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Biofeedback - What is it and how can it help me?

The purpose of this blog is to provide a simple exercise that will allow you to identify and eliminate the muscle tightness that inhibits the rebound of the drumstick.


The result of this awareness will allow you to increase the pace in which you can apply fundamental principles that have the greatest impact on your success. 


What is biofeedback?

Biofeedback is the process of gaining greater awareness of numerous physiological functions such as muscle tension, heart rate, respiration rate and more. 


One of the most common issues beginners run into in sports is over-tightness.  Whether it’s swinging a baseball bat, golf club, or tennis racket, over-tightness wreaks havoc on the results.  Marching percussion is no different.


Your muscles work in a complex system.  When one muscle is contracted, the other muscles in the chain are recruited and pulled with it.  In order to achieve optimal rebound, the player must be extremely relaxed to allow the rebound to occur.  This holds true on Accent-Tap style passages.  


Questions:

  • How do you know if you’re playing too tight?  

  • How do you know if your sound quality could be better, warmer, or more full?  


That’s where biofeedback comes in. The concept of biofeedback was first introduced to us through the book “The Inner game of Golf.”  In the book, they use an organic form of biofeedback to identify the exact moment when tension is introduced to the golf swing. Much like drumming, the golf swing is a very relaxed and fluid motion.  When the golfer tried to swing too hard, the tension yielded a multitude of undesirable results.  


Golf Biofeedback Exercise:

  • During the golfer's swing, the athlete will audibly hum.

  • The goal is to keep the same tone without any spike in volume upon the impact of the golf ball.

  • If the golfer is able to keep the hum at the same pitch during the entire swing, they most likely struck the ball with a relaxed swing and grip.

  • If the golfer had the volume of their hum spike or increase in pitch when they struck the ball, their muscles most likely tightened up before impact.

  • The humm gives you the feedback on how much tension you are introducing to the swing at the moment of impact.

  • This begs the question; how can this be used in drumming?  


Drumming Biofeedback Exercise:

  • Play a measure of 8th notes with accents on the down beat and taps on the upbeat.

  • Introduce audible humming over the top of this. (Yes, you will feel silly but it will be worth it).

  • The humming should not change in volume even though your stick heights will. 

  • The goal is to produce a constant humm that does not vary in volume or pitch.

  • If your results yield 2 different sounds, you are most likely playing your accents too hard and changing your grip pressure between each note.  

  • In order to remedy this, try the following.  While keeping your grip pressure the same, decrease the intensity of your accents by 5% while increasing the intensity of your taps by 5%. 

  •  If the results do not improve, continue decreasing the the intensity of the accents and adding to the intensity of the taps until the tone of your humming is consistent.

  • Throughout this exercise it’s important to keep your heights the same.  

When successful, you’ll notice that the grip pressure evens out between the two strokes.  Your hands will feel softer and your sound will be fuller, especially at the low end. The goal is eliminating constant grip changes that produce inaccuracies in your rhythms and sound


Challenge:

Try the same biofeedback exercise a with difficult passage from your drumline’s show.  Did you notice any areas of tension that you didn’t before? Odds are there is at least one pressure change in that passage you now have more awareness around. 


Let’s continue to drum smart.

Author: John McClean

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