The Delinquent Drummer

I didn’t grow up wanting to be a drummer.  I was a violinist first and, after a disastrous audition for Youth Symphony when I was 14, (when I played a piece completely sharp instead of natural and caused my conductor to compare me to Jack Benny), I played viola for two more years.  I quit orchestra after sophomore year out of boredom, a decision I regret now.  I was a decent violinist and even viola player, but never practiced and found all day symphony rehearsals, in which you played the same measure over and over for a half hour until it was perfected, tiring and boring.  Also, I was a brat and didn’t appreciate the opportunities I was given or what little talent I had. 

But there were signs, even as a child, that drumming was in my future.  In eighth grade, we learned a piece called “Sandpaper Symphony” in which one student would accompany the orchestra with sand blocks.  My orchestra teacher selected different students, including myself, to audition for the part of the sand blocks as we practiced the song in class. I breezed through my audition.  Sand blocks were cool, but I really wanted the violin solo.  I was the first chair, first violinist, so I was sure I would get the part.  So I was surprised when my orchestra teacher handed me the sand blocks.  “You had the best rhythm in the class,” she said.  “You kept the beat perfectly.”

I stopped playing music for a long time after high school, but would have daydreams about being in a band.  I figured I would never be the lead singer; I don’t have a terrible voice, but it’s a little voice better suited for quiet jazz songs, not the rock music I was drawn to.  A lot of people play guitar, and I knew I would never be as good as the ones I knew.  But I didn’t know any drummers, so I imagined that, in my imaginary band, I’d be a drummer.

In 2008, when I was 24, my brother and I saw the Foo Fighters at ACL and had our lives completely changed.  We started going to all the shows we could, drinking in music. By the time I snagged us tickets to Them Crooked Vultures in 2009, I was already well into my Dave Grohl obsession. Patrick and I couldn’t believe our luck – we were about to watch the former drummer of Nirvana DRUM.  The band played the entire album, and something happened that night. I didn’t realize it right away.  It took about a month to sink in. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the way Dave played, as if he was trying to beat his kit into the ground with his ferocity.  To this day, I’ve never seen someone drum with as much passion and intensity as he did.  The album was released a month after the show, and I bought it eagerly, listening to the drum parts and imagining how Dave had played them.

And I slowly realized – I want to play drums.  I want to know what this feels like, why he was playing the way that he did.

Several months later, I started playing lessons and began learning. Basic beats were fairly easy, though coordination was difficult at first.  (People who say drumming is easy have never drummed. Period.)  My family and friends were supportive of my seemingly sudden interest in drumming.  I began playing with friends at parties.  I’m not going to lie, I enjoyed hearing compliments about my drumming, especially since I’m a “chick.”  I like breaking down gender stereotypes and I want to show people that women can drum just as well as men can.

But my laziness as a music student never left me. I could get away with not practicing in the beginning because the beats were fairly easy. But once I started learning new songs? Forget it.  I couldn’t hide my lack of practicing anymore.  Part of the problem is my electric kit isn’t the best.  It’s cramped and it’s hard for me to approximate the feel of a real kit on it.  I can’t get excited about practicing it. I know that this is a massive first world problem. 

Eventually, I stopped playing drums. I stopped doing a lot of things I like.  Sometimes I go into zombie mode and give up all extraneous hobbies and activities. I hate Zombie Jenny mode.  If I catch it early enough, I can keep it from happening, but sometimes it is inevitable and I let it happen.  That is a different blog entry all together.  But when it does happen, I stop running, I stop playing music.  I’m not comatose or anything; I find other things to keep me busy, but I don’t feel as happy as I do when I have running and drumming to challenge me. I start getting bored.

But I’ve been coming out of my latest zombie coma lately. I started running again, mulling the idea of training for a half.  I have been listening to songs on the radio lately and dissecting all the beats, thinking, “Can I play this?  How is the drummer doing this beat? That doesn’t sound too hard. I can do that.”

And then it hit me – fuck, I miss drumming.  A lot.

This weekend, Boyfriend and I went to Guitar Center.  I usually feel very shy at this particular Guitar Center. It’s in the smaller town that Boyfriend lives in, where gender roles are more stereotypically defined, so the store is usually full of male musicians (though I have seen a female bassist and drummer in there once, which made me happy).  One time a door greeter made a patronizing joke to Boyfriend about his being at the store to shop for me, not knowing that I played drums. Another time, I was trying out a kit and a couple of guys started to watch, which creeped me out a little.

But I picked up the sticks, went to a kit, turned down the amp volume, and began playing some Zeppelin.

It felt wonderful.

Today, I texted my drum teacher Michael to see if he has room on his schedule for me again after my six-month absence; if all goes according to plan, I’ll be taking lessons again next month.

In the three years I’ve been playing drums, I’ve realized I’ll never be great.  I’ll never be the drummers I admire – Dave Grohl, John Bonham, Neil Peart, Taylor Hawkins.  But I just want to be good.

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2 thoughts on “The Delinquent Drummer

  1. You, Jenny, are a great blogger. I’ve missed you, glad Zombie Jenny is gone.

    My other favorite parts – “as if he was trying to beat his kit into the ground with his ferocity”, exactly! And ” But I just want to be good.”. Keep it up, you are, and will be.

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