I signed up for a drumming class. Not rock-style drum kit, but djembe–West African drum. No sticks, just hands. I took it because a friend of mine who teaches chanting suggested it. I’m tone-deaf, can’t sing, and don’t listen to music. Cooking Man doesn’t even want me to sing Happy Birthday to him. Even on his birthday.
The man who teaches the class has deep knowledge and experience. How he got eight people to drum together and make interesting music was interesting fun. It was also amazing.
One of the people asked if we could learn more than one thing to practice. Another one asked if she could try the technique on another drum so she would not get bored.
“You have much more to practice than one groove,” said the teacher. “You have to practice hitting the drum so it makes the same sound every time–not rattly, not metallic, but a rich, deep boom. Then you have to get to get good with timing. So the beat is the same every time.”
And then he said something that is so true about any art: “The joy is in going deep, not just accumulating. There is a problem when we accumulate more and more but no longer have any depth. You can have ten drums, but if you don’t know how to really play one of them, you have nothing.”
I thought about this driving home. Don’t we do that with art supplies–buy more and more of them, always going after the one we don’t have, because surely it will be the one that makes us a genius? I know people who have a bookcase filled with unread books. They just buy them, never read them. (Yes, I have a stack next to the bed, but eventually they get read. If I don’t, they go to a used book store. I can’t remember when the last time was that I had to do that.)
So I sit down with the drum, and for 20 minutes, all I did was try to make the rich, deep boom consistently, every time. I’m getting better, but it will take a lot more practice before next week’s class. Practice is good only when you know what you are practicing and why. Oh, and take of your rings when you drum. Otherwise you’ll get a blister.
—Quinn McDonald teaches writing and other communication.