When I was a teenager, my parents indulged me. I wanted to play the drums. I took drum lessons (which involved tapping out patterns on a rubber pad) in front of a very patient teacher. However, I never practiced and most of the lesson was spent trying to not screw up as I had only read the score at that moment. I wasted my parents money, the teacher’s and my time.
I did get a drum kit and I did have some interest in playing. A blind chicken will get something to eat if they keep pecking away. After a while, I stopped that as well. I knew I wasn’t THAT good and practicing the drums is a noisy business. When you’re not that good, you’re just making noise. The truth was, I wanted to play the drums; I didn’t want to learn how to play the drums. I wanted the result without the work.
I’m learning how to play the drums again. It doesn’t involve a huge drum kit with sparklers or anyone else watching. The truth is, you can practice drumming anywhere there is a flat surface. Practicing isn’t about perfection. It is harder to play some rhythms slowly than it is to play them fast. It is not as easy as it sounds.
So, twenty years later, I bought a book on stick control and am practicing basic patterns. The best way to describe it is tounge twisters for your hands. It is tedious and a challenge. I’m improving, slightly but I’m having fun in the process. I have been relieved of the bondage of perfection.
What is it about practice that makes it boring? Practice means I’m not perfect at something- I have flaws. Practice reveals what needs work better than it reinforces what is good: my five stroke rolls are not smooth, one hand is stronger than the other, I keep losing the tempo at slower speeds. I need to improve.
My ego has hijacked the process of discovery and turned it into a negative experience. Why should I feel bad when I find my right hand isn’t as coordinated as the left? Why is my first solution to stop playing and go do something else instead of focusing on what needs work?
I want to have a smoother transition in my drum rolls. That means sitting down and practicing speeding up and slowing down. If I don’t do this, I won’t have the control I want to play the music I like. I will only be able to play the music I can play.
Being able to see problems in life isn’t the issue. A lack of power to change; thats the problem. If I don’t have any ability to do anything about something, I’ll arrange my life to accommodate the problem. This reduces the rich stream of life down to a dripping faucet.
The lack of humility this habit harbors can be fatal. If I only put out what I want to see, I’m not living a genuine life. Allowing mistakes in the process reduces stress. When I’m not stressed, I’m able to sit and practice longer. I’ve created a space where practice (change) can occur.
So, what is the solution to this block? It is all well and good to say “I want to be a better drummer.” but what are the steps to achieving that? In other words, how does change really occur?
An old and trusted friend told me a doctor doesn’t heal someone, they simply create a space where change can occur. His point being that I am not able to make changes in my life, I am only able to create a space where change can occur. If I want a to be a better drummer, I need to learn how to practice and enjoy that learning process.
Learning means working on what needs work. It means becoming teachable. I cannot will self-improvement, I can only disengage from the egocentric voice telling that making mistakes is to be worthless and weak.
If I want to play the drums, I have to learn how to play the drums. I must invest time into finding and focusing on aspects of my technique which need improvement. A teacher can help me discover that faster when I’m teachable.
So, I’m not a master drummer right now and that’s okay. Today, I can practice my stick control on the practice pad. I can be attentive and neutral about what needs work. I can allow myself the chance to enjoy the process of discovery. I can also admire the living masters ability instead of comparing myself to them