Blues drumming is a lot harder than it sounds. I’ve learned in the past year that a song which sounds easy usually isn’t. It may sound easy because it’s easy to listen to with a distinct, catchy melody and a constant groove, but I’ve learned that if it’s easy to listen to then somebody worked really hard to make it sound like that.

Blues songs are easy-to-listen-hard-to-play kinds of songs. They sound simple because they have a repeating chord progression – I, IV, V— but they are hard to play well. That’s what the guitar is playing anyway. For me, the drummer, it’s not about playing the one chord or the four chord but about playing triplets. Playing triplets means playing a sticking pattern that goes like this: left-right-left or right-left-right. Three strokes for each eighth note beat. That might sound simple, but it isn’t – at least for me. I’ve been playing straight rock beat for almost 2 years which has just two strokes for an eighth note: right-left or left-right. Adding that third stroke is killing me. It’s hard to explain why. But let me put it this way. Let’s say you have a full-time job and a family. And let’s say after a few years you have the routines down. You wake at 6 am, your spouse wakes 15 minutes later; while he or she is showering you wake the kids and start breakfast. Once the spouse is out of the shower, you can take yours. The spouse then eats his or her breakfast, finishes getting the kids ready for school or day care and while you’re putting on your shoes, you eat a bowl of cereal and watch the TV weather. When you finish the cereal, you put the bowl in the dishwasher, start it running, grab a briefcase and hustle the last kid out of the kitchen into the garage. Everyone piles into one car while the other spouse takes off in his or hers. You go to work. The spouse goes to work. Then someone picks up the kids and then you have another routine. Let’s say you have been successfully managing that routine for a while.

Now, let’s say, for some reason, you don’t know why, you decide to get another job after work. And let’s say you thought it was a good idea, but once you started you realized that the routines would be far more different than expected. But now you realize that every routine which went smoothly before just starts falling apart because you inserted something new. So, you wake up late because you’re tired from your second job, the spouse takes the shower, but you’re still in bed when he or she gets out. No one woke the kids. The breakfast isn’t ready. No one knows what the weather will be and you’re still tired. Then you wonder: is the second job such a good idea?

For me, that’s what learning triplets feels like. I’m learning triplets because I wanted to play blues songs that I love and that would be fun to play in Chicago: Get Your Mojo Working, Sweet Home Chicago, Mannish Boy, etc. But I didn’t realize how hard it would be for me to learn. I was used to the routine of the basic rock beat. I knew where I stood with it. I knew what to expect. It felt right. My hands alternated the strokes effortlessly. But blues…and that third stroke…where does it go? How do I make it fit into my routine? That’s when I get frustrated. I start breaking a sweat at the practice pad. My arm and wrist muscles tense, my jaw clenches. I get angry. Am I so stupid, I wonder, that I can’t learn this?

And then I have to remember: it’s just drums. It’s meant to be fun. But like a lot of things that I do, I sometimes forget that I started doing it to have more fun, not less. And if I treat drumming like a second job, then it won’t be fun. That’s when I have to let go. Take a breath.

I pick up the sticks again. Left-right – oop! Okay, once again: right-left…right. Left-right…left. Breathe.

And stroke by stroke, breath by breath, I find my way back to why I started to the play the drums: to have fun. I’d like to end this posting with the phrase: and before I knew it I was jamming on Sweet Home Chicago….

But that would be premature. Left-right…left?

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