Sound Check Muscle Memory
posted by June 24 at 12:10 PMon
Down in darkened basements out there, and rehearsal space bins, there are drummers playing and practicing. There are no windows. It smells of earth and stale beer. A small fan points from a corner. A Dorito from two years ago is crushed into crusty carpet. Over and over these drummers repeat beats, runs, rolls, fills, and paradiddles. Brains send signals through spinal cords. Patterns are instilled. They are trying to get unconscious with it, to play the beat without having to think about playing it. They are trying to build muscle memory. Listen and you can hear them. Letting the beat be sloppy, but playing on.
Being loud and off, this is why the drummer must isolate. It’s not something they want everyone to hear. The cacophony is a necessary prelude, but fine lines are forged. Forty times through the cycle the beat gets tighter, the fill closes in, the mitochondria in the muscle cells are beginning to learn. A pause is taken, water is needed. Then monotony of repetition is entered again.
Muscle memory is a neuromuscular facilitation. It means that motor skills have been memorized. Through repetition, muscles slowly learn movements to a point where the brain no longer has to consciously control the movement.
The thing is, is that our hands and feet can already physically play the individual parts of the beat, but our brain has yet to coordinate the movements. Once the brain understands what we should be playing, our body can follow the signals. Through repetition, playing the passage will gradually become easier while we think less about it. At some point our mind makes the connection between our body movements and the sounds they produce. Be patient, be loud, be OK with being off. Effortlessness will come.
Break the beat down. Practice slowly. Once you’ve figured something out at a slow tempo, resist the urge to speed it up. Do ten minutes of repetitions at that slow tempo, then speed it up. Some beats come easier than others.
The younger someone is, the less repetitions they need. At age five or six, movements become muscle memory with fifty or sixty repetitions. For someone who’s fifty or sixty, they need to repeat something five hundred to five thousand times. If you’re sixty, be more OK with yourself being off. Your rock will come in time. If you’re sixty, bird watch less, play drums more.
It’s noon on a Tuesday. Somewhere a drummer is midway through a fill, and they are off. In an hour they’ll be closer.