing a joke or two for each week. I recommend that you keep a note pad with you, and when you think of something funny, jot it down. I learned that one the hard way, because I would always think of funny lines, jokes in the middle of the night and then forget them in the morning. I would think to myself, I can remember that in the morning…nope, I forgot it completely. You can reuse a joke like Milton Berle used to do, or just pull a few dumb drummer jokes off my website. Humor is a key element in setting people at ease, and having a fun drum circle.

Public Speaking. It’s a good idea to get comfortable doing it. It will help you as a performer, and a drum circle facilitator. I think there is a group called “Toastmasters” that teaches it, as well as other methods.

Rejection is a big part of trying to make a living as a drum circle facilitator, actor, performer, or as a musician. I have a hard time with it myself. It just gets a little easier if it happens a lot. Rejection is rough, and it happens all the time in this line of work. I think all the entertainment fields are related in this way.

On a typical day of concocting hair-brained schemes to try and get work, I heard on my favorite FM radio morning show they were having a Valentines Day mass wedding ceremony for 45 couples. They explained they needed a wedding day band for the event made up of crazy musical instruments from the listeners. In school I played percussion in the school marching band, orchestra, and later worked with the Philharmonic Symphony for a while. I felt uniquely qualified for the job. But at that time I had no musical equipment, heck, I sold all my drums to get out to LA. But when I heard the musicians to be used would be paid $300 each to play for an hour at this mass wedding, I started scrambling around the house looking for some kind of junk percussion instrument I could audition with.

People were auditioning over the phone with the strangest instruments and being hired! Some guy with a bunch of power drills, another guy with arm farts in different pitches, and other oddities that didn't belong in a band. So, I thought about it a little and lined up a row of 12 water glasses to the diatonic scale, each corresponding to musical notes. Then I called into the show and auditioned by playing "Here Comes the Bride" on my glass xylophone. That was easy enough, having played timpani and the chimes in the past. They laughed a little, then the DJ says, "Come on man, really Impress us". Somehow I managed to clang out "Stairway To Heaven" on my water glasses. It was pretty funny, and they hired me on the spot. Cool. I knew all those music lessons would pay off for me some day.

Try to incorporate whatever your life skills are into your style of drum circle facilitation, or hosting drum circles. I hope that some of this was helpful to you. I go into a lot more detail on this subject, and much more in my 300 page book, “A Practical Guide To Hand drumming And Drum Circles”. Physical copies are $18. During the month of August, I’m including 2 drum circle jam CD’s free with it, if it’s purchased from my website. It’s also available on Kindle for $8.