The last time I donated blood was in 2013. When the sign up list went around at church last month, I stared at the clipboard, trying to remember why it'd been such a long time since I'd donated.
Then I remembered. Oh, yeah. China. I went to China, Summer 2014, and they don't let you donate for three years after traveling to China or Africa. Before my trip to China, I would donate about once a year. I considered it my heroic act. (I think I once got a t-shirt that said "I'm a hero for donating!") I did the math quickly in my head. Three years had passed, so I signed the clipboard.
I sat in the chair and let the talkative student nurse take my pulse and ask me whether I'd had sex with anyone with HIV and if I'd gotten a tattoo within the last week. She confirmed that it'd been three years since I'd been in China. Before I knew it, I was lying on a pop-up hospital bed and someone was touching my forearm to find a vein.
Then I remembered something. Last time I donated, I got a bit dizzy. I had to lie on the floor with the fan blowing on my face. The time before that, I had to teach right after, and I nearly passed out in class. ha ha! ugh... Great time to remember that.
Long story short: I didn't pass out. I didn't throw up. But they gave me an ice pack for my neck and draped a giant red barf bag over me. It covered me like a blanket. Honestly, do people throw up that much? They told me to breath, squeeze my butt cheeks, squeeze the wooden stick (what happened to the stress balls?) and not think about it.
Luckily I brought my iPod. I cranked up the volume, but it wasn't helping too much. Then, Shinedown's "Crow and the Butterfly" song came on. Simon (my drum teacher) taught me to count it in triplets. Yes, it's 12/8 time or something, but he says it's simpler to count it in triplets.
I tossed the barf bag off me. I won't need it, I told myself, and I counted the song in triplets. "1-triplet, 2-triplet, 3-triplet, 4-triplet..." It worked! The color returned to my face. I breathed easier. When it ended, I put it on repeat and did it again. Out loud. I didn't care who stared. It got me through my nervousness.
Do you remember that game from your childhood? Someone would stand in front of the classroom and say things to do, but you were only to do them if Simon says.
Simon says... touch your nose.
Simon says... clap your hands.
Do jumping-jacks. --- Ohhhh...Simon didn't say! You're out!
In case you didn't know, the drum teacher for Drum Ambition is Simon. So, for the past year or so, I'd go into the practice room, watch some videos, play for a bit, then come out and tell my husband, "Simon says this and Simon says that..." For this blog, I'm compiling my four favorite things Simon says:
Simon says, "Count out loud"
This is probably the number one thing he stresses in all of the videos. Why? Because drumming is all about rhythm. It's not good if we're speeding up or slowing down all the time.
Simon says, "Start with slower tempos"
Drumming, to me, always sounds cooler when it's faster, but what I've learned with Drum Ambition is that learning to play new beats slow builds control. I've always appreciated the way Simon teaches in slower tempos. I can't tell you how many times I got frustrated (before Drum Ambition) trying to learn something online and the person teaching plays, maybe, the first example somewhat slow, but then speeds up. It's like they're showing off! Arrgggh! Simon's not like that. Sometimes he'll show you one of the beats faster, just to show you "where you can take it," but he always stresses the importance of starting with slower beats and working your way up. He'll say, for example, start with 50 bpm and then go up in increments of five.
Simon says, "Learn to read music"
A lot of Drum Ambition right now is geared towards beginners. Because of my piano and choir background, I can read music fairly well. But I've found these early lessons, especially the notation lessons, to be really helpful. Sure, I may have been able to identify eighth notes from quarter notes, and I can count basic beats, but can I play them? Can I do eighth notes with my right hand and quarter notes with my left foot? Re-learning to read music has helped me with my coordination. Also, it gives me power. It's like learning to read books for the first time. It's opening a whole new world to me, which brings me to my last Simon says for this blog post...
Simon says, "This will give you some musical options"
That's what these lessons are all about. I can build grooves and fills from the lessons to create my own solo pieces and play to my heart's content. The things Simon teaches are the basics or core lessons every drummer should know.
Simon says other things, but these are the ones I hear him repeat the most. I can almost hear him over my shoulder when I'm playing, "count out loud," or "start with slower tempos."
Drumming is difficult. Don't get me wrong. I still have a long ways to go, but I think as long as I do as "Simon says," I'll get there.
I love where I'm at in my learning. I'm building 4-way coordination right now. But it does take a some effort. Not just physically, but mentally as well. Frankly, it's been a battle to motivate myself to pick up the sticks. I went for two weeks in June not practicing. Not because I wasn't home. Not because I didn't have time, necessarily. But because I didn't feel like it. Saddest and dumbest excuse ever, I know.
This week, I decided to do something about it. With a little encouragement from hubby, who said if I didn't start practicing that I'd lose Drum Ambition lessons, I started sitting at the set. I tell myself that I don't even have to play. I just have to sit at the set for 15-30 minutes. I can't leave until the time is up.
I've been doing this all week, and what happens is that I sit there on the throne with my iPad for about 2-3 minutes, and I tweet stuff or whatever. Then, I see my sticks and I pick them up. I twirl them around for a bit, play a bit more on my iPad--- then before I know it, the iPad is down and I'm playing the drums.
Sometimes I just goof around for the first five or ten minutes of playing. I don't touch the teaching material. But, hey! I'm playing! Gradually, after a bit of free styling, I move into my exercises, and I find myself playing longer than I ever have. I'll be at it for almost an hour or two some days.
Yep. Sometimes you just gotta sit at the set. This is true, I think, in a lot of life situations, but especially true about learning to play an instrument or learning an language. The first step to success is showing up. So, sit at the set if you have to. Just sit there. You'll be amazed how well it works.
There are probably a lot of reasons why I didn't continue drumming in junior high, but I think one might be this idea or feeling I got that said, girls don't play drums.
A couple weeks ago, I read an interesting article for my creative writing class. It was about gender stereotypes. The author used the Let Toys Be Toys campaign as a sort of springboard to talk about children's books. Basically, the article is all about this idea that we shouldn't be labeling interests as a boy interest or a girl interest. Just let toys be toys and books be books.
I'd like to add: let drums be drums!
The author, Tricia Lowther, says, "Typical themes for boys include robots, dinosaurs, astronauts, vehicles, football and pirates; while girls are allowed princesses, fairies, make-up, flowers, butterflies, fashion, and cute animals. There's nothing wrong with these things, but it is wrong when they are repeatedly presented as only for on gender. Girls can like pirates and adventure, boys can like magic and dressing up."
If you went back in time and interviewed me at 13 years old and asked if I was quitting drums because girls don't play drums, I'd probably tell you, "No. That doesn't matter to me."
I'd think of a million other excuses to give you. And some of them might be true. Like I said, there were probably many reasons why I quit. At the heart of all these reasons, though, I think you'd find that I just wanted to fit in. (Who doesn't at age 13?) In the end, I'd be lying to you. I probably, very much, felt that girls don't play drums, and I'd be better off in choir or doing some other kind of interest that was more readily acceptable for a girl.
Tricia Lowther says, "Children are individuals. They should feel free to choose their own interests, not feel that they're supposed to like or reject certain things."
How I wish I had known that in 7th grade. In the very least, I wish my band teacher had approached me and encouraged me to stick with drums. I didn't feel valued as a percussionist. I needed someone to say out loud, "You know, drums aren't just for boys," and show me some great women drummers like Cindy Blackman, Jen Ledger, Stefanie Eulinberg, etc.
I love that today we have programs like the Hit Like A Girl Contest. As stated on their website, their "purpose is to spotlight female drummers/percussionists and encourage drumming and lifelong musicianship for girls and women, regardless of age or playing level."
As part of my creative writing homework, I had to create a character who broke gender stereotypes, so a girl that likes typically things boys like or a boy that likes things girls usually like. My character is a 15 year old girl who plays the drums. I got an A on the assignment, which was good news for my grade, but sad news that the stereotype still exists.
If you know girls who play the drums, keep encouraging them. Don't let them quit like I did. It's super hard to get back to it as an adult. I'd glad I am. I love Drum Ambition. It's just hard.
Yeah--- let's kill the gender stereotype. Let's let drums be drums.
The door opens with a "bing-bong." I wasn't expecting a door bell, like I'm walking into a dentist office or something. This is far from a dentist office, though (thank goodness!).
Two soft sofas sit on aluminum flooring with a bookshelf filled with music books. One of the shelves holds a box filled with drum sticks. It's labeled: Weapons of Mass Percussion.
I hear a Beatles song playing from an iPod or stereo somewhere behind a big black reception desk. A Jimmy Hendrix poster grins at the poster of Luke and Leia holding light sabers. On the far wall of the reception area, I see large pictures of kids playing guitars and drums on stage, like they're the opening act for Muse or Queen.
"I have a 2:45 appointment?" I tell the two people sitting behind the desk. The girl has curly long hair, and the guy is wearing a red-orange beanie, like he might go skiing later.The wall behind them is bright orange with calendars and sticky note reminders all over it.
Last week, I called for a lesson because I got a coupon for a free lesson with School of Rock by submitting to the Hit Like A Girl Contest.
"You're Kassie," the girl says. She smiles as brightly as the wall behind her. "Have a seat. Eddie will be ready for you soon." I notice that she's carrying an awkward square box. "Yeah-- the bass drum head needs replacing," she explains. "We have a 17 year old who--- well, he's a great drummer! He's just... well?"
"Hard on drums?" I guess. She nods, and I sit in the sofa that looks like a zebra.
"Eddie will need to replace this, and then he'll be ready for you."
"I'm early," I say, and pull out my book. She takes her box down the hall and returns to her desk before I can finish one page of my book. She asks me questions: where I live, what I like playing, etc. I'm not usually shy, but for some reason, I keep my answers quick and quiet. She seems really genuine, but I have butterflies in my stomach. She said something on the phone about Sum 41. Was I having a lesson with the drummer from Sum 41?
"How long have you been playing?" she asks, and the guy in the beanie leans his elbows on the table, listening for my answer.
I hesitate. I'm not sure how much of my story they want to hear, and I'm not sure how to answer. "Consistently?" I ask. They both smile and shrug as if saying, Sure! Whatever you want to tell us. We're cool!
I decide to tell them that I've been playing for two years, but afterwards I wonder if I should have told them one year because that's how long I've been with DrumAmbition. The boy asks me who my favorite band is, to which I say Foo Fighters. We talk for a bit, and before I know it, a tall skinny guy wearing a black tank top and jeans comes in the room and smiles at me.
"Kassie?" he says.
"Eddie?" I say back. He nods and invites me back into a music studio down the hall. I watch his tattoo arms lead the way, while I fidget with my sticks and stuff my book into my purse.
There are two identical black drum sets in a room with padded walls. Eddie tells me to pick one. I choose the one away from the door so I'll have my back to the wall and be able to see him teaching me better. (Really, it doesn't matter!) I regret my decision later and don't tell him.
Imagine you're driving a friend's car, and your friend is much taller than you. His seat will be much farther back, right? It makes for awkward driving, right? That's how it was for me. Because his snare was so high, his seat so far back, etc.... it made for awkward playing.
He asks me questions about myself, and I try to be less shy and quiet than I was with the front desk people. He asks me what kind of music I'm "into right now," to which I tell him that Foo Fighters are my favorite, but I'm going to a Shinedown concert in April. Before I know it, he's looking up "The Crow and the Butterfly" by Shinedown on YouTube on his phone, which is connected to two headphones.
Even though Eddie hasn't heard the song before (which I think is crazy!), he's able to tell that the time signature is 12/8. He gives me a quick lesson on time signature, using a whiteboard, and then he maps out the general beat of the song.
He helps me count it, and before I know it, we're practicing the beat together and figuring out the bridges. By the end of the lesson, I'm able to keep with the time and hit at least one of the bridges, but I'm itching to get to my own set where I'm more comfortable.
The butterflies in my stomach laugh when I make mistakes, but I laugh with them until they finally fly away, and I'm able to just enjoy the drums.
Eddie's "secret weapon"? He taught me to bounce my left foot in time as an additional metronome. He says, "If you watch Neil Peart from Rush, you'll see his left foot is always bobbing to the beat. That's because he does some crazy things with his his hands, and he's got to keep time."
The lesson ends with Eddie saying he's got another appointment, but he talks to me like he'll see me tomorrow or something. (I wish!) Live lessons are great, but super expensive! (For good reason, of course!)
I think I'll stick with DrumAmbition a bit longer, but I'm looking forward to submitting another video with HLAG so I can get another free coupon. In my book, I've already won the contest. That free lesson was awesome!
I wasn't planning to compete in the Hit Like a Girl Competition (HLAG) this year. I was planning to get "a little better" and do it next year, but last week, I said, "what the heck! I'm gonna do it!"
I want to publicly thank hubby for helping me. I wouldn't have been able to record my video without him. Also, thank you, Simon, my DrumAmbition teacher, for the encouragement and lessons. I'm playing more now than I have in years! I'm looking forward to more lessons online!
Thank you, also, family and friends for your support. Please "like" the video on Youtube. I think that will help with the judging. I don't expect to win. I did it just so I can say, "hey, world! I play the drums!"
I found the secret to consistency. At least, it works for me.
I set an alarm on my phone for 5:30pm. I'm always home at this time. My phone is either on my study desk or on the bed. I'm either grading, talking with Hubby, or reading a book when the alarm goes off. I yell, (to Hubby's amusement) "hi drums! I'm coming!" and get to the drum set for practice.
Sometimes I feel tired after work, or I'm engrossed in my grading or book, so I allow myself to hit the "snooze," button once or twice, usually yelling, "hi drums! I'll call you back!" as I do.
I drum while dinner is cooking. I usually start thinking about dinner around 5 or 5:30pm. Recently, I've started utilizing my drum pad, which means that I can start dinner in the kitchen and set up my drum pad in the adjacent room. I can keep an eye on dinner. I use the timer as not only a way to tell me to check on the food, but as my practice time. I hit the practice pad until the timer goes off.
Yesterday, I threw a frozen pizza in the oven. Hubby had something that night, so I was alone. Sometimes that happens. I drummed while the pizza cooked. Then, I cut some slices, put them on a paper towel and sat on the floor with it and my drum pad. I ate and drummed.
Call it a dinner date with my drumming!
As many of you know, I teach ESL. This means that my classroom is diverse; they're from all parts of the world, and I help them improve their English before and/or as they take college courses. My primary focus is writing. I help them go from paragraph writing to essay writing.
Well, today I showed them a sample classification paragraph. I wanted them to see an example of classifying a single idea into categories or subgroups. More importantly, though, I wanted them to identify the topic sentence, major and minor supporting details, and the concluding sentence. I asked questions about unity----whether the sentences all point to the same idea or not--- and coherence---- the way the sentences are organized. It's just a fun paragraph! It's about rock music!
This wasn't the first paragraph I showed them. I had shown them two others previous, and they answer all my questions just fine. For some reason, though, they were having trouble with this one.
Then, I realized the problem. I hadn't explained any of the vocabulary. "Do you think this paragraph has some tricky words?" I asked. They all nodded and said, "yes!"
"Well," I said, "which words do you feel like you need help with?"
Silvia, a girl from Mexico blurted, "snare!" I smiled and told them that I am a drummer, so I can explain that one with total confidence. In simple terms, I described the lay out of a basic drum set: snare, bass, toms, cymbals.
"The snare is the one in the middle and is played the most." I made the sound of a drum roll, and heads bobbed in understanding, and a chorus of "ooooh!" went around the room.
I demonstrated the sound of the bass---- "BOOM! BOOM!"--- while kicking my foot. I did a quick run around the imaginary set--- "Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong!" in different pitches and explained that these are called toms. Then, "CRASH!"
I asked, "Can anyone guess what that last one is called?" I heard a Vietnamese boy whisper something, so I asked him to be confident and speak up.
"Cymbal?" he asked. I gave him a thumbs up.
My drumming hasn't been as consistent as it was over the summer. Now that the semester has started, lesson planning, teaching, grading and conferencing with students is my number one priority. It has to be. It's my job. But I still have a drummer heart. I will forever remember this experience in the classroom. Next time I share this sample paragraph, I'm going to bring in my drum set!... maybe.
I'm learning to play Coldplay's "Yellow," by actually reading music. It's much more effective than stumbling around the set, guessing the tempo, drum to hit, etc. If you ever have the opportunity to learn to read music, I highly recommend it!
I learned to read basic music notation from my piano playing days, but drum notations are sometimes different, so I reached out to my drum teacher Simon, from DrumAmbition via Skype. He and I discussed each measure, how to practice, etc. It was super helpful!
The way Simon explained it is, "segnos take you back" while "codas take you forward." These little symbols work similar to "repeats," in the sense that they tell you to either go back to the previous measures or move forward in the music. Pretty clever guys, I think!
Segnos and Codas in Practicing
The summer is coming to a close, and life is starting to pick up again for me, so it's becoming more an more difficult to maintain my practicing schedule, especially over the weekends. At the beginning of each week, I do a "self-segno," or self assessment. I go back and review what I remember. Then, for the following days, I try to "coda" as much as possible--- I move forward with my learning.
Segnos and Codas in Life
I can see segnos and codas used in my daily life. I believe that life on this earth is a test. We're meant to make each day better than the one before. The mistakes I make in life often cause me to "segno" or take me back. I go back to those I've hurt and say sorry; I evaluate my actions and think about ways I can handle situations like those better in the future. Then, I "coda." I move forward. I try again and move forward.
Whether you're a drummer, teacher, writer, daughter, son, wife, husband, father, mother, or some other title, I encourage you to recognize times to "segno" and times to "coda."
Recently I watched a short video by Nate Morton. He's a drummer from NBC's The Voice. He talked about his biggest motivator for drumming, Animal from the Muppets. As many of you know from my previous blog, Animal is my idol, too!
Nate Morton also talked about how drumming has influenced his life for good. Watching that video made me think about who else, along with Animal, who inspired me to play the drums, so I made a short top 3 favorite drummers. It doesn't include my actual real idols, like Dave Grohl, Neil Peart, Buddy Rich, Ringo Star or the other amazing drummers I love! I'll save that for another post.
Without further ado, here are my favorite drummers:
1. Animal (of course!) from The Muppets
I had a lot of energy as a kid, too. Banging on pots and pans as a kid (that's all I had!) defiantly was good for me, too.
2. Guy Patterson from Doing that Thing you Do
(The screenplay was written by Tom Hanks, by the way.) Because I started my drumming journey a little bit later than maybe most drummers and I was often forced to practice on my own between classes in college, I found this movie/ story inspirational. I lived in small living areas and squeezed my drums into sometimes tight spots. At one point, I had my drums in the basement in my in-laws' house because I didn't have room for them where I was living at the time, and I'd go there when everyone was at work and play along to my i-pod.
When I felt discouraged to practice, I'd think, "what if I'm needed as a drummer?!' and I'd go practice. I got a chance to be "the drummer" for a talent show in 2012. It wasn't much of a gig, but my friends really needed me for the song. I was nervous, but I did it. We didn't get a standing ovation like I imagined we would, nor did we win the talent show, but it felt good to be "Guy Patterson" for a night.
3. Steven Alper from Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie
My favorite roommate in college gave me a copy of it during my last semester. I wanted to read something besides journal articles about ESL teaching. Don't get me wrong! I love learning about ESL and I'm really glad I earned my MTESOL, but I needed (what my sister calls) "fluff" reading. Something that I didn't have to think about. Something I could just read and enjoy!
So, there you have it. My top three favorite drummers, the ones who first inspire me to practice. Drumming has defiantly made me the person I am today.