“The other side of ‘it’s possible'”

I threw this up on Facebook a few weeks back and thought I would just post it up here, for posterity and future pep-talk usage.  It got a little more far-reaching than I intended, but so it goes.  I’ll just leave it as-posted.

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I was entirely self taught on drums from when I got a crash-ride and snare for Christmas at… what, 13 years old or so?… until spring, 2007. in that time I undoubtedly developed lots of bad technique habits. when I was accepted to Berklee in 2007, I started seeing a local drum teacher to prepare for Berklee. one thing I could never get down was the double stroke roll, which drummers will know is a highly foundational rudiment to one’s playing. my left hand just always wanted to turn over, tighten up, and very deliberately “push” every hit, rather than “dropping” or “throwing.” and I couldn’t even ask it to try controlling a bounce. snowball’s chance in hell.

I didn’t assimilate much at Berklee because I never felt like it was the right place for me. also, I was still playing a lot of my own music while I was there, so I couldn’t (ok, didn’t) take the time out to reshape my technique. but I vividly remember confiding in my first private instructor at Berklee that I just could never get my left hand to play nice re: stick control, and expressed my fear that I had just been doing the wrong thing for too long and would never get past this major handicap. he said very flatly, “that’s possible.” this was a private instructor who was well-respected and -liked, and a totally formidable player in his own right, as one could rightly expect a private Berklee instructor to be. I won’t lie; his reaction crushed me a fair bit.

over the last month or so, though, I’ve finally really buckled down, and for the first time in my life really focused deliberately on just a couple simple exercises: a rotating double stroke roll Bertram Lehmann taught me at Berklee (that I could expand upon if anyone was curious), as well as accenting the upstrokes as he suggested; and, primarily, an introductory stamina exercise by Gary Chaffee that Alex Major turned me on to. and for the first time in my life, I’m started to feel like it’s “clicking,” like my left hand is “getting it.” it’s taken almost shutting off everything else, drums-wise; the last few weeks have been 90% spent on the practice pad. (but that’s coming from a total ADD case when behind the kit.)

and I’m finally beginning to believe my deep-gut reaction that my first instructor’s flatly crushing “it’s possible” was horse shit. his words rang in my mind for a good 6-7 years, and while I chipped away occasionally at my problem by sitting down for 10 minutes here and there to work on double stroke rolls, I always had those defeating words overhead like a gathering dark cloud. but I knew if I just forced myself to focus, I could do it. I just hadn’t taken the practice seriously until now. and it’s amazing what a difference even just a few weeks of focus can make.

so, you know. “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” and all that pocket-sized jazz.

now I reassess things as I consider my future as a drummer, and catch myself every now and then worrying that I’ve just started to focus on that facet of my instrument too late; hell, there are guys who are 10 years younger than me who blow me away at that game. but I remember the words “it’s possible,” and remember that it’s probably horse shit. as long as you’re bettering yourself, “too late” or “never” couldn’t be more irrelevant.

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