We’ve all seen it, the “Death Grip!” When a percussionist grips the stick/mallet so hard that their hand begins to cramp or their knuckles turn white. It causes discomfort, senselessly uses energy, and makes a horrible sound. Loosen up your grip and let the stick breathe! Let’s take a deeper look at why letting the stick breathe’ is a good idea.
Discomfort. As percussionists, we rely on our hands to produce the sounds that we desire. Ensuring that these instruments (our hands) are in the best possible condition is ideal for playing. Gripping too hard causes cramps and stiffness. Relax the hand and allow muscles & joints to move a little more freely. You still want a bit of firmness, but the slight relaxation will cut down on the pain and ultimately increase your playing stamina.
Senseless Use of Energy. Running around a field that stretches 100 yards and aggressively beating a drum for almost 10 minutes can be quite draining. Conserving your energy is a great idea. “Energy, like all the energy one might be putting into clamping down on his/her sticks extra hard?” one might ask. EXACTLY! It seems like it may only be a small amount of energy that one would save, but it all adds up. Maybe use the energy being directed into the finger & hand muscles for that crazy strong grip somewhere else. Loosen the grip and redirect that energy toward the wrists, where stroke initiation happens. As most young percussionists tend to have weak wrists, this would certainly be a better use of one’s energy.
Sound. Resonance is key to a full sound, especially in the percussion section where we have a limited ability to sustain notes. To achieve maximum resonance, one must allow the sound vibrations to flow through his/her entire environment; the drum head, the shell, the air, and yes – the stick! When a player grips too hard, he/she dampens the natural resonance that the stick would otherwise have. Let the stick vibrate by loosening the grip, it actually does add to the overall sound.
DISCLAIMER: All this talk about relaxing the grip may have some thinking that we should have spaghetti noodles for hands when holding a stick. This is absolutely not the case. The phrase we use at DOA for describing the grip is “firm yet relaxed.” This means that the hand should be relaxed enough to allow for good resonance of the stick, but still be firm enough to allow for an accurate stroke and not have and sticks fall out of hands. So don’t death grip your sticks/mallets; get a pretty firm grip on it and then… LET THE STICK BREATHE!
Professional performers (especially musicians) often have to get on the road when working. Each night is a different gig and can present some different challenges. However, some of the challenges that we see on the road happen often, if you are not prepared. Here are 10 tips to help you when gigging and traveling…
Make a checklist of important items. The worst thing that you can do when getting on the road is forget something that you really need. Whether personal or job related, we suggest making a checklist. A week before you are set to leave, start a note in your phone of what you should be taking with you. As things pop into your head, add it to your list.
Confirm all reservations and itineraries. Things have a tendency to change. Double checking flights and hotels with your contacts will ensure that you are aware of any changes. It also ensures that you receive any information that was accidentally omitted in the first place.
Double check your equipment. Drums get old, heads pop, and sticks chip. Check your equipment before you leave so that you can make necessary changes and adjustments before you arrive at the gig site. Top notch equipment is essential for a working performer.
Always keep money and a phone. Sometimes unexpected situations arise. Extra bag fees, the contact forgot to book local transportation, etc. People are human and mistakes happen, but you don’t want to get caught unprepared. Having a phone and extra cash on hand will temporarily alleviate these sorts of headaches.
Keep personal belongings close or locked up. Traveling into unknown areas can sometimes land you in shadier than usual places. Keep all valuable and personal items close (in your pocket or a bag that will not be left alone) until you get to a place where they can be locked up (a hotel room or a safe). Leave nothing to chance when working around people that you hardly know.
Be on time. Punctuality is key to professionalism. Professionalism is what gets you invited back for more gigs.
Do your job, no matter what. Hanging out and partaking in drinks with friends after a gig is fine (if you’re of age), but be sure that you are able to wake up and perform again in the morning. Not performing to your known potential is a quick road to not being invited back. If hanging out will impede your ability to perform, don’t go. They hired you to do a job, that should be most important.
Stay in touch. Keep up with what is going on at home. Whether it’s family, school, or work; you don’t want to be behind when you return. Call people from home when possible to discuss current situations and events taking place. Stay in the know and let your family/friends know that you still care.
Be social. People cannot stand working with someone that they don’t like being around. Build personal relationships. Show your contact and fellow gig-ees that you know how to have a good time and laugh when the time calls for it. Be yourself and show them why you have a unique personality. They will love you for it, and this ultimately increases your chances of being asked to return.
Say thank you. Showing gratitude goes a long way. Thanking those that hired you or provided for you on the road will show your humbleness and help to build those relationships even more. It’s difficult to have negative feelings toward someone that is giving you a genuine ‘thank you.’
Often times band directors hire percussion instructors under the guise of being a “Percussion Technician,” but many of these instructors find themselves doing the work of a Percussion Director. There is a huge difference in technician pay and director pay, and it’s time that we start doing these young, talented individuals more justice. Stop hiring Percussion Directors as Techs, and pay them what they are worth. The unfortunate thing is that many of these young people are so new to the game that they do not know there is a difference between the two. Here is the difference between a Director and a Tech:
Percussion Technician – Takes direction & executes tasks associated with related goals, Teaches ensemble technique, Teaches ensemble material, Maintains the daily regiment, Reports inappropriate actions needing disciplinary attention, Sub-section & full ensemble instruction, Aides in continuing appropriate culture for the ensemble, and Guidance of students.
Percussion Director – Establishes a vision for the ensemble, Defines ensemble technique, Creates & curates ensemble material, Establishes a daily regiment, Establishes & delivers appropriate disciplinary actions, Scheduling, Budgeting, Full ensemble instruction, Establishing an appropriate ensemble culture, and Guidance of technicians & students.
Some bands only have Percussion Technicians, and some bands just have a lone Percussion Director that does it all, and some bands utilize both; but there is definitely a clear separation between these 2 job descriptions. It is entirely up to the Band Director how the overall program is run, and he/she has the final say; but being ‘in the know’ about these differences can certainly be a piece of helpful information for all new percussion instructors. And certainly we want to encourage all Band Directors to do what is right by the individuals that they hire. Teach on, in truth and honesty!