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What You're Not Practicing But Should Be

As a drummer it’s inevitable that you’ll perform in front of at least one person at some point in your career. Whether it’s one person or a crowd of 100,000 people, being able to play under pressure is a critical skill that must be mastered.  This skill is not only useful when performing live, it’s also critical for successful auditions.

Everyone reacts to pressure differently.  Those who handle pressure the best (have the least change from a practice session to a real performance) tend to have more successful auditions, recitals and performances. The reason for this is that they are able to reduce, eliminate  or control the physiological changes that come from “feeling” nervous.  

  • Muscle tightness

  • Sweaty palms

  • Increased heart rate

  • Increased respirations

  • Anxiety

  • Lack of sleep leading to an event

The first step to overcoming this obstacle is having awareness that it exists. The second step is knowing that playing under pressure is a skill you can practice and refine just like any other. As a performer it's important to be able to reduce, eliminate or control these feelings in order to play to your full potential. Far too often we hear of people that tried out for drumlines and didn’t make them because they “had a bad audition”.  Why did they have a bad audition?  They had a bad audition because they were surprised between the difference of how they felt and played at home compared to they felt and played at the audition.  


So why don’t more people try to develop this skill?  The first reason is simple.  People don’t like feeling uncomfortable. The only way to develop this skill is to specifically practice it.  It’s very difficult to simulate the audition or performance environment in the comfort of your own home.  In order to effectively practice this skill you must leave your comfort zone and introduce an anxiety producing variable to your practice. One of the most effective ways to put this into action is to play in front of people that make you nervous.  This could be close friends, instructors or your parents.  Playing under pressure is difficult to do because you must intentionally seek out uncomfortable situations.  In order to get good at this you have to understand that the obstacle is the way.  Rather than avoiding situations that require you play in front of people, you must take advantage of them and understand that these situations are extremely valuable.  You must seek out every opportunity you can to ensure you get another rep under pressure to simulate an audition or solo performance.  In order to grow, you must leave your comfort zone.  


  • Practice the feeling of playing under pressure

  • Play in front of friends and family - Ask for feedback

  • Play your audition packet in front of your current drumline

  • Go to as many auditions as possible

  • Seek out clinics that focus on audition techniques

Many people will read the bullets above but choose to take no action.  One of the reasons for this is people don’t think it’s something that can be improved.  “I always get nervous, there’s nothing I can do about.”  This is a false statement and a very dangerous mentality to have with anything. There is something you can do about it.   It’s important to remember that no person or event can make you feel nervous.  The feeling of nervousness is created by you.  The feeling of nervousness is a manifested in your mind.  You can either choose to feel nervous or you can choose not to.

The people that make the top groups are willing to step out of their comfort zone because they know that’s where you grow the most.  Take a look at ToastMasters International (https://www.toastmasters.org/).  The fear of public speaking is a bigger fear than death for many people.  The ToastMasters offer a forum for people to come and give speeches to help them master the skill of performing under pressure.  The individuals willing to stick their necks out and go to these meetings are the people that will undoubtedly grow the most.  Toastmasters is world renown for their ability to turn everyday people that aren't confident public speakers into World Class performers.   Why? The people that signed up to be in these uncomfortable situations choose to step out of their comfort zone.  They put their pride on the line and risked more than everyone else to reach their goal.


This could be the first time many of you have thought about refining your ability to play under pressure. Reflect on this concept over the next several weeks.  Ask yourself if nerves have ever gotten in the way of you achieving your goals.  Whether it was a performance or an audition, you’ve most likely encountered a situation where a more refined and mature version of this skill would have helped you.  It’s now up to you develop and master this skill. Once you do you’ll be more relaxed, play with a better sound, be able to think more clearly.  Most importantly…. You'll have more fun. Author: John McClean

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