Drumming Tips and Drumming Techniques: Drumming Articles
Drumming Warm-Up and Stretching Exercises – For Before Practicing and Performing!
Since drumming is a very physically demanding instrument, we need to prepare our bodies properly for both practice and performance – like an athletic event. And just as with different sports, drumming requires the use of its own unique set of muscles, tendons, and ligaments. So, how you incorporate drumming warm up and stretching exercises will impact your playing while reducing your chance of injury.
Interestingly, physiologists have found that stretching alone DOES NOT help much to prepare you for intense physical activity – or avoid injury. However, if it is included within an integrated “warm up” process – involving playing with increasing intensity – then its impact is very positive. Stretching is important because it helps flexibility, increases initial blood flow, and activates the muscles, ligaments and tendons. By stretching first, playing exercises in a progressive manner over time, with “warm stretching” breaks, and the by ending with the same stretching exercises you started with “cold”, you will play drums more effectively, and with a much lower chance of injury. Just like tennis elbow in tennis, drummers must avoid injuries like muscle pulls, tendonitis, and another injury called De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis so we can continue practicing and performing at peak levels.
There are many different drumming warm-up routines that will work for different types of drummers. But the approach remains the same. You must always first stretch, then you move to lower-medium-higher-level playing routines, stretch as you go up in the scale of intensity and end with stretching. Another key element involved with this process is to properly and fully activate your “drumming circulation” to optimally bring in oxygen-rich blood and while removing the by-products of muscles burning energy. This is especially critical for the finger-wrist region, since it has the most compressed area for circulation in the whole body.
If you’re a heavy hitting drummer (with your hands or your hands and feet), or you play in a drum corp, you will tend to use more of your larger muscle-tendon-ligament groups than a say Jazz drummer. BUT, even though you should concentrate more on warming-up and stretching for “how you play” you shouldn’t disregard your smaller muscle-tendon-ligament groups. Conversely, if you play lighter, then you’ll want to concentrate more on the smaller muscle-tendon-ligament groups but also should not disregarding the larger groups!
So, no matter how you play, the warm-ups that follow really apply to all drummers. There may be other stretches that help equally well in “the drumming warm up process” – and that’s okay. The main point is that before you play full-out, you should always warm up for drumming by integrating cold and warm stretching with progressively intense playing exercises!
Warm Up Exercises for Drumming
The first thing I do is to try and get at least 15-30 minutes of free time before performing or rehearsing. For me, 20-30 minutes works best. You don’t need to have a separate “warm up” drum kit either (although it doesn’t hurt).
For hand warm up, use a practice pad or foam padding so you can work your fingers, wrists and forearms. The great thing is that you can use a practice pad almost anywhere without aggravating people around you. For your feet (and I play a double bass setup) I bring a Gibraltar bass drum practice pad when I can, or, in a pinch I use two small pieces of 1-inch thick closed-cell foam for under the balls of my feet. It’s not the best, but at least the foam allows for an upward positioning of my feet – as well as some counter-force when I press downwards (in a heel-up or heel-down position).
So, I begin simply by “cold-stretching” my arms, wrists and fingers for about 5 minutes (video of stretching exercises coming soon!). I follow this by stretching my ankles and legs for about the same time (using rotation, and up and down motions).
After initial stretching, I begin playing exercises on a practice pad. This starts to really get the blood flowing. I begin with flat flams; first slowly and then more briskly (note: a flat flam is a unison strike with both sticks). Then I work into other exercises that I’ve used for years which seem to help me best. You probably have your own. Anyway, I start slowly and involve my larger muscle groups first (i.e., Moeller to Gladstone techniques). After playing relatively light, I begin paradiddle exercises, and some of my own rudimental sticking exercises, and then move on to single stroke rolls (again, slow to fast, and light to heavy). Finally, I add other rudimental sticking exercises that I perform faster and faster – with varied intensity and dynamics. If I feel any tightness AT ANY TIME, I stop and do some “warm stretching” (as it’s called once you’ve gotten the blood flowing by playing).
I move to my feet next. And since I’ve already cold stretched my lower legs and ankles, I begin by playing exercises with my feet in a heel down position – flat flams typically. Then I move to rolls and then I do some rudimental exercises. As I move along, I eventually move to a toe-up position, and go back to a heel down position (to work all of my of my calve muscle). Once again, I start with slow tempos, speed up, and work to bring up intensity and dynamics (ALL of this with a metronome if possible too – I almost forgot to mention this).
Eventually, I work my hands and feet together. In this mode, I’m feeling pretty good now, so I alternate between playing fast and slow – regardless of the patterns I play. Every now and then (especially if I feel any tightness) I stop to take time to “warm-stretch” for a few minutes. As I do this, I may use some or all of the “cold stretching” routines I started with – it depends. Then I continue “playing” with both my hands and feet some more – until I feel really loose. Then I do a full battery of my original stretching exercises and I know I’m ready to play!
Drumming Tips and Drumming Techniques: Drumming Articles