I thought for the longest time that I could think my way into being a good drummer. So what if I hadn’t played much before? I could think. And drumming was some kind of logic puzzle, right? You learned the lingo, memorized the formulas, and lo and behold, you were on your way. Right?
Not so much.
I’ve always been someone who thinks too much about most everything I do. Caution which, at times has served me pretty well, but which, at others, has tripped me up in a pretty big way. Take, for example, driving. My band has a big old van we drive all over the country whenever we tour. It’s tons bigger than the tiny car I learned to drive in circa fifteen years ago, so learning to drive it a few years back was kind of a challenge. Understanding how much space you take up, where the blind spots are, how to confidently maneuver – these things are not to be underestimated with a vehicle of such beastly proportions.
For a little while, I did fine. I got to understanding the feel of the van, how it drove, how big it was, and all that. But weirdly enough, as time went on, I started thinking more and more. I would be on the road thinking: I must be missing something. There must be another blind spot. I must be taking up more lane space than I think! I can’t change lanes now! Or can I? Oh no, I can’t. It was completely paralyzing, and actually made me into a much sloppier driver. On the other hand, it’s not like not thinking or concentrating at all behind the driver’s seat is recommended either! It’s just that I had to find a balance of the two – thinking just enough and feeling just enough – the combination of which ultimately made me a waaay more confident and better driver.
Not to be all heavy-handed with the driving metaphors (incidentally a good goal on the drums, too!), but I actually learned to play drums right around the same time I learned to drive the van. And I definitely thought waaay too much as a player at the time. I can still remember some of our first shows, my brain instructing my right hand to do X and my left foot to do Y, thinking about every step, barely feeling the groove. And back then I also made a lot of mistakes. It’s funny, because my solution when I messed up was always to think harder, to focus harder, to pay more attention to what I was doing. And I think that ended up making things worse.
At some point, some random Sunday practice a couple years ago, I remember this awesome-if-totally-mundane ‘a-ha’ moment, when I was playing one of our songs and suddenly realized I had no idea where I was in the song. I realized I had tuned out enough to be able to just feel my way through the song, the groove. It was really lovely – it was one of the first times I remember actually enjoying playing, like, fully. I was so used to staring and focusing and thinking and that I didn’t realize you could blend focus with feeling to actually come up with a really good feel on the kit. Or at least, I wasn’t sure how to make that happen.
Once I noticed this difference, I started to really work on this problem, and realized there was a way to play with feeling without sacrificing focus. I started to call it the blurring principle. See, when you look at something too closely, you get all tripped up in the details – seeing too clearly can sometimes keep you from really being IN what you’re doing. But also, closing your metaphorical eyes completely and not focusing at all can actually make you sloppy and distracted as a player – some amount of focus is most definitely required. But that sweet blurry spot – the one you have to half-close your eyes to find in order to see those infuriating Magic Eye puzzles – that’s where the drumming glory is. Eye and brain on details some, heart and body on the sticks some, forest and trees all tied together in one awesome blurry groove – that’s the blurring principle. Pretty simple, eh?
And I know these days when I’ve found it. I’m focused enough to innovate, to concentrate and to stay on task, but I’m in the zone enough to feel the pocket and have a really good time. And even though it comes way more naturally to me now, it’s still just as lovely every time I re-realize that I can stop thinking quite so hard and start rocking just a little bit harder.
xo, Temim Fruchter
Temim Fruchter is a Brooklyn-based drummer who taught herself to play at the ripe old age of 26. She played her first show only a few weeks after she picked up her first drum stick. Now the drummer for The Shondes, she spends much of her time working on deepening her skills, building her chops, learning about driving the rhythm in a rock band, and writing and reading about different ways to bang on things. Temim has spent a lot of time thinking about what it takes to be a confident and kick-ass gigging drummer when you didn’t quite expect that that’s what you were gonna be. And she plans to write about some of that here.