A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF DRUM SET BIOMECHANICS
The question I ask to drummers is:
"What is, in your opinion, the single most important aspect of playing the drum set? The one thing that if removed from the equation, results in not playing the drums at all?"
Good time? Good Technique? Breath control while playing? Creating a beautiful sound? Correct Posture? Mental and emotional attitude towards playing?
All these potential answers are correct, but are all part of a larger theme. I say this because if I sit at the drums, nothing will happen unless I move to make something happen.
Movement is the basis for all physical ability on the drum set. From great motion comes almost all positive attributes that we associate with playing the drum set: great time, great technique, great sound, musicality, etc. Yet, when we look at drum set pedagogy, standards for movement don't even make the list of agreed upon criteria for greatness. Incorrect motion while playing the drum set is so pervasive, that it goes unnoticed, even at the highest levels of performance. It is so common that we mistakenly believe that incorrect or unhealthy motion is how drummers are supposed to move! There are many complex causes for this breakdown of information, but perhaps more importantly, there are solutions.
Great movement comes from having the realtime physical awareness and knowledge of what parts of the body should be used to perform a specific musical task in a way that uses an evenly channeled distribution of energy to produce the most intentional and precise sound, while, at the same time, mitigating the risk of injury.
It is crucial to clarify the difference between the type of motion ability described above, and being a technician. The general consensus among drummers is that a high level of "technique" and the spirit of the drums are separate, opposing concepts - that technical mastery will result in a sterile, robotic, and even unmusical drumming vocabulary. I say, technique IS vocabulary. Technique is the "translational language" which we use to bring the sounds from our imagination into shared reality. If you have a vision for who you are to become, you must develop the tools necessary to facilitate that becoming. Few things can feel more frustrating as a musician than longing for a feeling that you don't know how to express through your playing.
There is music beyond what you believe is possible.
How will you get there?
Trying to substantially change and develop your sound without an awareness of the body is the most common way I have seen injuries arise. Injury from drum set playing is real, again, often going unnoticed. Nearly every drummer today is moving in ways that could lay the groundwork for injury and become become detrimental to playing ability as years go by.
Some basic examples while playing can include acute muscle or joint pain, compensatory discomfort, feelings of muscular tension or limited range of motion.
Bad movement compounds on itself, which results in the deterioration and regression of one’s ability on the drum set. Many drummers rationalize these injuries, because they are searching for the cause of their problems from the perspective of the lack of body awareness that got them into that state in the first place.
It’s very important to realize that if your movement is compromised, or you are injured from years of bad movement on the instrument, it’s likely not entirely your fault. Playing the drums is not widely respected or regarded as an athletic endeavor. Drum set playing requires one to have the skill level of a high-performance athlete, without access to trainers, coaches, or medical professionals who understand the proper biomechanics of our sport. On top of that, most drum set educators are dealing with the same movement issues as their students, and don't know!
For now, it’s up to us to change our situation.
While reprogramming your movement patterns on the drum set can be an uncomfortable process, it is possible to permanently change how you move on the instrument for the better if you understand and apply the proper methods. The truth is, we've known what works for decades! There are standards which have been set by the masters of the instrument, which on many levels, have not been upheld by subsequent generations. What did they know that allowed them to do what they did? What did they understand that laid the groundwork for facilitating the greatest drumming that we have seen so far? What has caused this generational mass breakdown of information?
Many of the answers are found in the same place that your glory and magnificence can be developed: in the doing. But, you must know what to do - and DO IT!
So how do we begin?
My concept as an educator centers movement. How to become aware of it, how to reprogram it and how to train for it. Essentially, how to become a better athlete of music!
I have developed a proprietary method for solving motion issues that thousands of drum set players deal with, since they used to be issues that I dealt with! I trained myself out of injury and years of unhealthy motion patterns that were limiting my ability on the instrument. All of my students have reported transformative results. This is not another "practice method" that deals with how to play specific beats, grooves, or chops. An inability to do any of those things are symptoms of the real problem. What I teach and design for students are universally applicable tools. It's the difference between trying to learn a language by only learning the most popular words in that language, versus learning the whole alphabet, the grammar syntax, and word conjugations, so you can fluently say whatever you want.
So what does studying with me look like?
- I start by taking you through a full Movement Skill Assessment on the instrument to figure out what’s going on on a macro and micro level, by biomechanically assessing all the most vital component pieces of drum set playing, from the single and double stroke roll, all the way to 4-way independence and coordination.
- From there, I create a report of findings from the information gathered in the assessment, and from that information, I create a custom tailored Drum Set Training Program for you that targets the specific issues you’re dealing with, as well as beneficial concepts and techniques which are widely misunderstood/misrepresented, and some aspects of playing that you may have not considered before.
- Programs mainly start with motion conditioning (low intensity, high volume), to build the mind-muscle connection to the new motion - essentially, reprogramming your nervous system's understanding of what it should feel like to play the drums. If there is a precedent for injury (tendonitis, joint pain/discomfort, etc.), this is also the period of the training where we address and solve those problems (In fact, the majority of the students who I've worked with, who came to me with injuries, pain, or discomfort, we permanently solved it in the first lesson).
- As lessons continue, we progressively overload the training programs to ensure that the proper adaptations are achieved as efficiently as possible. Much like in the gym, this is achieved by modifying the training variables: speed, power, intensity, endurance, range of motion, etc. At every step of the way, we use science backed, proprietary exercises.
All lessons are currently virtual (over zoom).
No matter your age, skill level, preferred style of music, or geographical location, I am here for you!
If you are ready to take your playing to the next level, please reach out for information on rates and scheduling.
Remember, how you move is how you play.
HANNES LACKMANN - MELBOURNE, AUS
A few notes on my training with Nick Kepron////
I first got in contact with Nick as I was having issues with shoulder pain during and after
practice sessions or longer gigs. Nick was able to provide a long-term solution within 10
minutes of a discussion and some adjustments to my setup. After the lesson, Nick sent
me a document outlining his observations and wrote a completely individualized
practice program based off of the discussed long term goals. We had a shared/live
document where I outlined my practice for the week - meaning Nick would start the
following week knowing exactly how I was going, and it meant I developed
accountability, responsibility and discipline.
I previously compared Nick’s process with practice as translational research, which -
after a year or so of reflection, still hold valid....
“Translational research seeks to produce more meaningful, applicable results that
directly benefit human health. The goal of translational research is to translate (move)
basic science discoveries more quickly and efficiently into practice.” - UAMS
Simply put, I am now playing and executing things I didn’t previously think I would be
able to. After discovering unhelpful habits of movement and thought, Nick challenged
my assumptions and helped to develop exercises based on an alignment of my
personal goals and his understanding of biomechanics and his extensive study of the
language of drumming.
I think many of us playing this instrument can - knowingly or unknowingly - become
enslaved in believing that our deficits will elicit a “personal voice”.
We can (and I did) become victims of our own thought (and music/practise) patterns.
Nick’s guidance put the onus of the personal voice back to me, and allowed me to
become more proactive in moving towards gaining control over my movement and
ultimately, my sound
I still have a long way to go, however Nick has ultimately passed on a gift to govern my
perceptions, goals and direction in music.
JOSHUA MILLER - FORT WORTH, TX
starting working with nick in the spring of ‘23. we got right into reconditioning the hands and building strength in certain muscle groups i hadn’t previously used to facilitate consistency in sound when striking the drum. my playing, endurance and overall sound were quickly improved and i have a healthier relationship with the instrument than i ever did in the past. thanks nick and i look forward to many years of training/lessons!
PETER STOLTZ - IOWA CITY, IA