Hello, Modern Drummer readers. My name is Brandon Green, and I’m the owner of a muscle system health and fitness studio in Newmarket, Ontario, called Strata Internal Performance. I’m also a drummer. My mission is to help people move better and continue to do the activities they love for their entire lives, such as playing drums.
My team at Strata helps professional athletes and everyday people of all ages overcome joint-related issues that make it hard for them to get the most out of life. We come up with strategies to help them feel stronger and able to move without limitations created by annoying aches.
As a spin-off of my work, I’ve developed a series on ergonomics specifically targeted towards drummers. This was born out of my observation that far too many drummers have had to give up playing because of pain and injury caused by a lack of understanding of body mechanics. However, if you can apply some very basic rules of physics and biology to your drumming, then you can create a setup that’s unique to your body and will allow you to play in the most efficient way possible with minimal long-term side effects.
If you try to set up a drumkit just like your favorite drummer, it’s likely not going to work well for you from a biomechanical perspective. Each one of us has different limb lengths, ranges of motion, degrees of flexibility, and so on. In order to help us understand this idea, let’s take a look at some examples of the variables in human anatomy.
Pictured above are six different femurs and two different pelvic systems. It’s easy to recognize that none of the bones are identical. Why does this matter? Imagine test-driving six different cars. Each of them has a slightly different turn radius. Some of the differences are minor, but others are dramatic. In order to drive those cars safely, you have to adapt how you move the steering wheel.
Each human body has a similarly unique mechanical system. We are all different from one another, and we instinctively adapt our physical experience around the best way to sit in a chair, climb a set of stairs, or reach for a high object. A 6’4″ person will do these things differently from a person who is 4’9″. Now consider how that relates to being a drummer. How could everyone sit at the same height or hold sticks the same way?
The Muscle Component
Now that we’ve addressed the fact that no two skeletons are identical, the next step is to take a look at what role our muscles play in moving the body.
When you visualize a muscle in your body, how would you describe it? Most people think of muscles as something that stretches, like an elastic band. And it’s understandable why you would believe that. Gym coaches are notorious for instructing “stretch your muscles” before an activity. And many personal trainers echo that same message. However, the word stretch merely implies a compliance and return quality. In other words, you deform the tissues with a little effort, and then they return to their original shape.
To oversimplify, muscles are made up of two types of tissue: collagen and elastin. Ligaments are collagen-based and are rope-like in nature, meaning they have a defined range of motion. Elastin is just as it sounds: elastic. Most muscles are composed of a small percentage of elastin (less than 1%). What does that mean? Muscles aren’t very elastic. They are much more like rope.
Drummers often give little consideration to the development of their muscles because they fear that having bulky muscles will lead to slower performance. We will dispel that myth in greater detail in a later article, but let me assure you, there’s a great deal of scientific evidence supporting the argument that well-developed muscles do anything but slow us down.
The External Device: The Drumset
The modern-day drumset is a fascinating instrument. It’s composed of multiple smaller instruments that were once played by different players in a marching band. At some point, those instruments were pulled together into a formation that one person could play. One of the more challenging things about the drumset is that it wasn’t designed to conform to the structure of the human body, but rather to provide convenient access to each component.
As discussed earlier, every human skeleton is different. Yet, drummers often cling to dogma-based guidelines about how to set up a drum kit: “Your legs should be parallel to the ground when you’re seated on your throne,” “You should hold your sticks exactly this way in the German grip,” and so on. But how could there be a one-size-fits-all rule for drummers?
Trying to achieve peak performance while using dated guidelines that don’t maximize your specific body structure can only lead to discomfort and injury down the road. The more you learn about your anatomy, the more you can decrease the risk of injury, increase your performance, and enjoy playing drums for the rest of your life. We will dig deeper into various ways to conform your drumkit to your unique physique and playing style over the next few issues. See you next time!
Muscle and exercise specialist Brandon Green is the founder of Strata Internal Performance Center, and is the owner of the drummer-centric biomechanics and fitness website drum-mechanics.com.