Discuss traditional rhythms, singing etc
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By rachelnguyen
#23592
After almost a year and a half playing the dunun, I was still finding myself choking at performances. I have wicked stage fright when it comes to drumming and it inevitably happened that when I played in front of people, I would mess up and get even MORE nervous. It was rough.

In addition, while I have good skill in terms of being able to pick up and remember dunun parts very well, I was only really comfortable playing them at moderate speed. So when I would play with Malians on stage, the speed is way faster and my mind would start playing tricks on me. (Am I in the right place in the rhythm? Can I keep up? Are my arms going to fall off?) Crash.

Last Friday I played ONE song for one of my teacher's gigs. I was up on the stage with a Kora player (Yacouba Diabaté),Nampé Sadio and Sidy. I was playing Mendiani, which I know very well. And in the middle of the song, I started worrying that my hands were cramping up. I freaked out, made a mistake, got back on track and finished.

The next day I was a mess. I was so frustrated that I have been unable to get past this stage fright issue. I actually cried, LOL. And then I started to think about what I wanted to actually accomplish.

I want to be able to play with Bamako players at their speed. Nothing fancy, just keep up and not get lost in the rhythm or scared or cramped up, just play at breakneck speed for long periods of time without screwing up.

This is such a no-brainer it is embarrassing. I realized that in order to accomplish this, I was going to have to.... wait for it.... practice. Every day. For 30 to 40 minutes. At Bamako speed. Nonstop.

Within a day or two of starting a new practice regimen, I began to realize that I don't have enough strength in my arms to be able to play for 40 minutes. My shoulders and neck were seizing up.... my arms were in pain. I discussed this with my teacher, who gave me some pointers on how to reduce the amount of muscle power necessary to make the sounds. (Mostly involving relaxing your hands so that your arm muscles don't have to work as hard.)

I tried it. It worked.

Now I am able to play for 40 minutes straight at Bamako speed with fewer mistakes, less fatigue and much more confidence. All in a week of daily practice.

I am sharing this because, well, it feels like a little bit of a breakthrough. I am not sure that I will have less stage fright next time I play out, but at least I will know that I am physically capable of playing at Bamako speed for a full set.

Practice.

Who knew?

Rachel
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By djembefeeling
#23594
rachelnguyen wrote:In addition, while I have good skill in terms of being able to pick up and remember dunun parts very well, I was only really comfortable playing them at moderate speed. So when I would play with Malians on stage, the speed is way faster and my mind would start playing tricks on me. (Am I in the right place in the rhythm? Can I keep up? Are my arms going to fall off?) Crash.
hey rachel, I so much know what you are talking about here!!! its like you talk about me. always thinking in situations you shouldn't have these kind of thoughts. I am not particularly nervous on stage, but I do not feel comfortable playing high speed. its like there is an inherent speed limit I cannot cross. I tried to work on that, but I found out I don't even like practising on high speed. not that my arms or neck seize up, its rather that my soul doesn't follow the speed and resists. It seems to me that it needs a long time of slowly speeding up, rather years than weeks, at least for me. I dont wanna force it. but congratulations on your breakthrough!

Now tell me, are you talking about playing the konkoni or the ballet style duns? I know from watching Madou Jakite how to play the konkoni relaxed, while with ballet style duns I find it very hard to relax. I could need some help there...

cheers, jürgen
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By rachelnguyen
#23596
Jurgen,

I am playing ballet style dunun with a dununba and a kenkeni. What I am doing is relaxing my shoulders and arms and hands so the kalla (stick) is loose in my fingers.

And yeah, getting to speed can mess with your head, LOL.

Love,
Rachel
By bkidd
#23605
Rachel wrote:
Now I am able to play for 40 minutes straight at Bamako speed with fewer mistakes, less fatigue and much more confidence. All in a week of daily practice.

I am sharing this because, well, it feels like a little bit of a breakthrough. I am not sure that I will have less stage fright next time I play out, but at least I will know that I am physically capable of playing at Bamako speed for a full set.
How exciting! It's great to hear that you're seeing such a breakthrough with a week's worth of extra effort. Enjoy cruising at your new speed limit.

Best,
-Brian
By davidognomo
#23607
great post, rachel. thanks for sharing. I'm an actor, I mostly work in theatre. Stage fright will go away with practise, too. The presence of an audience can be so overwhelming that you actually get out of focus. In my job, you get to repeat the thing for several nights, but the premiere is always a shity performance because of nerves. You just have to hold on to what you learned.

Maybe you should try some relaxing and concentration routine before the shows. To be focused is something like being near yourself, in contact with yourself, and the confrontation with a crowd can take you out of there, so 1/2 an hour, or an hour of some physical, or meditation, or breathing exercises might help you relax and consolidate focus. Well, whatever you do, or how you prepare yourself, one thing is for sure: you'll be thrown to the lions. Might aswell enjoy that feeling.

But you're so lucky to have the chance to perform with such artists. No wonder you get nervous. I remember last june I was at a workshop with Fode Bangoura and at the end he made each one of us to solo. I was so nervous that I didn't do nothing. Common, I guess. I guess when you feel you failed that is a most helful tool, cause you get to see where your weaknesses are more clearly.

David
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By rachelnguyen
#23608
Hi David,

The irony for me is that I can get up in front of 1000 people and speak and not be nervous at all. But put a drum in my hands and I am at near panic attack.

It is very helpful to hear about your opening night jitters... and how you deal with them. I think that a time of meditation (or prayer, LOL) does help a little bit, but the physical strength might be a factor, too. We shall see. (I have a gig coming up in a week or so. I'll let you all know.)

I completely agree that failure can be a strong motivator. It has been very exciting to finally feel like I can have an impact on my own performance.

Brian, thanks for the encouragement. I really am sharing all this because I think that stamina is something that a lot of drummers have to work on. (Maybe especially women....) It has been pretty incredible to see how fast I have seen improvement.

OK. Enough chatting. I am going to practice, LOL.
By bkidd
#23613
I completely agree that failure can be a strong motivator. It has been very exciting to finally feel like I can have an impact on my own performance.
Failure can be a strong motivator, but I prefer to go for success as a motivator. In my experience, failure can be helpful for pointing out gaps, however, having a clear sense for how to move beyond the and transform the process into a success is equally important. In fact, having a successful experience and understanding the steps involved that led to that is probably more important for continued success than failure.
Brian, thanks for the encouragement. I really am sharing all this because I think that stamina is something that a lot of drummers have to work on. (Maybe especially women....) It has been pretty incredible to see how fast I have seen improvement.
Stamina is a big thing for every drummer to work on. A big part of stamina is pushing the limits of what you can do in terms of speed and duration. It's all about learning to hold the required amount of tension needed for proper technique and sound, yet not being too tense in the motions so that the muscles fatigue. It's a fine line that I'm definitely still working on, especially with playing a bell for dunun patterns (non-ballet style).
OK. Enough chatting. I am going to practice, LOL.
Good suggestion. ;)
Enjoy!
-Brian
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By e2c
#23614
Stamina is one of the big things with djembe and duns, since dance/performance tempos are generally so fast.

Rachel, do you have any opportunities to sit in and play for a while at dance classes? That'll do wonders for your endurance, and in a less pressured atmosphere than onstage, generally.

About holding the sticks loosely: yep, you want your thumb and fingers to act as a pivot for the sitcks, no matter whether you're using a Mali-style dunun stick or a straight (Guinea) stick. It's made all the difference in the world for me, as not only is it easier on the wrists and hands, but it takes advantage of what set players call natural rebound - the way the sticks bounce back from the drumheads.
Last edited by e2c on Mon Nov 21, 2011 11:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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By michi
#23617
I just returned from a weekend camp with Epizo. Played for the dance class. One hour and fifteen minutes non-stop at high speed on the Djansa accompaniment:
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1...2...3...4...
ss.ss.tts.b.sbtt
              ^
It's a busy part, and definitely good exercise… I was fairly worn out when he finally stopped the music.

I'm pretty much OK on the djembe though. What gets me are the dunduns. For example, I can keep up the Wassolomka sangban for about ten minutes, and then my bell hand starts to pack it in. It'll take a lot more practice before I'll be able to keep that up for more than an hour…

Michi.
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By rachelnguyen
#23620
e2c, dance classes are great for building stamina (and confidence!) I was playing for a dance class for awhile, but the class ended up getting canceled and I haven't found another opportunity locally.

Good comment about the pivot for the sticks. That is exactly what I am trying to develop. It almost forces you to relax your hands and (more importantly) your arms and shoulders. Sometimes when I am practicing, I hit the sweet spot and feel all the tension release. I have yet to be able to sustain that for very long, though.

Michi, at this point, I have much more stamina on the dunun than the djembe. I am pretty sure that I would not be able to do that accompaniment on djembe for a whole hour, LOL!
It is a totally different set of muscles. Good on you for making it through!
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By e2c
#23633
Rachel... the funny thing is, I just did not get the idea of allowing the sticks to swing freely (with a loose grip) until I read something about a famous jazz drummer (blanking on his name) who supposedly holds and moves the sticks as if they're "noodles."

After seeing that, I decided to try and see if I could do it, and voila! It really works... though I am by no means proficient at keeping that kind of grip in a steady way, especially at faster tempos - I think it's normal to start tensing up then, regardless of what instrument you're playing.

As for playing bells, I can't do it for very long at a time, due to nerve entrapment in the hand that holds the striker. So, Mali-style konkoni and ballet duns work best for me. (With a lighter, looser grip on the sticks, I don't get any pain in my "bad" hand.)

Also, those super-light weight Mali konkoni sticks are (imo) much easier to work with re. a looser grip. I like straight dun sticks, too (different sticks for different sounds), but I think I have more of a tendency to tense my wrists and arms when using them. The lightweight sticks allow a player to maintain a very loose grip for a longer period of time, imo - and if you look at vids of experienced konkoni players, they all seem to have very relaxed wrists and forearms.
By Garvin
#23639
Stick technique is something that almost never gets any attention among WA drummers. I came to this music as a drumset player and was always appalled to see the stiff arms that folks would approach the dundun with. I think its great just to get that little tidbit about relaxing the hands and wrists. Gravity does a lot of the playing for you, and you really want to use as little of the "arm" as possible. Obviously the rebound is different on duns than on a regular drumset, but you should pay attention to the natural rebound of whatever dundun you are playing.

I am by no means a technique nut or anything, but I think it is another one of those little cultural differences that most of the teachers I've played with rarely make mention of stick technique. Even just a little bit of focus on this will make your life on dun/bell that much easier. That said, three of my fingers on my right hand still go numb toward the end of playing ballet style duns for dance class, and my shoulder feels like cement whenever I play traditional style for any length of time.

I think its totally normal to burn yourself out early at live shows. I usually start pounding water a couple hours before I know I'm going to play a 1/2 hour - 45 minute set and try to be super conscious of how hard I'm playing in the first couple pieces.

Breakthroughs are awesome though. I love/hate that feeling of getting frustrated. I've been close to tears a lot in my little journey in this music. More often than not it's from when I'm trying to dance though ;)
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By rachelnguyen
#23640
Garvin,

Interesting post!
and was always appalled to see the stiff arms that folks would approach the dundun with.
Do you mean African players, or non-africans? The Africans in these parts look very relaxed when they play. It is the Americans that look stiff, LOL.

When I was talking about this issue with my teacher, he said that dununfolas learn the technique of relaxing by necessity. They would be playing at a party for hours and there was no way they could take a break or complain about being tired, so they just had to figure out how to do it for long periods of time. I think maybe because it is something that every drummer would just discover on their own, they don't really think to teach it to others until the issue comes up. (In my case, I was too stiff to be able to sustain the speed, and too stiff to be able to achieve the kind of speed I need to. My arms just can't move fast enough, but my relaxed hands and wrists CAN.)
By bkidd
#23641
Stick technique is something that almost never gets any attention among WA drummers. I came to this music as a drumset player and was always appalled to see the stiff arms that folks would approach the dundun with. I think its great just to get that little tidbit about relaxing the hands and wrists.
I wonder if WA drummers just haven't thought about how many hours they put in for playing, and then ultimately figuring out work-arounds to play long and fast. It's sometimes hard to remembers what I did to figure something out, especially if I wasn't thinking about teaching it to another person and I figured it out a while ago. Also, the work-arounds that one comes up with will be different depending on one's age. Young kids can get away with playing for at fast tempos for a long time without the same repercussions on the body as an older adult.

The WA teachers I've learned dununs from have been concerned about good technique for producing good, consistent sound and fitting in the groove. Interestingly, it's been my main american teacher who I've spent the most time discussing arm techniques with, which has been quite helpful. At the end of the day though, I think Rachel is right that we need to practice what we want to be able to play. On top of that having some good outside feedback every now and then can lead to breakthroughs, which are the result of a prepared mind.

Best,
-Brian