In an earlier post, I talked about developing headroom. Headroom is the ability to do more than you need to do in a given situation. This post is part confession, part illustration of how I learned about headroom in my own playing.
While a college student, I studied with Jay Lawrence for a while. At a certain point he was putting me through some very complex, difficult exercises every week, and demanding that I play them up to a certain standard. One week, after having practiced particularly hard, but having not gotten up to par on an exercise, I got a little frustrated at the lesson. The conversation went something like this (I'm paraphrasing, but you'll get the point).
Keith: Jay, when would you use something like this in an actual performing or recording situation?
Jay: Oh. You probably wouldn't.
K: WHAT?! Then why are you making me learn it?!
J: (Laughing) Here. Let me show you something. See this groove exercise you were working on a few weeks ago? Was this one pretty hard?
K: Yeah, I hated that one. Super hard.
J: Well, I want you to play it.
K: Wha..? Now? I haven't practiced it for like three weeks!
J: Just give it a try.
I then proceeded to play the earlier exercise. Not only was it much easier than I remembered, but it was immediately cleaner and clearer, and much more musical. Jay had made his point.
By constantly challenging me to play increasingly complex patterns and exercises, he was building my musical muscles, so to speak. What used to be hard became easier, and what seemed impossible at first became realistic.
Again, the whole point of headroom is to be able to do more than you have to, so that you can do what's required of you comfortably and with style. Then, instead of being at the edge of your abilities by default, you can choose when and how to push your own envelope while being more musical, engaging and sensitive.
Drumming - and all music - should be fun. And the better you are at it, the more fun it will be.
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