One of my main passions in life is drumming. I love playing the drums. I am obsessed. When I’m not drumming, I’m annoying those around me with my incessant tapping.
Whether I’m playing to favorite songs on my headphones, practicing with my band Grimedog, or performing live, drumming gives me incomparable feelings of peace, freedom, power, and interconnectedness. I am free to let these feelings flow through me and simultaneously express them, spiritually and physically.
There are a wide variety of possible drum set-ups. Most drummers play three or four-piece kits with two or three cymbals. The reason for playing smaller kits is the simplistic beauty to it. There’s nothing elaborate. Everything’s right there, nice and tight. There’s less to transport, set up, and tear down.
I started on a five-piece kit with one crash cymbal. I play fast, intricate fill combinations. I prefer more options. I outgrew that kit faster than I could afford more equipment. I’ve had as many as nine drums and six cymbals in my kit, but I’ve found that seven drums and five cymbals is the sweet spot for me. Nine drums is fun, but I can achieve the same effect with seven, and it’s just as exciting and fulfilling.
People like to talk smack about drummers. A classic example is the old jab, “You’re not a musician; you’re a drummer.” I tell people I am a musician. I write most of the lyrics for Grimedog, and I sing occasionally. I love guitar solos and bass riffs, but drum parts in most songs have always sounded lacking to me. I play drums because that is where I can contribute the most to music. Another cliché is drummers are stupid.
The Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm conducted a study on the link between drumming and intelligence (Ullén et al., 2008). The study had drummers play different beats, then complete a 60-problem intelligence test. Researchers found a positive correlation between accurate timing, problem-solving, and general intelligence.
Researchers at Harvard discovered drummers’ internal clocks don’t rely on linear time, but waves similar to brainwaves, heart rates, and auditory nerve firings (Hennig et al., 2011). That is the most scientific description of how drumming feels. I also experience what Oxford researchers call a “drummer’s high” (Dunbar et al., 2012). Even if I’m having a horrible day, drumming pumps me up.
Drumming for extended durations requires vast energy. I can start a winter set shivering. By the end, I’ll be sweating through my clothes. However, there’s a soothing, positive energy that comes over me and gives me enhanced focus and a feeling of indestructibility.
I love feeling the music flow through me like a wave of energy and emotion. I love feeling those polyester film skins respond to my constant bombardment. I love following cell phones up past the outstretched arms to the faces glued to my every movement and recognizing the wonder in their eyes at what I am doing with two sticks and some tendons.