Building endurance on the drum set

By Tim Kane

STURBRIDGE, MA – If you asked 10 drum set players how they warm-up before a practice or live gig, you would probably get 12 different answers.

Some musicians don’t perform any warm-up exercises and still look relaxed behind the drum kit. They allow the sound check tunes or even early songs on a set list to massage their chops. Other drummers are nearly obsessed with warm-up exercises. I used to be the skinner who never warmed up with the exception of actual gear lugging and set-up time, which can be a cardio workout in its own right. Then, I bought a practice pad and discovered that by playing various rudiments daily, it did have an immediate effect upon my playing stamina. What quickly became apparent was not so much how long and skillfully I played those drumming essentials, but how I was actually playing them as applied to motion, stick bounce and dynamics.

Drummer fatigue runs rampant in our little corner of the musical woods. The problem is if we push the limits of endurance without proper warm-ups, injuries can and do result. Too much tension while playing the drums can cause inflammation that is passed along to your tendons and ligaments, which then become swollen resulting in pain and possible damage such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis.

Some drummers use weight training to build endurance, but I didn’t recommend that. Learning how to properly breathe – like running a 5K road race – can also certainly add more strength to your muscle behind the kit. Understanding proper arm, wrist and finger techniques are key as well. As the famous Gladstone and Moeller technique books and videos all profess, we all need less tension in order to play at top speeds with maximum power, endurance and precision. But drum set warm-up exercises aren’t so much about just getting your arms, fingers, wrists, feet and toes well oiled for that particular day. We’ll never be totally tension free on drums.

Building endurance via warm-up exercises is all about teaching your brain through repetition to execute proper hand and foot technique. Through memorization of patterns meets technique, you learn to conserve more drum set energy and thus create more endurance.

Those who don’t warm up before playing are really fooling (and cheating) themselves. The good news is you are never too old to learn new tricks on the drum set.

– Tim Kane is a professional writer, editor, and drummer of 30-plus years.


Who are your favorite drummer inspirations?  

By Tim Kane

STURBRIDGE, MA – Buddy Rich once said that there were 10,000 drummers trying to play exactly like their heroes. Little did Buddy know it was more like millions trying to play just like him. I can’t claim that Buddy was an early influence of mine as I am a product of the ‘80s and ‘90s. But it turns out Buddy was an early influence for the drummers I most admire.

Buddy was trying to say that drummers should strive to make their own mark in creating music instead of copying someone else’s body of work. I could not agree more, but actually also believe that playing along to and studying a favorite drummer’s music is a great way to both develop your chops and intuitive ears.

Last week I looked back at some vintage videos of my early drummer inspirations while learning to play. Suffice to say, it was an interesting exercise with surprising new discoveries.

When I think of the drummers who truly inspired me early on with the essence of drum set dynamics, fills and polyrhythms, I conjure up three: Neil Peart, Alex Van Halen and Steve Gadd (hear Gadd at the 5:40 time mark for his solo).

When I was a kid sitting in a tiny bedroom with that white sparkle vintage kit I stole from my sister, Alex was the man who taught me how to play hard rock drums and double pedal kick action. Neil, the ProgRock professor of the drum kit – who by coincidence took drum lessons just a few years back to improve (like he needs to) – jumped into my scene with the “Moving Pictures” album. I saw Neil play with RUSH this past summer in Boston, and they played that entire record. It was awesome and inspirational.

To hear “Tom Sawyer” or “Red Barchetta” back then, and try to play along with headphones, was virtually impossible but also quite enlightening with regard to better understanding the complexities of odd time signatures and triplet/flam fills.

Then came along Steve Gadd. He had been around for years, but I did not really discover him until Buddy died and I read about what other drummers had to say.

When I purchased his Gadd Gang album and gave “Way Back Home” a listen, it opened up another facet of my playing style. Steve’s keen ability to just groove in the pocket or heavily synchronize notes between hi-hat, snare and kick with these fantastic buzz-like rolls blew my mind. So I learned the solo in that funk song to the best of my ability. And it turned me on to this greater concept of being a funk/fusion drummer, which is how I would define my style today.

I have come to realize that my own style has early roots in Alex, Neil and Steve’s style – and the styles of the drummers they admired most, and the ones before them.

The point is we should never stop emulating inspirational drummers, for they help us to refine our own skills, style and creativity. I still strap on those headphones from time to time and give “Hot For Teacher” a whirl.

– Tim Kane is a professional writer and drummer of 30-plus years.

Drum lessons in Brookfield, MA

What should you look for when buying lacquer or wrapped drum shells?


By Tim Kane

STURBRIDGE, MA – What happens when your sound guy misses the tom clip and drops a mic right atop your nicely lacquered kick drum shell? How about when you leave your wrapped drums in a 100-plus degree car for several days?

It usually means bad things for both types of drum shell finishes.

Lacquer and satin finishes on outer drum shells certainly look great, especially if they accentuate the inner wood grain well, but can get chipped and damaged more easily than plastic drum wrap. Wraps, on the other hand, are more durable, but purists argue they conceal the true inner sound of a shell.

Some dings on a lacquer/satin oil kit can damage not only the finish but also the actual drum, making the argument that if you are an active gigging drummer, a wrap kit will better protect the drum and last longer.

My opinion is so long as you take care of your drum set equipment, it takes care of you. Like a guitar, use cases and care when handling and moving drums. Any drum set can get dinged and scratched whether sitting in your practice spot or on stage. Yes, a lacquer finish is more fragile and easier to dent, but wraps scratch and are more prone to temperature swings affecting the plastic’s glue bond with wooden shell.

A recent IIRC study states that wraps reduce resonance by 4.7 percent. Perhaps that is what you want for sound and in exchange for the nice visual textures, you are willing to sacrifice that percentage. I tend to disagree, as wrap by its very essence, if glued properly, adds another ply layer of thickness to your overall drum shell. The thicker your shell ply, the bigger the sound.

So what should you look for when buying lacquer or wrapped shells?

On lacquer shells, the overall appearance of wood is first and foremost. Does the lacquer show off the outer shell’s knots, curvatures, and grain textures enough, or are you going for a smoky look? Does there appear to be enough clear sealant coat atop the lacquer finish for added protection? How does the finish appear under bright lights versus dark corners? Will they blend well with your other drums?

As for plastic drum wrap, there are nearly endless varieties of colors including solid, swirl, sparkle and pearl patterns to choose from. If you visit a music store, don’t just go with the available floor models. Ask what’s available for textures online or from their distributors.

Remember, a lacquer or satin finish produces a more “open” sounding drum allowing the shell to resonate more freely than is possible with a plastic wrapped finish. However, a wrapped finish can be more durable as well as less expensive.

Everyone has his or her own opinion about what looks and sounds good for shell finishes. Some say my bright green pearl wrap Rodgers kit should only be played at Christmas parties, and that my cherry red lacquer finish Gretsch kit should be in a Marlboro cigarette commercial.

But I sure like the look – and sound – of both, and that is all that matters.

– Tim Kane is a professional writer and drummer of 30-plus years living in Massachusetts.


What’s the right cymbal set up for you?  – drum lessons in Brookfield, MA

By Tim Kane

STURBRIDGE, MA – I have been experimenting with the location, angles and heights of my cymbals lately, so it naturally got me thinking about the larger drumming community’s approach.

And there are some interesting trends developing (or re-emerging) out there. I am seeing more splashes positioned together in a row on single boom stands; inverted cymbals atop large diameter sisters; dual hi-hats with the auxiliary positioned next to the right-hand ride; left-hand rides above standard-use left hi-hats; growing use of double Chinas; greater emphasis on bells; and yes, the sizzle cymbal is back – and not only for jazz this time.

Quick tip: Try using a long chain of metal beads wrapped around your bell pads with one side hanging down on the ride for instant sizzle effect – without any need for a specialty model or rivets.

As for predicting cymbal sounds and mastering their relationship to one another, I’ve found a cool exercise. If you have the time, go to any major cymbal dealer’s website and test drive your ideal set up using its online digital cymbal simulators. If you are in the market for additional metal, take your existing primary hi-hats and ride to the local music store’s cymbal room to ensure the used models jive with the new ones you considering.

Before positioning a cymbal on the boom stand, think about relationship to the drum closest to it. Do you want your splash(es) just off the edge of your snare? Is your 18-inch crash best-positioned right of your ride or above your second tom-tom? Is that china best suited far left or far right for accents? What feels most comfortable?

General industry agreement on cymbal arrangement centers on placing higher pitched cymbals to the left of center and darker or lower pitched cymbals exit stage right. The middle area is much more personalized.

My own cymbal arrangement, which employs Zildjian, Sabian and Paiste gear, recently underwent a set-up metamorphosis of its own.

I’ll take my giant 24-inch ride first. Yes, 24 inches of sheer Paiste, Alex Van Halen-endorsed, glory (not pictured below). The mega-ride used to rest over my floor tom, but I often found it difficult to “ride” the ride without feeling a bit strained.

I previously had two rack toms above the kick, so I took my second drum off the kick mount and clamped it to a heavy stand as a second floor tom. Those adjustments essentially freed up the former right tom kick area for my big ride.

In changing around the ride cymbal position, I also noted that my various crashes – including a splash, two Chinas, and 16- and 18-inch crashes – had no distinct order to them or placement hierarchy. They were just kind of sticking out wherever I could fit them in my space challenged shed-turned-drum studio.

After considerable studio thought in comparison to live gig stage parameters, I decided to group and layer my splash and crashes just above the kick drum – pretty much at a flat horizontal angle. The decision had an immediate impact on my approach and skill development. Center kit cymbal placement occupies the heaviest “strike zone” area of your kit, typically comprising a tom, snare, kick, and first floor tom. So why not have your primary crashes and ride out in front?

Beyond ease in finding and playing each cymbal with a tighter drum set grouping, it has created a welcomed side effect with rediscovery of crash bells and the nuances each cymbal offers when played against each other.

If you play out or move drums around a lot, it is best to work from a file photo of cymbal arrangement and use electric tape or markers to indicate where your boom stand maximum height settings should be. And if you employ a lot of hardware, you may want to mark upper and lower parts so you know what goes with each piece.

With so many different approaches to drum kit cymbal set up, I’m curious what fellow drummers out there are doing with their kits? Share your photos and thoughts here.

TIM KANE is a professional writer and drummer of 30-plus years residing in Massachusetts.