Focus on the big picture–sing your drums!

I often sing song sections in my head when I’m drumming with an artist or a band. If I’m singing one of the parts of the song (could be the vocal, could be a guitar riff…could be anything) it gets my mind off of my drumming, and gets me more focused on the song. This is a good thing, and not only will the drumming sound and feel better, the whole song sounds and feels better when I do this.

In a way, it’s like the singing gets me focused on the big-picture of my drumming efforts–to make the song come alive. Another way of looking at it is this: it keeps my mind from focusing too closely on my drumming. You might think that ‘focusing closely on my drumming’ is a good thing, but it can get in the way of getting the song across effectively. The singing also stops me from having my focus in the wrong place, as I strongly feel that you should be focused on the song–not your drumming–the vast majority of the time when playing songs.

This singing idea led me to reflect on all the singing I have my students do. We are always singing beats–it’s a great tool for a couple of things. #1, it helps them learn the beat when their reading skills aren’t yet so good. #2, it helps them phrase the beat in a musical, or lyrical way. (It’s very easy for us drummers to get too mechanical or mathematical in our playing–because our instrument doesn’t depend on our breath for sound–and singing the beats can help with that problem.) That approach has carried through to the special needs drumming classes and the special needs drumline I teach. Whenever we are learning rhythms, we always sing (or count) them.

I have seen this work on other instruments as well. I remember watching a virtuoso violinist (Yehudi Mehuhin, or someone like that) on TV working with a student in a master class who was was struggling with a particular passage. He had them stop, and instead of trying it again on the violin, he had them sing it. After they sang the passage, they went back to playing it on their instrument and the improvement was palpable–it was an amazing difference.

The big idea here is about being aware of more than what you alone are doing–it helps a lot to know what the overall goal is, or what the ‘big picture’ is. In a work context, it’s been established that folks who work on assembly lines are happier and do better work when they know how their work contributes to a greater whole. If all you know is your small part of the process, it’s easy to lose track of the team that you’re a part of, and that makes you less happy, and not as productive.

Or with your kids at home: if I’m trying to teach my teenage daughter to do her laundry, I get better results when I tell her that this is about preparing her for life at college (the big picture). If all I do is get on her case for not doing her laundry, I don’t get as good a result.

So then, sing your drums people! Or, more generally, keep your priorities straight by keeping focused on the big picture–whatever that may be at the time.

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