Frustration. It’s that overwhelming feeling that we can’t or will never…something something. Since we’re talking about drumming here, that something something could be a particular groove, drum fill, song or maybe just a technical limitation. Frustration on the drums will make you feel like you suck and that you’re never going to get it right. It will make your body feel restless and tense. It might even make you wonder why you bothered playing drums in the first place. It affects us in every way; mind, body and soul. In this article, I’ve got 10 tips to manage frustration on the drums.
Based on my own teaching experience, I can say that often times, frustration takes over because we are working on something that’s too advanced. It’s hard to know how challenging something will be before you start working on it. It’s also difficult to know if there are skills required that we don’t yet possess. Yes, frustration is a normal part of practicing any instrument but if it is taking over all the time, and you are not Nicholas Cage, then you might consider learning and practicing simpler things. Check out my courses as well as lessons for tons of ideas.
So without further ado, here are my 10 tips to manage frustration on the drums and stay motivated in your pursuits.
Stop, Stand Up and Stretch
Whatever it is that you are playing, on a drum set you are always seated. The moment you stand up, there’s a complete disengagement from the drum kit. Walk a few feet away and stretch. Reach down and touch your toes. Take long and deep breaths. This is you counteracting the physical effect of frustration…tension. Tension is your worst enemy. Learn how to identify it, stop it and reduce it with a few stretches or a jog around the block.
Talk Yourself Through It
For real. When you feel that frustration taking over, there is often an inner dialogue that goes along with it. It’s that voice that tells you that you suck and you will never get it right. This happens to all of us. When this type of mental self-bullying starts to happen, stop playing for a minute. Put your sticks down on the Snare and have the following conversation with yourself out loud:
“What exactly is it about this thing that is frustrating me?”
Speak your answer out loud.
“Am I playing this slow enough to get it right?”
Speak your answer out loud.
“Is there something that I can do to break this down and address the issue?”
Speak your answer out loud.
Now you have stopped for long enough to allow some tension is in your body to ease. You are also shifting your mentality in a positive way towards solutions that will help you succeed. And your proactive thinking just rescued your soul from the bullying brought on by frustration on the drums.
Drink So Much Water That You Have To Go To The Bathroom
Seriously. Wash it out of your system. We are human beings and we all need to relieve ourselves. (Wait, is he talking about the frustration or the bathroom break?). Stopping to take a big long drink of water provides your body with hydration. You can’t have too much of it. A few minutes later, go to the bathroom and feel that tension and frustration draining away.
Most Delicious Tip To Manage Frustration? Snack time!
Getting frustrated? Now’s the time to stop and take your snack break. I DON’T mean a “whenever I feel like playing again” break, because you just left on a sour note. I mean a snack break. Take only as much time as you need to make a turkey sandwich or eat an apple. No more and no less. This amounts to 5-10mins, the perfect amount of time to re-energize, mentally shift your focus and enjoy something yummy (food will make your soul feel better in most cases). Then get back to what you were working on. You will feel nearly as good as you did when you first started practicing. You can give it a little more effort and work and maybe even make some progress…(thank you turkey sandwich!)
Ready, Set, Clean!
It’s proven that a messy and chaotic environment breeds a messy and chaotic mind. I always feel more at ease after I’ve cleaned, tidied and organized. Stop playing, set a timer on your device for 5-10 minutes max and start cleaning and organizing. Tidy up, take away any garbage, vacuum, wipe down dusty surfaces. Do whatever you can do in those few minutes to make an improvement in your space. But when the timer goes off, stop those chores and go back to practicing. This is a simple distraction and a great way to de-clutter and organize your space as well as your mind.
Put A Hero On The Wall
Do you have a hero? Someone you look up to for any reason? Bonus points if you have a drummer hero, but this could be anyone. Your mom, dad, a friend, an athlete, a celebrity or even a picture of Spiderman if that’s what you’re into. Get a photo, poster or picture of that person and put them on the nearest wall in your practice space. Sometimes the simple act of looking at this image will help you to start hearing “you can do this” in your mind. It’s because you know that they would say the same thing to you. Often all that we need is that subconscious hand on our shoulder to make our frustration on the drums go away.
Play Single Strokes As Fast As You Can!
If you are getting frustrated, then it’s likely you are getting tense. Try pausing and playing single strokes as fast as you can on the Snare. You will probably notice that you can’t play as fast as usual. It’s because of the tension. So then you roll your shoulders and try again, make your touch a little lighter, your sticks a little closer to the drum. Suddenly you are aware of your tense and frustrated state. Now you are using the simplest thing you know to counteract the tension. In addition to that, wailing away on your Snare for a minute just feels good to do, like screaming into a pillow at the top of your lungs. (So I guess maybe keep a pillow near you drums too?)
10 Minute Meditation
While it’s not every person’s cup of tea, meditation is scientifically proven to relax and ease your mind and body. Most people have their drums setup in a basement, garage or small practice room. When start to feel that all-encompassing feeling of tension and frustration on the drums, stop playing, put your sticks down on the Snare and close your eyes or turn out the lights. Take long and steady deep breaths. Try to empty your mind and focus only on your breathing. Then go back to your practicing again and you might do a little better than before. Here’s a link to a free app I like to use for guided meditation.
Change What You’re Practicing
This one might seem obvious but you’d be amazed at how often us drummers (myself included) continue practicing the same thing well after frustration has completely engulfed us. You know…that banging your head against a wall feeling.
While there is something to be said for having determination, there does come a point where we start experiencing a disconnect. That is when frustration is taking over and affecting how we play. The trick is to recognize when this starts to happen. It’s a slow deteriorating feeling in your playing and a gradual increase in tension. Simply changing the material you are practicing is one of the absolute most effective ways to mitigate the frustration. When this happens to me, I tend to snap out of it by taking a few minutes to play a song I know or work on an independence exercise. (RLKK oughta do the trick). Changing practice material doesn’t make you any less determined. It is simply gets you back to a place where your practicing is effective.
Don’t Do Any Of The Following
Don’t throw your sticks, punch the drums or hit anything for that matter. I guarantee you that you will never look back the next day and think “Gee, I’m sure glad I broke that ______ when I was feeling frustrated.”
Don’t use any social media as a break. This won’t help you either. In fact chances are that it will only shine a light on all these cool things that all these perfect people are doing in their perfect lives. This will likely amplify your own mental bullying and zap your motivation even more.
Don’t watch tv, Netflix or YouTube. Unless you’ve decided that you’re done practicing for a while, this will just feel more appealing in that moment. Chances are that you won’t want to go back to practicing any more than did when you first turned on the tv. It’s a distraction yes, but serves you no other benefit.
You can’t avoid frustration all together. It’s a natural part of the process when you’re learning something new or challenging. We all go through it. You can either choose to let it get so bad that it derails our practice or, you can manage and overcome it. I hope these tips to manage frustration that I’ve laid out help you in the practice room, so you can keep working hard and progressing on the drums.
Do you have any of your own strategies to help you curb frustration that you’d like to share? I want to hear about them and so do other readers. Share it in the comments below!
Want a free, interactive drum lesson sent to you every week? One lesson from our members-only library is unlocked each week for you to try for free. Each lesson comes with multiple play-along videos, PDF worksheet and more.