Eventually, every drummer encounters this problem: Getting tired after some time playing the drums. And just as it is with any other physical activity, playing drums is one, too, which you need to build stamina for. I’m going to share with you some of my research and my personal top tips that have proven successful with me.
1. Develop Good Technique
Technique really is the most and all-time important thing. When you’re quickly getting tired playing the drums, you have to face the problem from the roots. The purpose is: After you apply the right technique, it should “cost” way less stamina. And with more stamina that you have left, you either have more up your sleeve to play longer, or you can perform faster movements.
So, if proper technique requires less stamina, how important is stamina then for me? Well, the thing with “good technique” is not that easy, I’m afraid. Because applying a good technique doesn’t mean you won’t need any stamina or that you can be out of shape! You just that you have more of it, which in turn, you can use more wisely.
Most of the time, you see the experienced drummers using their wrist and fingers moving very much (small movements) and their arms just a bit (big movements). The brilliant thing about this is that those small wrist and finger movements (right technique) eventually sound similar to hits from your arm (bad technique). But it’s no rocket science that small movements are just more energy-saving.
With practicing proper technique comes applying the best applicable one for the current practice. Let’s for example, look at some footwork where you’re trying to play a fast beat with heel down. Not only will this likely burn your shins, you won’t have that much power to endure this for some more minutes. So instead, try resting only the ball of your foot on the pedal, having your heel in the air.
The heel-up technique allows you to press the pedal when raising and lowering your foot (you should now feel your thigh muscles working). Because your thigh muscle is much stronger than your ankle or shin muscle, you should feel that your stamina increases dramatically. Of course, it’s a new feeling, but keep at it and it’ll become more and more familiar to you. But one small tip here: Go easy! I’ve heard from many people who’ve snapped their foot pedals playing heel up. I had the luck to have not broken mine yet, so be aware here.
2. Check Your Seating
Your seating position is something you can quickly get used to and won’t notice that it might be the cause of your pain. Try to at least have a 90-degree angle between the lower and upper part of your leg. I personally prefer to sit a few centimeters higher than that right angle. Just try around.
When shifting your throne higher or lower, you will move your center of gravity as well. Let’s look at some footwork again: In a too low position, when your leg is in a sharper angle than 90 degrees, your shin muscles, which are naturally weaker anyway, have to work way harder to contract in order to have your foot the pedal. When the center of gravity is lifted, you will instantly feel how more comfortable it becomes. Also, it will likely be easier to reach the toms and cymbals when seated higher.
Just try it out and experiment until you have a good feeling of a more comfortable sitting height and position. It’s worth it and makes a big difference in your leg when you were sitting on a chair too low to the ground before. You don’t have to pay much to get a decent stool for your kit.
3. Warm up and Stretch
Warm yourself up properly. It’s legitimate to compare drumming with doing sports (at least that type of drumming which is faster or heavier). As with any kind of sports, the sportsman has to warm up beforehand. It will get the temperature up and blood flowing to the muscles. This reduces the risk of injury and reduces muscle soreness.
Especially with drumming, it’s easy to make your body work harder than it has to. You can do some rudiments on your practice pad, a steering wheel, or any handy surface. I also really like doing some skipping because it’s so damn effective! …if you have the space, of course.
Always keep in mind to focus on being relaxed doing your warm-up exercises and to not mistake it with the real playing part. Don’t try to play hard and fast; save that for later : ) It might help not to do the warm-up on your kit.
So, warming up is one thing, stretching is a second one. In terms of stretching, I’d like to refer to my favorite exercises that once Travis Barker showed in a YouTube video. They include stretching the back, shoulders and your whole arms, which are the essential parts. Give it a try. It’s easy.
4. Do Your Workout
As mentioned in the preceding paragraph, drumming can be a very sporty matter. So, put down your Nintendo Switch/PS4 and go to a gym. Or at least a place where you can workout. This can be your home or even a public training ground, too. As I already mentioned, the most important body parts to include in your stretching exercises; these are also the rough muscular areas of the body that need to be trained.
E.g., to strengthen shoulder muscles, you can exercise like a standing dumbbell fly. BUT make sure to train other muscles too, and not only this one. Always train the counterparts of one side, so when training the lower back muscles, do your abs, too. Otherwise, it will cause an imbalance in your body and false posture later on. You don’t want that, and it may hurt as well.
Also, I have made good experiences with focussing my training on the deeper lying muscles, called “functional workout.” You can put together a whole body workout and go for a challenge with yourself. Soon, you’ll experience the differences that have a positive effect on your drumming.
5. Be Efficient
Yes, it’s alright to work up a sweat. And yeah, it’s okay to get a workout on the kit. Personally, I always keep a towel with me when playing with my metal band. Buuuuut, it pays to watch out for the following:
As mentioned in the first section about technique, this kind of docks on to that idea, with a little twist.
People like Benny Greb, Bernard Purdie, and so many more, especially the pro drummers that made those DVDs, they preach the proper technique, and to relaxxxxx (as Tony Royster Jr. always likes to say, haha).
Because I already wrote a whole bunch for the first section, I decided to divide this part up and dedicate this one fully to efficiency, as a product of applying a proper technique.
So, the concept lies in letting your fingers, wrists, and drumsticks (seem) to do the work for you. Watch the pros closely and find that they’re not moving much – even not moving their arms in an extensive matter. Still though, they’re blazing across the kit like no-one because they mastered the skill of efficiency.
It looks easy, but it is tough – I haven’t mastered it myself! But by focussing on firstly, mastering a proper technique, the efficiency part will come as a result of it.
6. Trick Your Mind
Our minds can accomplish extraordinary things. To give you a comparison of what difference the quality of your thoughts can make on your physical activity, this is what I would describe as extremely counterproductive:
“Ouhhh I can feel my muscles burn, and I don’t know if I can still keep on going. Wait, we have not yet played half of the show? HELP!” *cries*
Oh well. I know I might have exaggerated it a bit. But I’m sure you get what I mean. Now, as this mindset is clearly pessimistic with this person being aware of only the negative signs that his or her body shows.
Now, we can change this up a bit with two additional ideas. One would be to think positive or optimistic; the second would use visualization to make yourself determined and program your mind to achieve a set goal.
One thing that I learned over the years is that it’s of absolutely no use not to think positively. When you think positive thoughts, your brain will produce serotonin, which leads to a feeling of well-being. When serotonin levels are normal, you feel happy, calmer, less anxious, more focused and emotionally stable. Of course, that can be challenging in a pressured situation like e.g. at a gig. But it needs practice. Try to make yourself aware of your thinking patterns throughout your day-to-day life, and you will soon be able to actively influence how you’d like to think about upcoming challenges.
The following example of this slightly altered visualization technique can also be beneficial, and I’ve used it many times successfully. For this to work, it most certainly requires not to be as emotionally unstable as in the example above. And again, it refers to the scenario of having to perform more than you think your body can do. Think about your current goals and try to visualize how you are successfully achieving them before you actually play.
Imagine playing 40 or more songs that night.
Now, this “trick your mind” section is a different approach to the other tips, all of which relate more to one physical level. Please consider this as an addition and not a substitute for physical training!
7. Check Your Drumsticks
You have your drumsticks in your hands at all times of the performance – or at least you usually would. Altering their properties, such as weight distribution, has a significant impact on your play.
They can be too heavy for your playing purpose. Examine your drumsticks. Are they extra thick? Does your favorite artist play them, so you just want them, too? To put this into perspective, Thomas Lang’s signature sticks weigh 70 grams, Vic Firth 5A Classics weigh 50 grams. That’s 40% more and makes a huge impact.
Apart from the weight and thickness, drumsticks can be extra long as well. The longer the drumstick is, the more force you have to use to move it. With more movement speed, even more strength is needed.
So, it is definitely worth taking a good and critical look at your drumsticks and maybe compare them with standard 5A or 7A ones.
And even though you might admire a specific drummer, don’t let your playing be negatively influenced by the fact that you want to play the same sticks as him or her. After all, do you have the same level of strength, endurance, and technique as he does so that the sticks are perfect for you?
8. Avoid Rimshots
First, what are rimshots? A rimshot is when you simultaneously hit the rim and the head of the snare drum, resulting in a more accented snare drum sound.
I observe it with many drummers that – even though the rimshot itself results in a louder sound – they try to hit every rimshot with even more power, which is not needed. That might be because one tries just to hit the snare and doesn’t care (snare, care, haha) how. Let’s be honest. We should all give a little more attention to applying the right technique correctly, right?
In the end, it also depends on the genre you’re playing. But try to avoid rimshots on your snare unless you need to accent a hit heavily. And then, do a rimshot which you don’t have to take a bigger swing with your arm for. I know it sounds too simple, but “just” takes practice and awareness.
Also, regardless of how good the snare behind the kit sounds to you, the odds are that you’re too loud for the audience compared to the rest of your drum kit and band – if you’re always hitting rimshots. And if your set is miked, the snare will bleed into all the other mics, making it unnecessarily difficult for the sound engineer to create a decent mix.
9. Play “off” the Drum
This is a little trick you may want to try if the above tips didn’t bring you the desired results in time.
When sitting at your drum kit, try playing off the drum and not through it. This may require some practice to familiarize yourself with it. And some of you heavy hitters won’t even want to try it because it doesn’t look as cool as dropping down on the drums like swinging Thor’s hammer (a little exaggerating here, but you know what I mean; I was thinking the same back then). But believe me, it helps a lot.
In the end, this would lead to a more conscious approach to how you play the drums.
10. Adjust to Your Skill Level and Listen to Your Body!
I think this is a significant point to not play above your skill level. That means not to play blast beats if you’re just starting out. That’s the same as learning to crawl before you can walk.
One time we played together with a band in which the drummer got tired and muscle-achy as he told me because he wasn’t very good at pacing himself. And then, you watch other drummers who seem really relaxed, as if they could play forever. Playing relaxed is crucial to ensure that your body does not give in.
Disclaimer: I don’t mean to pass judgment to any of you heavy hitters. I’m just speaking from experience as I’m coming from a metal background.
Therefore, never play above your level, even if it sometimes seems tempting, and you have set yourself higher goals than you can achieve.
And please also be careful if you experience numbness. Numbness is not fatigue; it’s a neural problem. It could be related to the technique or something in your profession or any other activity that causes it, but I would definitely talk to a doctor about it to rule it out.
I probably preach the practice thing more often than anything else. But it’s just so true. So… Practice practice practice! Play more regularly. Like any athletic activity, the more you do, the more you eventually can do. It’s better to play 10 minutes every day than 5 hours once a month.
When you have difficulties play a specific beat, you have to be going to practice them for even longer than you would usually play them, of course. Also, practice fills around the kit not just once, but over and over with little variations till you can do it without thinking about it, resulting in your body just doing it naturally and with ease. Likewise, learn to relax as you play, and you will use less energy to do the same amount of work.
I don’t count this as a tip for building stamina. As the heading says, it is a workaround for the case that you don’t have time to put some of these valuable tips into practice. A workaround is typically a temporary problem fix that is needed, while you have to practice a little more to solve the problem at its core.
- Try simplifying the hard parts. For example, replace a fast pulsing hi-hat by just half of the strokes.
- Use the adrenaline! You’re wondering how you’re going to survive the show, and then the adrenaline kicks in (or it already did when walking up on stage). It will most certainly take you over the finish line often. BUT once the show is over, you might collapse or feel super exhausted.
Being a musician, it’s hard not to say “the show must go on.” Therefore, I think it’s vital to include a few stamina-building exercises in your regular practice routine.