Back in September, I introduced a new column on my blog called Equality Kitchen. That is where I post meal plans and snacks that pack a ton of nutrition and ease into a SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) budget. My goal is to serve those who are, in my opinion, oppressively underpaid and under-valued in our communities.
Well I gotta new idea... Introducing... Equality Percussion!
This all started when my son started to play (of all the songs in the world) the radio edit of Bruno Mars' "24K Magic" on repeat, while pretending to drum on our art table. I mean, he broke out the headphones to pretend he was a dj spinning, transitioned to fake drum sticks, executed pretty remarkable spin moves... the whole enchilada as they say. I'm not a pop fan, but in his defense, this song is pretty fun and groovy.
Anyways, we saved up and got a screamin' deal on a starter drum set for his Christmas present. He takes a super awesome Outschool drum class, and is starting to jam! But had this pandemic happened at any other point in my career or my husband's career, the idea of buying him a drum set would have been an unachievable dream. We would have been struggling at best (and most likely failing) to make the most basic of ends meet. Buying a new drum set and a drum class would not have even been on the table.
The extent (and inevitable impermanence) of our current security is not lost on me. So I am going to give a little window into our practice and transition it into a place where we can all play and learn together, no matter where we are in life. I'm figuring out ways and means for anyone to learn how to drum, regardless of income, age, or environment. Because let me tell ya, drumming is FUN. I practice right along with my son outside of class. It is challenging, rewarding, and a much needed brain escape.
I have zero musical training myself, but I am an Aries and a quick study with stuff I dig... so let's do this.
Step 1: Tracking the beat
(Note: My guess is that this lesson takes at least a year of daily practice and commitment to get comfortable with, and is the most essential foundational skill to drumming and other percussion instruments... basically anything remotely musical.)
This is our current practice, if you want to give it a try:
Out loud or in your head, start by actually calling out counts of 4... say "1, 2, 3, 4" while you are listening to a song. Start with a normal pace, just as if you were counting books on a shelf. Do it for a few sets.
Then slow down the count... "1, (pause) 2, (pause) 3, (pause) 4, (pause)". Again, do it for a few sets.
Then speed it up... "1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4". A few sets here too.
Then repeat! Do this for any song you hear... while you wash the dishes, while you fold the laundry, driving in the car...
The next step is adding your hands to mix. Technically, all you need are the palms of your hands and the tops of your thighs. But it is so much more fun, and an eventual necessity to have some sticks to use. Here is a link to some wooden drum sticks. In the next section, I will talk about alternative things you may have around you that will be the perfect starter sticks!
But first, if you know any child who would love to try & whose family is not in a place to invest in some drumsticks yet, let me know! My fam can buy a bundle for a super discounted price, and give up to twelve kids a pair of their very own! Just send me an email and we can connect on that!
Lesson 2: Rat-a-tat-crash-boom-bashing
(Note: My guess is that this lesson takes at least a lifetime of daily practice and commitment to get comfortable with, but it will be the most incredible feeling in the world when you can let it rip exactly the way you want it to.)
We are just barely scratching the surface of this stage. I mean, we practice with focus, but mostly just play and goof around. Here are some ways to start adding your hands and sticks to tracking the beat:
First, identify your dominant hand. This is the hand you write with, or brush your teeth with, hold your fork with, etc. The other hand is your non-dominant hand.
Start with your dominant hand, and hit a surface on the beat counts (1, 2, 3, 4). Change up the tempo (the speed of the beat counts). Drill this as much as you want. You will get a little better every time!
When you are feeling ready, add in the non-dominant hand. One way to do it is to start by using both hands in unison on all four beat counts.
Then try keeping the dominant hand going on all four beats, but only use the non-dominant hand on the 3s, then only on the 1s and 3s, etc.
Once you are grooving, play with the patterns! Have fun!!
DIY Drums and Sticks
Here are some awesome things you can use wherever you are, to become a rip-roarin' drummer...
Literally anything for a drum: a tabletop, a table leg, the floor, a wall, a book, and plastic plate, a chair, pots and pans, cookie sheets, empty plastic juice jugs, plastic cups, plastic mixing bowls, the sidewalk, a fence, a pillow...
For the sticks, try these: pencils, spoons, paintbrushes, big wooden spoons, chopsticks, actual sticks from a tree... just don't use markers or pens (even with the cap on). Trust me on this one.
Some great songs that we have been practicing with are available to listen to for free on YouTube! We are working on Baby, by Donnie & Joe Emerson. Then we play around with Will I See You Again, by Thee Sacred Souls.
Here is a list of all of the resources I used to inform this article:
Click here for the Outschool class that we take. It is called "Drums for Beginners - No Drums or Experience Required!".
Outschool has financial assistance programs as well! If you want to take a class, but it is not in the budget right now, click here! They have grants you may be eligible for.