So proud to have been featured
on the cover of Drums Etc!
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Wayne Dyer
Drumming is so much more than grooves, paradiddles, and solos. Drumming is energy, expression, and service; it’s our own personal journey to uncover ourselves. As we move around the drumset like an octopus using all limbs, it’s easy to focus too much on technique. Drumming is the most physical instrument there is! But having the mental game together is where it all begins. We must win first in the mind, heart, and spirit, before the body.
“Playing drums is the simple part… the real challenge comes from working on your character.” Jim Blackley
Developing the physicality of drumming is simple, although not easy: training is repetition, consistency, and surrounding yourself with a great team of mentors and teachers. My guiding compass is always ‘work with nature, not against’, and ‘repetition is the mother of skill’. Like a dance, yoga, or martial arts space, you’ll see lots of mirrors and video cameras at my studio, giving consistent feedback on the movements of the body. Good flowing technique in your craft comes from consistent relaxed repetitions, but the fuel for this comes from the mind. Strengthening your mental game is what separates the excellent from the outstanding, and makes even the most simple drumming sound strong and profound. Who you are as a person, is who you are as an artist. The drums are only a mirror for what you have to express from your inner world. It reflects your experiences, dreams, and fears. Mindset is so much more important than is often realized, and is neglected by so many musicians. We need to take care of our minds at least as much as our bodies.
Here are some key areas that will improve your mental game whether you are in music, business, sports, or you just want to have some fun playing drums to enrich your life!
THE POWER OF WORDS
The words you say out loud and to yourself have great power. Some words drain our energy without even realizing it. Instead of ‘problem’ say the word ‘challenge’, and feel the difference! Patience is the key, just like growing a garden. How absurd would it be to see someone yelling at their garden for the seeds to grow faster? Beating yourself up to go faster actually slows down the process. The Chinese bamboo takes 4 long years of constant watering before seeing any growth at all. But if you are patient and consistent, it will shoot upwards of 90 feet in 5 weeks! What was happening during those first 4 years at the beginning, when no growth was visible? The plant was growing DOWN, laying strong roots. Guard your inner dialogue and spoken words to lay an unbreakable foundation. This is not just about thinking positively, this is about being real and taking care in using the power of our words in facing challenge and adversity.
THE MIND, THE VOICE, THE DRUMS
I got this concept from studying Indian drumming on the tabla. This is an oral tradition, where you must first be able to vocalize the rhythms before even touching the drum. Once you can hear, speak, and feel the rhythm, playing the drums follows naturally. This is the difference between a dream and a vision. Having dream is good, but it is whimsical and hazy. A vision is clear, with a path laid out to achieve it. See vividly the outcome by having a strong vision and your actions will follow, which turn into your habits. Intention leads to action. See what is possible first in the mind, construct a clear plan, and take ACTION, beyond the drums and into life.
INSPIRATION TO INTENTION
Inspiration is what goes in, and intention is what goes out. Be careful about what you put in your mind, whether it’s news, people, or environments. Studies have shown what is called mirror neurons in your brain help you to mimic behaviours of those closest to you. Have you ever noticed when you bought a particular pair of shoes, all of a sudden it seems everyone is wearing them? This is your brains RAS (reticular activation system) at work, seeking in the outer world what the focus is from the inner world. Whatever you put in your mind will affect how you see the world. Where are you finding your fuel for what you do? Are you out for yourself, or for serving a larger purpose?
There’s a great story about bass player Rich Brown in how he found his unique sound. When he first started learning, everyone around him wanted to emulate the great bassist Jaco Pastorius, and Rich felt he was just one of many trying to get the same sound. Changing his focus, he asked a different question: where can I get a different inspiration? Rich started to emulate the vocals of Stevie Wonder on the bass, and in time found his unique sound this way. Now, Rich is the one that many bass players strive to imitate. We gravitate to those that have the courage to speak strongly in their own individual voice.
NOT GIVING A F&@K
“You’re not really thinking, you’re just letting it happen. It’s a mixture of being completely focused, then slightly not caring.” (Shaun White, Olympic gold medal snow boarder)
Here’s the paradox: when we care so much about something, we must learn how not to care. Obsessing too much will smother it. This is the balance of yin yang, learning to let go and surrender. The story of the archery student in the book ‘Zen and the Art of Archery’ illustrated this when he finally let go and ’stopped trying’, after which the shot seemed to hit the target on its own. A surgeon or firefighter can lose lives in a moment of indecision, but we’re just hitting objects with wood after all! I like to remember that no one will think of me in a thousand years, and we’re all just turning to dust. This may sound cryptic, but it keeps me fearless and surrendering to the moment of possibilities, instead of trying to force the outcome. Tension is the enemy! Tightness constricts the muscle not allowing it to work, and the same is true in life. The paradox is, when you almost ‘don’t care’, you will perform at 10X the level you tried to force yourself to play at. Forget yourself to find yourself.
‘To Drum Is To Serve’
What is your WHY? Why are you putting yourself through the ordeal? This can be different for everyone, but thinking beyond yourself is key; to drum is to serve. This is what gets you through the tough practices, and the rainy days of doubt when everything is against you. Nothing about learning drums is easy. Having your WHY together is the beginning of the journey, our catalyst to serve the music. But let’s have FUN along the way! Humour is one of my favorite parts of this craft, we’re only hitting things after all! Children intuitively know drumming is about creating joy and laughter, but as adults we can easily forget this.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is the power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” Victor Frankl, neurologist and holocaust survivor
The breaking of the 4 minute mile record is fascinating. It was thought to be impossible, and if attempted, doctors even warned that the human heart would explode! Roger Bannister tried anyway, and broke the record in 1954. But the really amazing fact is that just one year later, 8 more college runners all broke the 4 minute mile. The only change was a shift in perspective, that runners now believed it could be done. Runners today safely have the proof that it can be accomplished, but Bannister went bravely into the unknown with faith and courage. Your drumming SOUNDS different when you think different. Qualities like risk, courage, and faith will shine through in your playing. Even physical aspects like health and technique start in your mind: being motivated by an IDEA and being INSPIRED to take action. I read a book on Sammy Davis Jr and it surprisingly made my drumming more lively and creative. I read a book on Navy SEALS, and this made my drumming sharper and more focused. It’s a mental game! What you put in your mind affects all areas of life. Feeding yourself stories of POSSIBILITIES will expand your own. Take great care to forge, flourish, and protect your thoughts. Begin first in the mind, and everything else will follow.
“Begin with RESPECT, move with REFLECTION, and end with GRATITUDE.” Chris Lesso
Chris Lesso is a world class expert on optimizing the power of drumming to bulletproof the mental game, and maximize all aspects of our lives. For more content, go to http://www.chrislesso.com