Power Vs. Force: A Definitive Guide for Drumming
Posted in Learn | Last Updated on October 4, 2018
As drummers, we speak with our hands.
This means that the tones and textures we create on our instruments are directly influenced by the way we move.
If you move in a tight and rigid manner, you’re going to speak in a tight and rigid tone. If you move in a smooth and relaxed manner, you’re going to speak in a smooth and relaxed tone.
This concept seems to be overlooked by a large number of members in the drumming community. It’s common to see someone playing with a great deal of tension during a passage that should be very relaxed or “digging in” to the drum head during passages that should be soft and played with finesse.
When dynamic levels increase and the volume is raised this idea only seems to become more pronounced.
Instead of using the beauty of physics to achieve loud volumes with beautiful tone quality, many drummers default to tightening up, flexing their muscles, and playing with an unnecessary amount of aggressive tension. This tension feels strenuous so it feels loud, but in reality, it sounds choked and actually works against the drummer causing them to exert more energy for an inferior result.
This is why you should use power to create bold musical statements, loud volumes, or accentuated passages, not force.
In this article, we’re going to break down the differences between power and force and why understanding the difference between the two matters.
Let’s get started.
The Birth of Force in Percussion
Force is a result of desperateness and is a seed that was probably planted in your playing the first time you picked up a pair of drumsticks.
As natural as the required grip and motions of drumming may seem, the beginning stages of learning how to play a percussion instrument is a bit awkward no matter what age you start learning.
“Where do my fingers go?” “How does my wrist move?” “Where should my elbow be?” “What do you mean my thumb has to stay there?”
These are common and valid questions for all drummers and rightfully so. After all, the functioning mechanics of these parts are crucial for the proper development of any percussionist.
However, for the sake of advancing, drummers often start grasping the stick too tightly and muscling the stroke down through the drum head in order to achieve the desired speed of an exercise or passage. The moment these factors occur is the moment they become a breeding ground for the seed of force to sprout and reproduce.
What is Force in Terms of Percussion Technique?
Force is an invisible entity that is embedded by inadvertent and violent resistance.
It is manipulative, constraining, asphyxiating, and greedy. It would rather be a detriment to your productivity than an asset to your cause. It spawns tension and bleeds rigidity. Force has no power but often attempts to perform the function of power as it strives to surmount the opposing energy by consistently changing form and position. It desires to deny the percussionist of comfort and musical liberty while feeding and growing off of its success.
Force is corrupt.
It appears in a percussionist’s body as stiffness and stress. Tight grips, pinched fingers, stiff arms, stubborn legs, taught shoulders, and obstinate wrists are all marks of force.
These marks are all successful tactics that force uses to limit your technical facility and cause damage to your body. By successfully implementing these tactics, force is able to stall your improvement and muffle your unique artistic voice.
Since all of the tactics force uses to succeed are detrimental to your musicianship and health, it is best to look at an element that will overcome force.
The only element that can overcome force is power.
What is Power in Terms of Percussion Technique?
Power is a liberator.
It is an invisible capacity that exists in bodies of confidence, maturity, and relaxation. It is calm but reserves the ability to exert authoritative dominance when needed to stabilize and resolve situations of turmoil. Power exists naturally as an independent entity and oversees the progression of positive work.
Power is pure.
It appears in a percussionist’s body as degrees of looseness. Relaxed yet controlled grips, flexible arms, steady legs, tranquil shoulders, and adaptable wrists are all marks of power.
Power is an extension of the individual and thus enables the percussionist to amplify his or her artistic voice. It promotes improvement and respects the limits of the human body. Through the implementation of these features, power is able to create and sustain a mature as well as a calm sense of movement.
The Future of Force in Drumming
It should be clear by now that the aspiring percussionist should seek power over force. However, as mentioned previously, the vast majority of drummers begin with a planted seed of force as they become desperate to advance.
The key question is how do we eradicate force from our playing and prevent it from growing and reproducing?
Well, it is impossible to provide strict and universal instructions for drum technique since no two bodies are the same. Thus, the discovery and adoption of power over force in your own playing will largely be the result of your own experimentation and self-exploration.
That being said, here are a few general guidelines that you can follow to start your journey:
1) Dismiss tense grips
It’s easier said than done, but becoming aware of tense grips and making a conscious effort to avoid them is the first step to dismissing them. Once you can identify a grip with too much force (tension), you can experiment and figure out how to get equal or improved results with a more powerful (relaxed) grip.
Note that this may require you to slow things down, isolate movements, and build them back up in a relaxed manner. It could take you months of work, but in the long run, the work is worth it for the longevity and consistency of your playing.
2) Allow the natural weight of your hand to work with your stroke
When using more powerful (relaxed) grips from guideline 1, you enable the natural weight of your hand to contribute to the sound quality and tone of the stroke. This often produces a much warmer and more resonant tone because the vibrations of the stick or mallet aren’t being choked at the moment of impact.
3) In situations where a fulcrum is needed (such as fast rolls), avoid extreme pinching.
Fulcrums are certainly necessary – no debate there. However, when you use a fulcrum be sure to use it wisely. Avoid putting the vast majority of pressure in a single point as too much pressure can easily convert to tension. Distribute pressure as evenly and widely as you can throughout your hands whenever possible.
4) Utilize the rebound that you are given
There are 3 essential drum stroke rebounds that every percussionist should know and use. Allowing the stick or mallet to rebound naturally after each stroke reduces tension and allows the notes to flow in a more natural way. Thinking of each stroke as a controlled rebound rather than a downstroke will allow you to stay relaxed when you play while still maintaining complete control.
All in all, force is a pesky character and will continue to emerge in different ways throughout your career. There’s no sure-fire way to completely douse it, but it is possible to be proactive about your playing and attempt to keep the outbursts to a minimum.
After reading this article, what do you think about force and power in regards to your playing? Is it something that you’re struggling with now or struggled with in the past? Please leave a comment with your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below!