When I first began going to West African Djembe drumming classes, I encountered other students who would come to class with recording equipment and attempt to write down the rhythm patterns on paper. Their fussing around with all that was a major annoyance and distraction in class. Keeping track of the magnanimously shared copies of recordings was a hassle and I adopted a skeptical “recordings/notation be damned” kind of attitude.
I was further alienated from drum charting by an especially over-the-top aspiring drummer species. These folks, proud Do-It-Yourselfers, start by inventing their own form of musical notation. They fastidiously write everything down, bring what they've written to drumming occasions, insist on inflicting it on everyone else, and then roundly prove they are unable to decipher their own notation and play a set rhythm correctly and consistently.
I had a great time (smugly) resting in my apparently natural superiority in learning and memorizing rhythms until the day I decided I wanted to play for dancers. The comeuppance was devastating, in-my face and obvious: I had no stamina. I could not play fast enough or long enough without literally seizing up. My technique was so poor I was bruising and blistering my hands. I had to find a another djembe teacher and relearn basic striking technique from the beginning in order to begin to be competent and able to drum for dancers.
Though I slowly became better and eventually got capable enough to play for a local dance class for a couple of years, I made little progress and spent a great deal of time being very frustrated. I couldn't get myself to practice alone and trying to arrange and sustain practice with others was like pulling teeth. I was in Drumming Nowhereland, and when my mother started to show signs of dementia, I gave up drumming entirely and took care of her. Stay tuned for how I finally left Drumming Nowhereland in a future post.
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