Today I drummed for dancers and I held a fast and solid pace of a repetitive congolese rhythm like never before. It wasn’t easy , I had to switch lead hands periodically in order to not get too fatigued or trance out and lose my focus. But it wasn’t the endless agony it used to be. I’ve been drumming with this master teacher in this class for over 3 years now, and it’s taken me a very long time to get the technical skill, endurance and finger strength to play as I do now.
I’ve learned first of all with drumming for dancers that the only way to become competent is to that you have to do it a lot- There is a critical mass that has to be gotten to in sheer amount of drumming, period the end. Second you have to have someone who is consistent in correcting you until the rhythm is ingrained, much like planting something in the ground which grows and keeps on changing. Third, there is a lot more to drumming for dancers than just being able to produce a rhythm physically. It takes a lot of emotional strength and willingness to sacrifice your ego over and over again, because you are serving people that may or may not appreciate or value what you are doing. The only way to get past all that is to grow beyond the need for others’ validation and approval, with the exception of a dedicated, selfless, and mature master teacher.
Master teachers have done it all, seen it all, gotten past their own immaturity as people and drummers 12 times over. Their approval is a rare and valuable thing you must earn. They’ve earned their skill, precision and power over a lifetime. The slightest nod, smile or compliment from them is a jewel to be noted and savored without letting it distract you from becoming a superb player. Long, hard work is a given that cannot be avoided but which you can eventually become able to do without as much tearing of the hair and extreme frustration.
Drumming for dancers is a team situation, but it requires massive amounts of lone determination and a willingness not to be focused on how others around you are playing. You have almost no control over how other people you play with feel, think or play. You can influence them the most from example, and nine times out of ten they not only do not want your advice or criticism, they rarely need it. The less you mess with others, the more you stay in a place of non judgment no matter how they are playing, the better and more smoothly things go. Quite frankly it is not your place to correct them, even if they ask you to, that is the master teacher’s job. If you are playing with people in a weekly class, they will trust you over time NOT to second guess them no matter how they play. In the long run, your greatest influence on them will be your relationship with your own playing, and it will eventually speak for itself.
While being able to play well eventually becomes a source of satisfaction, you will find there are still challenges, stupid remarks, misunderstandings, judgments and injustices from others who are inexperienced or just plain ignorant and need someone to scapegoat. Drumming and dancing together does not necessarily induce people to behave decently. But anyone who wants to drum and dance enough to sustain their participation usually have a vested interest in some level of harmony over time, so some rough edges get softened and go away. Other personal quirks and issues grow more prominent and create turmoil, but protracted conflicts don’t survive if the group is able to stay going. Most people get better at forgetting about things that happen that are unpleasant and don’t serve the well being of the group. This is a mercy, let me tell you. If people didn’t forget some things, nobody would ever get along.
Once I became committed to becoming a drummer who could play well for dancers, I spent a great deal of time feeling it was an impossible goal. It seemed to test me forever and beyond endurance, but I continued anyway and now it seems worth it.
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