Tension Kills!

Ouch! How can drummers be more relaxed when they play?

My favorite drummers are relaxed when they play.  Watch Jack Dejohnette, Ginger Baker, John Bonham, Peter Erskine, Vinnie Colaiuta, Dave Weckl, Elvin Jones, Dennis Bradford, and Edu Ribero (and too many to name) play drums.  Notice that their physical motions/technique are fluid and that they breathe.


In my quest to become a better drummer I have found that the more relaxed I am on the bandstand the more open I am – both mind and body.  When I am open I am able to listen and when I am listening I am better able to groove, connect, respond and breath with the music.  If I am tense on the bandstand my ability to focus is blurred and my feel suffers, as well as my listening ability.

How do I become relaxed?  I think it starts with how you live your life and how you show up for the gig.  If I am having a tense day and I go to the gig and I am feeling stressed, I take some time to sit down with my practice pad and sticks and begin to warm up slowly and breathe slow deep breaths. I also do some overall body stretches and some very specific arm/wrist/elbow stretches.

Does preparation help me relax?  Being prepared for the gig is probably one of the most important things that I can do before the gig in order to be comfortable and relaxed when it’s time to play.  How do I prepare?  Learn the music, rehearse with the band, prepare your set list, make a checklist for the gear you need, and know the logistics of the gig.  I also plan ahead so that I arrive early enough before sound check/down beat to allow for some warm-up and relaxation time.  The worst thing to do is to arrive late.  That creates tension and tension kills and gets in the way of focusing.

Are you flexible?  Hopefully you are flexible physically before you drum.  More importantly are you mentally flexible?  You know exactly what I mean.  The bandleader said there would be a drum riser.  You get to the stage and there is not one.  You can choose to freak out or just simply set up your drums on stage and be ready for sound check.  What’s more important – getting stressed out over something you can’t control or being flexible so that when it’s time to serve the music you are ready to do so 100%.


  • Preparation
  • Arrive early
  • Warm up and stretch
  • Breath
  • Be flexible

Happy drumming.

Toby Ahrens

Originally posted at tnrproducts.com.

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