My top THREE pieces of advice for drummers

I want to try something different with this blog post. As much as I enjoy telling stories about the stupid things that happen on tour - like the time James slipped over on some ice into a puddle of his own piss, whilst pissing - I also want to give people helpful advice.

So let's do this one a little differently. I want to share with you the three things I feel are most important, that all drummers should consider. This applies specifically to performing live and is inspired by a number of podcasts I've recently listened to, a book I'm currently reading and a question I received from a fan.

Here's my top three pieces of advice for all drummers when preparing for a show, in the order I do them.

1. Prepare mentally

2. Prepare physically

3. Deal in advance with potential on-stage / equipment issues (to prevent mid-show anxiety)

It's worth noting that the first two points above feed directly into point 3. I realise this is a list that needs some explaining. It's definitely not 'three quick tips' so, if you're interested in reading about the methods I use to help get me confidently through each TESSERACT show, please read on.

My DW Collectors kit on stage at Gavle Fest in Sweden - I know the tape on the throne looks crap, it's holding my radio pack in place though so...

1. Preparing mentally

To be able to perform at what I consider to be the top of my current ability, I need my body and brain to be well rested. For me, this means a good 8 hours of sleep the night before a show. I can't always guarantee this amount of sleep though due to our gruelling travel schedule, especially around fly-in festivals. For these sleep-deprived days, I make sure I have some comforts with me.

I've found that a pair of Bose QC35ii (noise cancelling headphones) to be an absolute life saver when surrounded by noise that I cannot control. I'm not so good at meditating yet that I can turn the sound of other people in airports into a thing of bliss - I can however listen to raindrops, a stream or a distant thunderstorm from my white noise app (Rain Rain). I find this to be a great way to regain some mental space.

Whenever possible, I find a morning routine to be something that helps set up the rest of the day. Mine looks a little something like this:

I wake up after 8+ hours sleep. I don't tend to set an alarm when I'm on a tour bus as I like to let my body get all the rest it needs, and my daily drum responsibilities don't tend to start until 1-2pm. I run through a set of Wim Hof breathing exercises, followed by either guided or unguided meditation. I'm currently really enjoying Sam Harris meditation app: Waking Up.

After that, I want coffee. I don't always eat breakfast. I like to try to fast intermittently. i.e. only eating between set hours, say 1-7pm. I find that I can't always do this on travel days without next-levelling my intentions - planning ahead, which tends not to happen. I also can't always do this on show days as in-house catering happens whenever it happens, but a quick hack to help here is stockpiling some food from the rider the previous day. If there's some cereal bars, they go in the bag.

Set up and sound check generally happens between 1-4pm each day. The longest part by far is getting all the gear set up. We generally only run through perhaps one or one and a half songs before we're happy. We then have the late afternoon and evening to relax, eat, see the city. I find that most often I just want to chill at the hotel / on the bus.

Why have I gone into all that detail? Because I find that having a routine and structure to the day helps my mental state when I'm performing - and this is pretty much my daily show-day, pre-show structure.

Something else that does help is listening to new (unreleased) Tesseract material for between 1 hour and 30 minutes before I go on stage. I find that it's super helpful to start air drumming and getting 'in the zone' with new material that I'm currently learning. I'm then able to hit the stage feeling way more confident and capable.

2. Preparing physically

My performance is affected if I've had any alcohol the previous day. A glass of red wine is fine but two or more and I wake up a groggy, having not rested and therefore not recovered particularly well. This then feeds into the rest of my day - so my first bit of advice is to SLEEP. Get good rest. Don't pull an all-nighter and expect to be on form the next day. It's really obvious when you think about it, but it's so so easy to slip from one post-show beer to two, three, four, heyyyy whiskeyyyyy. It's definitely not good for your body or mind, especially long term.

I heard a great quote recently (I cannot recall from whom):

"A drink today is borrowing happiness from tomorrow"

I'm not saying that I'm never drinking alcohol again. I love a glass of red wine, a strong IPA or a glass of single malt scotch. I'm simply saying that I can detect a noticeable difference in my performance and mindset on day 2 after a boozy day 1.

Here's one to get all drummers debating: All warming up is good - it doesn't matter what you do.

In my experience, no matter what I do, whether it's five to ten minutes of playing singles and doubles on a practice pad, a cushion, a stack of stage towels, a band members back, or even simply air-drumming - it all helps get blood into the limbs, which I feel is the whole point of warming up. It doesn't matter what you're playing, so long as you're 'drumming'.

If you play super fast kick pedal or blast beats, then I'm sure there's a better warm-up routine but for what I play with Tesseract, I just need to get my limbs moving. I don't worry about speed or stamina.

At shows where either the backstage area or on-stage temperature is a little chilly, and for most outdoor shows, I wear a long-sleeved top on stage. I've found that keeping my limbs warm once I've warmed up is important. It may all be in my head but I do find that after I've spent a while warming up backstage, if I then have to stand for 5 minutes side of stage in a cold corridor, I may as well have not warmed up at all.

3. Deal in advance with potential on-stage / equipment issues (to prevent mid-show anxiety)

Like, really actually deal with all the possible shit that might go wrong - because stuff always goes wrong. For example:

1. I always tape down the spurs of my kick drum for fly-in shows. I don't trust kick drums that are not my own. I've played too many shows with wandering kick drums and it really really sucks. Especially during Concealing Fate Pt2 and 3. Also, try playing this shit and also trying to communicate with someone side of stage that the hi-hat clutch is slipping.... it's very difficult to do.

2. I check and double-check that cymbals are locked in position and that they move freely and evenly. I cannot stand it when cymbals are too tight and bounce back while I'm playing.

3. I check that I have at least two drum keys on stage either side of me so that I can confidently fumble around in the dark if I need one in an emergency.

4. For shows where I think it's going to get stupidly hot when the venue fills up, I make sure there's a fan on the drum riser. Playing a set with no air movement is torture and very distracting - and I've learned that lesson.

5. If the venue has heated up significantly between sound check and stage time, I'll quickly check the toms and snare tuning before hitting the stage.

6. When using a rental kit - I'm meticulous with every detail. I make sure that NOTHING moves - and I mean nothing. If a stand is a little on the wobbly or not-maintained well (like most festival rental kits), it gets switched out immediately.

7. I tape down my left kick pedal at fly-in shows. I've played shows where the left pedal moves (because of bad stage carpet). Gaffa tape fixes this.

This is a short list of some of my drum-related OCD but you know what - if I'm confident that the kit is in good condition, sounds good and isn't going to fall apart while I play, I'm able to focus completely on my performance without any anxiety. And for me, that's the whole point. I have to enjoy this. The hour or so I get to spend on stage each day is the most fun part of touring but it can easily become the most difficult and mind-wreckingly awful experience when shit is going wrong.

Hopefully you can take something away from this ramble. If you do take anything away though, I'd recommend:

Life: Proper sleep and a meditation / mindfulness practice.

Drums: All of section 3 above. Lock your equipment down and dial it in.

Till the next time


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