Today’s blog is a guest post from drummer and author Dominic Jay. Dominic has been playing on the live scene for over 20 years. He is the author of the Drums on Stage blog and the book “Live Drummer Secrets”.
Drumming into my thirties, I’ve begun to experience the wear and tear this instrument produces on our bodies. My wrists would hurt every day. I would wake up in the morning with a kind of tingling and swollen sensation in my knuckles. My back was starting to give me trouble too.
Earlier on in my career, I had adopted a brief warm up routine be for my gigs. I used to grab the sticks and twist my wrist back and forth, use the stick to stretch my wrists and fingers; I even purchased a forearm rehab toy from the pharmacy. It was an egg made of a hard gel, and you had to place it in your palm and squeeze. Unfortunately, nothing worked! I had the same pains and they were only getting worse. So it got me thinking of how I was approaching the situation. It took many years and thousands of hours of drumming to actually create those aches and pains. And yet I was trying to solve them with a three minute warm up routine.
Lucky for me, I realized the flaw in my approach, and I set off on a journey to discover how I could alter my current playing and my lifestyle, to minimize my issues. What follows is the questions I asked, the answers I found and the way I now approach my goal of “drumming for the long haul”.
At the Drum Kit
When we sit down to drum, are we comfortable? I used to think I was, but upon reexamining my stool position, I realized I had a lot of weight on my feet. And what I discovered is that every time I would lift my foot to perform a kick, I would now come crashing down with a significant amount of force. All because my body weight was on my feet. This was bad for my ankles, my knees and my back.
The solution was to pull my stool a little closer but sit further back on the stool. So I am at the exact same distance to the kit as I was before, but the stool is closer. And this allows me to place more of my bodyweight on the stool, and less on my feet. Apart from helping me play with a softer technique, as a bonus my double and triple kicks have gotten way easier.
So how far are we reaching for everything? Overextending is a surefire way to lead to injury or at the very least some kind of strain. If we are constantly stretching our ligaments and tendons to reach our drums, just because they “look cool” like that, then we are not doing our bodies any good at all.
I noticed my crash cymbals were too far away. And my ride was also making have to reach too much. So I brought them all closer. Now I can play my ride without having my elbows leave my side, and the crashes are much easier to reach too.
My fingers and hands took the biggest beating and suffered the most. Changing (improving) my technique made a huge difference. I worked on relaxing my hands and fingers, improving my rebound and playing softer. Changing my sticks to a larger one really helped this. I used to use 5A but switched to 2B. The extra weight allows me to hit softer but still retain the tone, and the extra girth allows me to relax my grip, but still have a firm grasp of the stick. The thinner the stick, the more you have to squeeze your hand in order to keep control of the stick.
With my feet, moving my stool closer as I mentioned before was key. And also, playing barefoot but with socks. The lack of shoes allows me to feel the feedback from the pedals and the socks give me the slip I need for really easy double and triple kicks.
Away from the Kit
These were the largest revelations by far. I realized that I had to make changes away from the kit if I really wanted to affect my body.
To deal with the back pain, I stopped sitting so much. I changed my computer desk to a stand up one. So whenever I’m doing any writing, web browsing or gaming, I’m standing up. I also worked on exercising and strengthening my back. These two things basically eliminated my back issues. I only spend an average of three hours a day on my drum stool. But that plus all the time I would spend at my desk or on the sofa was causing the problem. So by eliminating the two largest contributors, I solved the issue away from the kit.
The second one is the wrist and knuckle pain. I would never have thought that the solution was the one I found. It was diet! And by diet, I don’t mean eating less or losing weight. I mean the type of food we put in our body on a daily basis. Certain foods can cause an inflammatory response, and that inflammation targets our weakest areas and joints. As a drummer, my wrists and knuckles were pretty beaten up, and the inflammatory diet I consumed was manifesting itself there.
Now I didn’t actually change my diet to help my wrist pain. I changed it for other reasons, but I soon discovered that my pain going away was a very nice side-effect.
So what did I do? I eliminated most inflammatory foods. Mainly sugar and gluten. Yes, I went gluten-free. Just like those trendy celebrities on the magazine covers! I went gluten-free for an entire year and I never had any trouble with any joint pain whatsoever. Currently, I eat gluten once a month and when I do, I can feel that tingling sensation I used to get in my knuckles the very next morning.
So there we have it. My master plan for long term drumming and avoiding the aches and pains that comes along with the job. Of course, it’s still a work in progress, but this is the framework I use to make decisions about my drumming health. You can take these ideas and adapt them to your own playing and you too will be drumming for the long haul.