Drum Injuries: Drumming Is Dangerous!
I’ll start from the beginning…from birth, but first, a disclaimer.
[This long-winded blog is not intended for personal use or to be taken internally, nor is it to be used as instructional material. Some of the information contained therein is purely conjecture, wildly inaccurate, highly improbable, and even possibly a lie. Some of the stories are based on actual events. Names have been changed to protect the
guilty innocent. If you have a drum solo that lasts longer than four hours, seek immediate medical attention.]
The oldest joke about raising children may be that they are never born with an instruction manual (silver spoon, maybe). While that may be true, there will more than likely be someone who feels you need help and will offer you a book(s). When I discovered that I was going to become a father, my friends and family buried me under a mountain of books on the subject of how to take care of babies/toddlers. It was subtle (like a brick), but effective. As I read through each technical tome of tutoring, I found out many things about babies and children that I was unaware of.
The following is a brief list of popular topics you will commonly find in books written on the subject of taking care of babies/toddlers. (these same topics are interchangeable with drummers)
- Bowel Movements (frequency, volume, color, consistency, shape, foreign objects)
- Urination (see list above for common concerns)
- Crying (won’t stop)
- Puking/projectile vomiting (see list above for common concerns – in the case of “possession,” test for presence of split pea soup)
- How do I remove poop/pee/vomit from (anything you can think of)?
- What’s wrong with my baby? (see “possession”)
- My baby is a genius. How do I plan accordingly to maximize expected monetary value? (not applicable)
- My baby swallowed a (anything you can think of), what do I do?
One thing I found missing from the mountain of manuals I received was just how dangerous babies/toddlers can be. They don’t tell you that your baby has a skull made out of steel and how they can instantly locate pressure points, or that they strike with the speed and force of Bruce Lee when you least expect it! They don’t mention that babies will inadvertently perform the eye gouge so well that you could swear they were related to Moe, Larry, Curly, or Shemp. They also neglect to inform you that babies will attempt to hoist themselves up onto your lap by grabbing anything in reach (hair, ears, nose, or much worse)! …and we haven’t even touched on the subject of the teeth! Oh, the horror!
Speaking of dangerous…some people may be unaware of just how dangerous drumming can be. Even less people may be aware of just how hazardous it can be when you combine babies AND drumming. Despite my better judgment (if I had a dollar for every time…), I decided to teach my daughter (who was not quite 1 at the time) how to play the drums. Instead of handing over my Limited Edition Sequoia 5B Specials, I handed her a pair of Rute 505s. I carefully stood behind her to help her balance on the throne, when all of a sudden she decides to stab me right in the damn eye! Later, at the doctor’s office, the optometrist gave me “The Look” when I told him what had happened. “The Look,” in this case, was part “Say what?” with a healthy dose of “You so stoopid!”
When I first started learning to play drums, I was terribly excited to get my hands on a pair of sticks and start hacking away on a drum kit like a psychotic lumberjack wielding dueling chainsaws. But noooooooooooooooo! My uncle, the band teacher at the little local school I attended, handed me some sticks and a practice pad. I’m not talking about a modern, hip, new-fangled “Porto Practice Pad” either! I mean one of those ancient relics made out of petrified dinosaur bones, painted blood red, bleached bone white, and emblazoned with a rubberized Ludwig logo on top!
I know some of my fellow drummers out there are cringing at the mere sight of these vile instruments of torture, but we have to be able to talk about these things in order to get past them. Anyway…where was I? Oh yeah…
That was the beginning of the end. There was no drum kit anywhere in site! All I could see was this damned tool of the devil sitting on the desk with a book next to it that was covered with a bunch of scribbles on it that vaguely resembled sheet music! But…obviously, it had been “adapted” into some sort of cryptographic nightmare that only an expert on the VIC cipher could understand! This wasn’t rock star training 101, this was HELL, and I had no idea of the pain that would be inflicted upon me!
Bring On The Pain!
After months and months of smacking that “practice pad” like it owed me money (Dolemite Style), I finally had the opportunity to play on a real snare! It was heavenly. …and by “heavenly,” I mean LOUD! It sounded like shooting nail-filled steel buckets with a shotgun loaded with deer slugs! Perfect! I never wanted to hit another practice pad as long as I lived after that experience. But nooooooooo! Apparently, when you sign up for drums, they fail to show you the fine print you signed in blood stating some shit about “in perpetuity” in regards to being tethered to the Chopping Block of Doom! Oh well, as long as I could also unleash my fff poundage on the real thing like a jackhammer destroying a street, I could try to learn to live with the stupid practice pad.
Just when you come to terms with all of the time you will inevitably have to spend in the woodshed improving your rudiments on a practice pad, they unleash the unholiest of tools that will become the source of nightmares for the rest of your life! The Pear of Anguish is a walk in the park compared to the incessant “tick, tick, tick” of a bloody metronome!
At this point, I would like to share something the late E.A. Poe* wrote about this particular devious device.
“…but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed, I raved, I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder…louder…louder! Anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear this noise no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! …and now, again! Hark! Louder! Louder! LOUDER! LOUDER! “Villain!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! Tear up the planks! Here, here! It is the beating of this hideous metronome!”
*Eugene Alabaster Poe, from his story “The Tell Tale Tick-Tock”
*this bastardization of “The Tell Tale Heart” is all in jest…apologies to the late, great Mr. Poe.
Okay…back to the damage and how all of this pertains to you, dear reader.
The first thing you will learn as a new drummer is how to hold the sticks. We’re not talking German, French, American, Traditional, or Matched grip yet. You will first be instructed to remove the sticks from any orifice you had deemed humorous at the time. Once the sticks are cleaned, you are then taught one of the common grips. Most people start right out of the gate with The Death Grip™. After a gentle reminder to relax, you settle into the wrong grip which you will have to unlearn years later. The Death Grip™ can aid in the acceleration of repetitive motion sickness injury disorder…or something, so stock up on Drumamine™. Learning to relax just enough to keep the sticks in your hands, but not loose enough to launch one into your mother’s Ming Vase or your favorite dog’s ocular socket, is just right.
One of the biggest problems with The Death Grip™ is that it encourages you to swing harder because you are already tensed up. While that’s acceptable when you hit the drum, it is not so good when you miss. Just like a toddler learning to walk, it takes time for a drummer to develop muscular control and coordination. Doing so will equate into better accuracy over time. Some of the most common accuracy-related incidents while practicing rudiments on the “Chopping Block of Doom” (aka “the practice pad”) are:
- hitting sticks together (accidentally, of course)
- hitting your own hand or fingers
- hitting the instructor (sticks optional)
- ear/nose clipping
- catching glasses with tip of stick and sending them into the nearest hard surface, landing with just enough force to break them
- “accidentally” destroying a 1st printing of “Stick Control: For the Snare Drummer” because it sounds better playing on the book
- Unintentional activation of the Rube Goldberg Massacre wherein you attempt a ffff quarter note down stroke at 50 BPM, missing the pad, shattering the stick, launching one piece into your eye, one piece into your opposite forearm, one piece into your boot, and embedding the hilt of the remains into your palm.
Finally, after years of a seemingly eternal rudiment damnation regimen under the oppressive ticking of the metronome, you are finally allowed to sit down at a drum kit. You have visualized this moment a million times! You have air-drummed along with all of your favorite John Bonham/John “Stumpy” Pepys/Travis Barker mash-up videos countless times! You. Are. Ready! At first, you are a bit uneasy on the decrepit throne. Your hands are already sweating…you are getting anxious…after waiting so long, you can no longer contain yourself.
You raise a hand into the air, engage The Death Grip™, swing down with enough force to kill an elephant, and accidentally slam the stick down into your groin! After tears are shed and pride is buried in a shallow grave next to any remaining dignity you may have had, you adjust the height of the snare and throne as a preventative measure in hopes of avoiding any potential sterility as a result of repeated injury to the previously aforementioned area.
You prepare to take a second swing. This time you re-calibrate your force, ease up on The Death Grip™, and take a smooth swing at the nearest cymbal. *CLANG!* Ah yes! The sweet sound of the finest cymbals that money can buy (made with 65% nickel, 25% sheet metal, and 10% recycled dental fillings). You are so excited that you close your eyes in bliss and repeat the process with more vigor, only to drive your knuckles into the edge of the cymbal and introduce yourself to the joys of Radial Arterial Spray! Now THIS is rock and roll, baby!!! Once a blood sacrifice is made to the drum kit, the deal with the devil has been signed!
This is your calling! You know what you must do! You immediately throw the practice pad out the window, burn the books, inundate the instructor with your finest colorful expletives, quit school, and join a rock band! You are going to be rich and smothered in the adoration of hoards of attractive fans!
Upon leaving school, you realize you don’t own a drum kit, so you find a part time job at the local burger joint and work just enough hours to purchase your first drum kit. It’s a fixer-upper! After replacing the broken spring on the kick pedal with something you found on your lawnmower, pouring a healthy dose of 3-In-One oil all over your Squeak King pedal, removing the bottom heads and hoops due to missing bolt thingies, drilling holes in cracked cymbals, duct taping cymbal stands in place to make up for stripped wing nuts, nailing the kick drum to the floor, securing the two-legged hi-hat stand by strapping it to your leg with a bungee cord, taping old socks to those ringy toms, stuffing every blanket in the house into the kick, and a quick glance at your handiwork, you are ready to rock! You call in to quit your job and begin scouring through craigslist for what is sure to be a life-changing connection with the band of your dreams! \m/
- Listing #1 – “drumer wantid 4 awsum band to rul thu wrld!!1!1!! must own van, pa, drumz, mics, lite sistem, n hav $$$ for beer!!!! hawt chix welcum!!!!!!!”
- Listing #2 – “NEEDED: talented drummer between ages 18-25, able to host practice 1-2 nights a week, able to play blast beats at up to 250 BPM, and be open minded to Ursusagalmatophilia lifestyle. No exceptions!”
- Listing #3 – “YO YO YO YO!!!!! WATTTTTUP?!? NEED FRESH BEATS!!!! DRUMZ-4-$$$$$ MAHFAKKAZ!!! SEND BEATS FIRST THEN GET PAID!!! NO BULLSHITTIN ON FRONT STREET!!! ILL MAKE U RICH!!! WAITIN FOR DEM BEATS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! CALL NOW!!!!”
- Listing #4 – “We need a male drummer…desperately. No age limitations. We will provide a drum set, practice space (our sound-proof basement), all the beer you can drink (and other stuff Johnny Law doesn’t approve of), and crash space for long, sweaty rehearsals. You don’t need talent. We can teach you everything you need to know. My bandmates Zed and Maynard are really talented and will show you a good time. Drop by the electronics shop any time! We are very excited to meet you and look forward to making music together! If you arrive early enough, Zed might take you for a ride on his chopper before the fun begins. Call 555-zeds-ded for more information and directions to our space.”
- Listing #5 – “Professional drummer required for progressive/math-metal-core/neo-classical/ragtime/deathjazz/Musique concrète-inspired project dedicated to performing the most brutal, complicated, modern re-scoring of German Expressionism era silent films made between 1921-1923. Must have high-end gear, ability to tour worldwide, between the ages of 21-26, no progeny or spouse to hold you back, and at least the bare minimum of a DA, MFA, plus the mandatory DM. We take our work seriously and so should you. No poseurs. No addicts. Mild krokodil usage is acceptable on non-performance dates. If interested, please call 555-5150 between the weekday hours of 8-9:15pm, EST, unless it’s during fall harvest of a leap year during syzygy.”
While all of these excellent offers may seem innocuous, most of us should see the obvious RED FLAG.
If you were paying close attention to the five ads listed above, you will undoubtedly have noticed in Listing #1 that the person who placed the craigslist ad spelled the word “welcome” incorrectly. As much as it may seem like nitpicking, not having the ability to spell something as simple as “welcome” may reveal some deep-seated issues that the person may be struggling with. They are quite possibly secretly torturing small animals and repressing urges to become a serial killer. It’s painful to say this, but the music world is filled with narcissists, hucksters, sociopaths, and people riddled with performance anxiety. Don’t make yourself a victim!
You would do well to read up on Philip “Lucifer Effect” Zimbardo, Wendell “Babysitter” Johnson, and Carney “Rat” Landis before jumping head-first into something you will regret. Let’s face it. Now that you are in the music biz, you will need to develop your analytical mind and channel your highly perceptive inner Sherlock Holmes in order to make good choices when picking musicians to work with (or purchase pharmaceuticals from, if that’s your bag).
After landing the perfect gig, you are attending regular rehearsals which consist of drinking cheap beer, one-handed bong rips between singing backing vocal parts, sharing girlfriends, and the occasional brawl that breaks out when the bass player suggests that the band let him sing one of his songs written about his cat. Being in a rock band requires that you set your volume to talent ratio up to 98% & 2% respectively. You’ve purchased the heaviest sticks you can find and regularly break chunks out of your cymbals. Fortunately, the shrapnel has only injured the guitarist two or three times, max, thus far. Nothing a bit of super glue and duct tape can’t close up, right?
…which reminds me of the time I received quite a nice slice on my arm from a piece of flying cymbal debris. When your cymbal starts to break, do yourself a favor and recycle it or cut it down into a smaller cymbal like a splash if you have enough left to work with. Don’t take a chance on injuring yourself, you cheap bastard. You’ll shoot your eye out!
Introducing the Amazing Drum Key! or “What in hell is that for?”
At a local bar, you have learned from some old drummer in a cover band that you can turn those little bolts (apparently called “tension rods”…whatever the hell that means) around the edge of the drum to make it sound differently. Pfft. Why would you do that? It’s not like all of the heads are broken yet and they sound fine as long as the sock doesn’t work it’s way out from under the tape. But…curiosity gets the best of you, so you take the money you swiped from the band beer fund and purchase your very first drum key.
As you turn the key, the drum head gets all wrinkly on one section, so you crank on one of the bolt things located next to the wrinkles and it smooths out the previous area. But now there are wrinkles on another section of the head. Damnit! After about twenty minutes of twisting away with the drum key mounted in a pair of vice grips, the head is now perfectly smooth and tighter than a modern modern-day indie label recording budget. The drum looks ready to receive the punishment it deserves, so you make like Paul Bunyan and swing. You land a perfectly executed rim shot that causes the head of the tension rod to snap off and fly across the room, reflecting off of the stolen stop sign and slam into the sunglasses you are wearing. BFD. It’s not like you would have lost an eye…and you still have the remaining four rods to hold the stupid head on…AND the drum sounds essentially just like it did before you “tuned” it up. You throw the key out the window which makes a nice *clunk* sound as it lands on the the Chopping Block of Doom.
Your band is really kicking ass now after two months of heavy rehearsals! The guitarist got out of rehab and the singer is no longer under house arrest. Life is good! You call every bar in town to get your first gig. You tell the owner/manager/bartender/soundman/booking agent guy on the phone confidently how you already know almost twenty minutes of music, how your band rules, how you do the most amazing metal version of “Electric Slide” and that you can easily bring in anywhere from between 10 to 12 or at the least 5 of your friends and family to pack the house!
After one painful rejection after another, you hit on the idea to ask the old drummer guy in the cover band if your group could open up the show for them. …and you won’t even ask for half of the money from the door. Surprisingly, he agrees, and your first gig is booked! The bass player knows a friend of a friend who makes killer flyers for bands and agrees to design some state-of-the-art work for you at a discounted price of $20 and a bag of weed. BAM! Now you’re a rock star with a gig and a potential drug dealing conviction. This is too easy!
Despite the flyers looking like they were made by a feces-smearing toddler on a formula bender, you get the last one placed thanks to the kindness (and free cellophane) tape of the person working the front desk of the local nursing home. Feeling good about yourself for having completed the job, you realize you still have time to drive to the gig for a few drinks before you have to play.
Your uncle arrives within minutes of your starting time and begins setting up the color light organ, lava lamp, and black light. He assures you that the exposed wires are not dangerous as long as you don’t touch them. He then leaves to work the night shift at the Lion’s Den down the road and reminds you to return his lightning system after the show. You use up the remaining drink tickets and prepare to destroy the audience with your awesome awesomeness! The lights go down, the bartender/soundman for the evening shambles over and flips the switch on to the karaoke mic machine, mumbles something about the headlining band, and sets the mic on top of the black light. The jolt of electricity that hits him from the bare wire instantly wakes him up. A bit of pep is added to his step as he bounds back to the bar to wait on the customer.
Here you are, at another major turning point in your burgeoning career as an illustrious rock star! You climb up the stairs on the side of the stage and manage to carefully balance your way to the back up onto the drum riser without hitting your head on the water sprinkler system. You sit ready at the kit. The guitarist quits trying to tune his guitar, the singer makes one final adjustment to his music stand and opens up the ring binder of lyrics. You make eye contact and smile at the bass player, which is always awkward because you can’t really tell which eye he is looking out of. They may point different directions, but he has a heart of gold and a face only a mother could love. The singer shouts out to the customer at the bar to drink up because he is about to get his ass kicked by the heaviest rock band in town and shouts out the name of the first tune! You raise your sticks, make one last assuring glance at your band mates, click your sticks together four times, and strike the downbeat of your first song! HELL YEAH! Everyone actually came in at the same time and you are off!
Nearing the end of your twenty minute set, you shift your weight slightly forward to stomp on the kick pedal. That’s when it happens. The pin at the base of the throne seat snaps, sending you plunging backward, over the back of the riser, past the stage, and down onto the filthy concrete floor! As you writhe in agony and try to catch your breath, you notice two things immediately.
- The band is still playing.
- The floor you are rolling on smells of piss, beer, excrement, and rotten eggs.
The former pleases you while the latter triggers your gag reflex.
The band plays the final ringing chord of “Mustang Sally” and turns back to wait for your drum cue to end the song only to hear the sound of splattering bile on concrete. It’s a hell of a finale and you can’t wait to get up and check the venue to see if anyone showed up to witness your greatness! You leave all of your gear on the stage and run out to ask the bartender/owner what he thought of your set. As he quickly turns to walk away, you hear the headlining band yelling at you to “get your shit off of the stage or we’ll throw it off!” Who the hell do they think they are, anyway?!? Don’t they know who you are??? No respect! That’s the last gig you play with those assholes! If you ever work with any other bands, you’ll be sure to warn them never to work with these jokers!
Gear is hastily yanked from the stage, then you wait outside for them to complete their set. Once they are done, you enter the venue and ask for your cut of the pay. They inform you that the bands have to split the cost of the karaoke machine and microphone rental. Since no money was made at the door, they tell you and your band mates to hand over $50 to avoid any trouble. Unfortunately, you have no money, experience isn’t on your side this night, and everyone in the band is broke and served a very generous ass-beating. You drag yourself into the alley behind the club, pile the remains of your equipment into the singer’s van, and head for home.
On the drive back, you and your band mates all agree that it was the greatest night of your lives and you can’t wait to do it again…and again. The van pulls up into the parking lot of your apartment, you hop out, wave goodbye, and they drive off. The eviction notice on your door doesn’t phase you because you have tasted “the good life.” Your future is set in stone. Nothing will stop you! Your girlfriend says you can stay with her for a couple of weeks until you get a job.
To recap potential drumming related injuries, here is an incomplete list to keep in mind when considering the
curse course of a drummer.
- scrapes and bruises (to self and others)
- severe lacerations
- eye gouge
- broken bones
- strains, sprains, and automobiles
- hearing loss
- finger jams
- carpel tunnel syndrome
- rug burn
- puncture wounds
- neck and back pain
- inflammation of neurosis
- liver failure
- drug charges
- jail-time/house arrest
- eternal damnation (not confirmed at the time of this writing)
Returning to that job at the burger joint doesn’t sound so bad now, does it? Think twice, cut once, and always sleep with your back to the wall.
tl;dr Drumming will kill you, or worse.
I’ll leave you with a video from one of my biggest inspirations.