One of the main benefits of learning the drums with a drum instructor is their ability to quickly identify areas of your technique that may be leading to, or resulting in injury. Playing the drums should not hurt you, and if it does, it is normally a break-down in grip, posture, or foot pedal technique. If you are not taking lessons with a drum teacher, the Drum Ambition Special Feature Videos on Grip, Posture and Bass Drum Technique will give you some helpful insight on how to develop your playing style to stay healthy, and build control. There is a musical byproduct too, as you will quickly learn that if a beat feels uncomfortable to play, it is probably sounding awkward as well. There is also a video blog on this subject.
At my drum studio in San Diego, I routinely help students overcome their physical complaints, by identifying the root of the problem, and offering some hints on overcoming them. Here are the most common scenarios.
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I recently wrote a blog addressing a scene from the movie Whiplash. You can read the blog here, but to summarize, your hands should not bleed when you are playing the drums. This is a lapse in technique, and is completely avoidable by refining how you are holding your stick. If you follow the instructions in our Special Feature Video on Grip, the worst case scenario would be a callus here and there if you are playing for many hours a week, and even that becomes less common over time. The key to controlled, dynamic drumming is to hold the stick lightly; not with the so called "death-grip" that results in bleeding and frequent calluses. If you are experiencing pain in your hands, you are almost certainly holding too tight, and that is something that should be immediately addressed to avoid the obvious discomfort, but also more serious longer term issues such as carpal tunnel syndrome. (This is caused by compression of key nerves in the wrist). If you are regularly breaking sticks, this is also a sign that your grip may be too tight. When playing the drums and cymbals, working with the natural rebound of the stick will help you avoid stress injuries, and we discuss this in our videos.
Neck and shoulder pain.
This is often a byproduct of bad posture, or a drum set-up that is not ergonomic. Let's address posture first. In our video on Posture, we show you how to set your drum seat height according to your overall body height, and then stress the importance of sitting up straight on your lumbar spine (lower back). If you "slouch" by relaxing those lower back muscles, you will not only feel eventual discomfort in your lower back, but also in your neck. It may feel uncomfortable or even unnatural to sit up straight in the early days of drumming, but it is absolutely worth persevering. Sitting up straight will not only save your lower back and neck from stress, but it also facilitates significantly better control of your arms and legs. Also, bear in mind that the ergonomics of your drum set can play a role here. For example, even with good posture, if your drums and cymbals are set too low, too high, too close or far away, you could be forcing yourself into an unnatural playing position. Our video on Posture and Positioning will help you find the right balance.
This is usually the result of sitting too high or too low on your drum seat, and can also occur when you are "hovering" on the bass drum or hi-hat pedals. Let's talk about seat height first. Hopefully, you have invested in a comfortable, height adjustable seat, or "throne" as they are often called. As I say in the Posture Video, the seat is your most important item of equipment - a cheap model will not offer you the support you will need, and are usually an after-thought for most beginner drummers. Don't skimp here - your back health depends on it! It is important to point out that seat height is very subjective, but as a general guideline, I recommend that the angle of your thigh is level (or parallel) with the ground. When you are playing the pedals, it is advisable to have your feet touching the footplate at all times. If you "hover" by raising either of your feet too high, and off the footplate, you can put pressure on your hip, even with an appropriate seat height.
Ankle and foot pain.
Again, having an appropriate seat height can help alleviate any discomfort in your feet or ankles, but paying attention to bass drum and hi hat pedal technique is equally important. In our video on Bass Drum Technique, we discuss the heel up and heel down techniques that can improve your control, and give you comfort and support at the same time. These videos are available to our Drum Ambition Community Members. If you are finding that your shin is hurting as a result of playing the bass drum or hi hat pedals, then this might be down to your technique, and using a "heel up" technique can help, as well as other options outlined in our Bass Drum Technique video.
To summarize, playing the drums should not be painful, and when it is, there is usually an opportunity to improve technique that will eradicate, or improve the issue. Working with a drum teacher can stop you from developing bad habits that can be hard to train yourself out of later down the line, but if a teacher is not available to you, be sure to check out the videos on Drum Ambition. I regularly follow up with our Community Members on their posture, and if I can answer any of your questions or concerns, please feel free to email [email protected].