Practice To Prepare for Anything

Including Physical Injury and Even Blindness!

Whether you work in a steady band or freelance, what would happen if you got injured? Think about it. What if you broke a hand, arm, foot, or leg? What if you dislocated a shoulder? What would you do? If you're thinking replacement, good luck.

It's not easy to find a decent replacement drummer on short notice. And if you send in a replacement drummer who can't cut the gig, it's your reputation that will suffer - especially if you're freelancing. So what can you do, short of cloning a copy of yourself? You can practice to prepare for anything.

Prepare for Anything?
Okay, almost anything. I'm not going to suggest that you go to work after you've just had an emergency appendectomy or other life threatening condition, but if you practice a little for it up front, you'll find you can cut a good gig despite broken limbs and other temporary injuries. Check out some of the conditions I've been forced to play under and you'll see what I mean.

The Dislocation Blues
I was working with a show band that had many complicated musical arrangements. This included medleys of Broadway shows, comedy routines, and the like, where the drum cuts were an integral part of the act.

To complicate matters more, many of the cuts were not even written in the original charts but were added during rehearsals. I would memorize new charts in rehearsal and, as we worked out the routines that went along with the music, I'd add extra embellishments and cuts that never made it down on paper.

Finding someone who could replace me under those circumstances would have been difficult, if not impossible. Not to mention that it was a traveling band, on the road for months at a time.

So, basically, I was the only drummer. If something happened to me, the band was in trouble. And, eventually, that trouble came in the form of a dislocated shoulder I received in a basketball game. I knew my left arm had a habit of dislocating at the shoulder if I wasn't careful, but I was so involved in the game that I forgot all about it. Until it popped out. Normally, I can pop it back in. This time, there was no way.

So, having a gig to play in a five hours, I made a fast trip over to the hospital emergency room and I waited. And waited, and waited, and waited. Three hours and a set of x-rays later, a doctor came over and finally popped my arm back into place. Of course, three hours of sitting around with your arm out of the socket tends to stretch out all kinds of tendons and ligaments and stuff.

To prevent my left arm from falling out again, I had to wear a sling on it for three weeks. And what did I do for the gig that night? I played it. I had no choice. What happened? I actually had a lot of fun with it. Later, people in the audience said they never realized I was using one arm until they saw my arm in the sling. It actually made me feel "good" about my dislocated shoulder.

The reason that I had little trouble playing with one arm was because I had done it before. I had a habit of fooling around with it from time to time.

During a gig, I would stop my left hand and play everything with the right hand only. Sometimes, I would stop the right and use only the left hand.

If you've never played around with this, I suggest you do it, even if you don't have a "trick" shoulder. Who knows when you might sprain or break a finger, wrist, or arm?

Besides the insurance aspect, it's just plain great for your coordination to play with one hand while trying to keep it cooking as hot as you can with two.

Who Turned Out the Lights?
Another incident I had occurred while I was on the road with a band I had worked with for four years. After the show one night, I went out to breakfast. Nothing strange about that, I did it all the time. This, however, was the first time that I wound up with a very strange by-product.

Later that morning, I woke up in my hotel room with a sharp pain in my eyes. Every time I blinked, the pain went through me. I wore hard contacts in those days, so the first thing I did was check the case to see if I forgot to take them out of my eyes before going to sleep. It was dark in the room, but I could feel that the contacts were in the case. I turned the light on to see what was going on and that's when I freaked.

I couldn't see what was going on because I couldn't see anything! Things weren't pitch black, but everything was out of focus. It was like a movie where they purposely turn the camera lens way out of focus. I was taken to a doctor and the bottom line was that I had left my hard contacts in my eyes for too long, and I damaged both corneas (eyeballs).

Hence, I was not only legally blind but in tremendous pain. Every time I blinked or moved my eyeballs even slightly, I went through the roof. Not only that, but my eyes were tearing non-stop.

The good news? The damage was only temporary and both corneas would heal. The bad news? It would take up to two weeks to fully recover my eyesight and I had a show to play that night.

What did I do? With the help of some painkilling eye drops from the doc and a pair of dark sunglasses, I played the gig. I'm sure most of the audience thought I was just a drummer trying to look cool, but those shades were a necessity.

And how did I perform without being able to see the drums or cymbals? Just fine, thank you. You see, I was a student of Joe Morello (who has been legally blind for most of his life) and Joe would always say that you didn't need to see at all to play the drums. You can do everything by feel - as long as some wise guy doesn't go moving your drums around on you!

Not that you're ever going to need this one, but just in case, I suggest that you practice playing your drums with your eyes closed every one in a while. I'm sure that you've noticed pros doing it all the time. Now whether they're doing it because they're really digging the music or just trying to look "cool," that's another question - and another article.

You Never Know What's Gonna Happen
By practicing to prepare yourself for anything, you'll not only be insuring your job, you'll be building better chops. Even if you're lucky enough never to be injured, you may find yourself having to play a gig with one hand for any number of reasons.

I once played a gig that had the lighting control box up on the stage and guess who got the job of controlling the lights? Me. So I played the Drums with one hand while working the lights with the other.

Another time I was in a trio that played a club that was so small that I couldn't even fit my Kick Drum on the "stage." No way. To make matters worse, Joe Morello picked that club to decide to come and hear me play for the first time! You know what? He said that it sounded really full and he didn't even miss the Kick Drum. Now that really made my day.

How To Practice For Disaster
In your quest to practice to prepare for anything, I suggest that you try playing all of the rhythms that you normally play but in the following ways:

1) Using only your right stick and your feet.
2) Using only the left stick and your feet.
3) Using both hands and only the right foot on the Kick Drum.
4) Using both hands and the left foot on the Kick Drum.

That will cover you no matter what limb you injure. I also suggest playing your Drums with your eyes closed. See how many Drums and Cymbals you can hit before you miss one. It's really not hard. It just takes a little practice.

And don't forget to practice playing your Drums (and making it sound full) without using your Kick Drum at all. Use just a Snare and a Hi-Hat. You'll find yourself coming up with entirely new ways to approach the standard beats, and that's when your creativity really starts to fly. Then, when you add the Kick Drum back into the mix, you'll be playing better than ever.

Until next time: Stay loose - and try to stay healthy!


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