Some years ago in New York, during my studies with RUDI (Swami Rudrananda), one of the students made the following comment: “I am really trying hard, but I am not improving.” RUDI replied, “You must learn to try easy.” We were each advised to think about this concept over the weekend and apply it to some part of our daily lives. In my case, I applied the concept to drumming to see what I might understand from it.
My first understanding was that it means “Don’t force it!” We have all known drummers who are relentless practicers. They usually say things like, “I practice five hours a day, every day. How many hours do you practice?” Practicing, in this case, has become an ego-oriented athletic event. “Practice ’til it hurts” is another way of saying it.
To me, this approach is physical as compared to musical. The problem is not the hours practiced but the attitude. You cannot force yourself to improve by relentless over-practicing. Drummers who do use this approach often sound stiff and unmusical when playing in a group.
Then there is the situation with the student and the teacher. The student says, “I am having trouble with this lesson and I did practice.” The teacher often says, “You must try harder.” Sometimes we try so hard that we actually make things worse. As a matter of fact, most good teachers will say something like, “Well, let’s try it this way,” or “What specific areas are you having trouble with?”
The “try harder” approach is regarded as old fashioned by many contemporary teachers. However, if the teacher is not properly trained or is not sure exactly how to help the student, “try harder” is a convenient out—convenient for the teacher, not the student.
The student might then ask, “Should I stop trying? Maybe I should forget lessons and just play. Perhaps this is too hard for me.” Or, “Should I try even harder?” Based on my studies and my experience, the answer would seem to be, “Make the effort, but do it with intelligence and sensitivity.”
For example, be aware of your body. If your muscles feel tense, if there is pain when practicing, or if you feel tired quickly, you may be using the wrong approach. Seek information by asking questions of accomplished players and teachers. Sometimes, the technique (grip, hand position, arm movement etc.) you are using may not be appropriate for what you are trying to do. If a carpenter is building a house, he needs the right tools. If he doesn’t have the right tools, he will be frustrated and not produce good results. In the case of a drummer, one of the tools required is an adequate technical approach for the music being attempted. A knowledge of music is equally important.
Many things become easy to play when the appropriate technical approach is used. A classic case is the buzz, or closed, snare drum roll. Great strength and great speed are not needed. In fact, a roll is easy to play when using an effective method. With the wrong method it can become impossible. Remember, technique really means skill. It doesn’t mean just speed. Intelligence and skill go together.
“Trying easy” means making the effort while paying attention to what you are doing.
“Blind” practicing, such as playing as loud and fast as possible for hours, is practicing without listening. Paying attention in music means listening. So, “trying easy” means paying attention to your body, to the evenness, to the tone quality, to the tempo, to the volume level and to the feeling with which you are practicing and/ or playing.
Last, but not least, trying easy is a result of doing something you love to do. However, if you are on an ego trip, such as trying to be better than everyone else, you will probably try too hard. You will notice that most great players play with a certain joy; a certain enthusiasm for drumming and music that never leaves them. Trying too hard to be perfect or to be number one is a sure way to take the joy out of playing.
If you are playing music you hate just to pay the rent, I admire your sense of responsibility. However, having done it at one time, I know there is not much real joy in playing only for the money.
When you love the music you are playing, joy just happens. The music seems to play itself. It becomes fun. It becomes easy.
Trying easy also means improving at your own pace.
Trying easy means believing in yourself.
Trying easy means a joyful effort.
Trying easy means doing what you enjoy doing.
Trying easy means no ego hang ups.
Trying easy means that you are in no hurry.
Trying easy means being relaxed.
Trying easy means playing naturally.
Trying easy means not forcing it.
Trying easy means trying with patience.
As RUDI told me many years ago, “If you are to be really good at any endeavor, you must love it. However, if your main drive is your ego, there will be little joy and a lot of pain and effort.”
So relax, learn to try easy and enjoy what you are doing. After all, that is why we play music, isn’t it?