Being an employable drummer in 2018 carries more demands than it did in 1918, especially when it comes to melding live performances with the variety of A/V technology being used by most pop, rock, and R&B artists these days. And that applies not just to full-time touring professionals, like this month’s featured players Eric Hernandez (Bruno Mars), Rico Nichols (Kendrick Lamar), and Courtney Diedrick (Damian Marley), but also to those of us gigging on a more local/regional level with Top-40 wedding bands, electronic-inspired indie projects, club acts, or theater productions.
The majority of my gigs over the past few years, aside from a few loose jam sessions and acoustic jazz shows, have required me to either play with a click to sync with backing tracks, start or stop loops, hit one-shot samples from a multipad, or layer triggered kicks and snares on top of my acoustic kit. While I enjoy the added challenges introduced by technology, I’ve found that this new norm requires much keener focus to keep everything running smoothly while also delivering an organic, exciting live performance. As a result, my preshow warm-up has become much more codified so that I know going into each gig that I’m as physically loose and mentally sharp as possible.
The first thing I do is run through a bunch of triplet grid–based exercises, using all the possible variations of accents, doubles, flams, and 32nd notes, while having the metronome click on the second triplet partial. These exercises serve two purposes: to loosen my hands and to make sure my mind is focused intensely on controlling the time and subdivisions. I start at a comfortable tempo (120 bpm), and then increase the speed, in increments of ten clicks, until I reach my max speed (150 bpm).
Once I’ve completed the grid exercises, I take a few minutes to stretch my hands, wrists, fingers, and forearms. The next phase of my routine involves a challenging single-stroke endurance exercise that I memorized from technique guru Bill Bachman’s book Stick Technique. The basic premise is to play an entire measure of 16ths with each hand. Then on each repeat, replace the last 16th note with two 32nd notes (starting with the opposite hand). The 32nd notes keep piling on until you arrive at two complete measures of uninterrupted 32nd notes. I start at a comfortable tempo (90 bpm), with the metronome on the offbeat (“&”), and increase the tempo by four clicks each time until I reach my max tempo, which ranges from 106 bpm to 114 bpm depending on how fluid my hands feel that day. I take a break to stretch between each repetition.
While it may seem overly obsessive, I’ve found that sticking to such a strict regimen every day has not only made my chops sharper than ever before, but it has also provided me with a heightened sense of preparedness and confidence going into each gig. I know that if I can hit my marks consistently on the practice pad, I’m armed and ready for whatever challenges may come at me once I hit the stage.
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