Eyes Wide Shut. Learn to master the Feel.
Professional basketball players often use feel when practicing. They are able to make free throws and 3 pointers with their eyes closed because they know what those shots feel like and have practice them thousands of times. You can do the same with your drumming. Let's discuss one method below, focusing on your heights awareness.
Are you doing what you think you’re doing? Awareness is one of the most valuable skills a young drummer can have. Even if you’re not the best in your drumline, being the most aware of what you’re doing will help you get to where you want to be, faster. Awareness around stick heights, intervals, and tempo play a crucial role in your long term success. Often times our egos can get in the way and we have a false perception of what we’re really doing.
Here’s a simple awareness test you can use to make sure you’re achieving the heights you think you are playing at.
1. Record yourself playing (without your face) 8-on-a-hand starting piano and every time you cycle back to the right hand increase the height by one dynamic level. For purposes of this blog we will call those dynamic levels piano, mezzo piano, mezzo forte, forte, and fortissimo.
2. Once you have this recorded, repeat that exercise with your eyes closed. Watch the videos and see if you can tell which video your eyes were open and which video your eyes were closed.
If that was too easy and there is not a substantial difference try the next level. Record another video of 8-on-a-hand, but now randomize the height order (messo forte -> piano -> fortissimo -> mezzo piano -> piano). Record this in the same fashion with the first repetition your eyes are open, and the second repetition your eyes are closed. You might be surprised to see that your heights with your eyes closed does not match the first repetitions when your eyes were open.
Important Note – One common mistake in this exercise is an attack that is one dynamic level too high. Ensure that all notes are the exact same height at each dynamic level. This can be done by making sure you know the how it feels to use the correct amount of wrist turn, arm, fulcrum, and finger for that dynamic level at all tempos.
The purpose of this is to improve your sense of feel. If you are able to accurately achieve any height with your eyes closed, this means you have exceptional awareness and the likelihood of you playing balanced within your drumline is increased. If you can feel what a mezzo piano attack feels compared to a mezzo forte attack, it means you don't need to be actively thinking about achieving that height and weight. We march in our activity, so our eyes need to be used for interval spacing while your marching or looking for checkpoints on the field. Therefore, we need to rely on your sense of feel to ensure you're balanced within the sound.
Once you have mastered feel, you will be much more successful achieving optimum balance within your section. This can take years to master, so as always, stay Humble and stay Hungry.