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.


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