I took my first drum lesson five years ago on September 15, 2016. Playing drums was something I had wanted to do since I was a child, and at the ripe old age of 48 I finally decided to go for it. I found my instructor online (the introvert’s way), but I knew instinctively he was the right person for the job because he had previously been a practicing Buddhist monk. It was going to take Buddhist-monk-level patience and calm to deal with my level of anxiety about this big step. I had spent most of my life up to that point purposely avoiding situations that made me uncomfortable, such as learning new skills in areas where I had no knowledge base. Meeting a stranger at a music studio so he could help me learn to play drums ranked about a 10 out of 10 on my discomfort scale. Still, I somehow managed to show up to the lesson, anxious as hell and sober as a judge. I remember that first lesson as an out of body experience. When it was over, I walked back to my car berating myself for being such an uncoordinated, nervous, and uncool dork. These are not things you want a drummer to be.
I persisted with my lessons, though, because Jeff was beyond awesome to me and for me. Ashamed as I am to admit it, there were several lessons in the first year where I got overly emotional when I couldn’t get a beat or fill or technique and wound up teary eyed and too stressed to continue. Jeff, thankfully, did not freak out at this crying middle aged woman and channeled his Buddhist training to help me get to a better mindset. As time went on, I began to believe I could actually learn to play drums. I had no plans of joining a band or performing in front of others. I simply wanted to be able to get behind a drum set, put on some headphones, and play along to songs I enjoy with some level of competency.
In March of 2020, when everything in-person shut down, so did my drum lessons. Jeff set up a situation where we could do drum lessons virtually, but it was not my thing. So, I stopped taking lessons. I told myself I would play at home, but I didn’t. There were four of us full-time in our house then, and taking up space and banging on drums didn’t feel right. When we moved to our new home, my sweet spouse suggested we have a room finished in the basement for my drum set. It was finished in January of this year, complete with insulated walls to quiet my noise. But, I still didn’t play. This is all on me. No one in my family said I should stop bothering them. I just felt awkward about it. Taking up space in my own life is something I have struggled with for years.
Today, though, I decided it was time to do something for myself that benefits literally no one else. I went into that tiny room in the basement and set up my drums. I put a poster on the wall. I dusted off the kit. I found all my drum notation and skill books. I located my metronome and charged my wireless headphones. And then I played. It was rough, but drumming is a motor skill that uses muscle memory, kind of like skiing or riding a bike. It didn’t take long before I was remembering beats and somewhat successfully playing along to some songs I knew well once upon a time. I was still awkward, but it felt good, like coming home.
I have decided to keep going. It’s good for me to keep learning. Jeff taught me how to read drum notation, and I have a plethora of song books to teach me how to play along with the Foo Fighters, Green Day, and Nirvana. Now that I have a tattoo, it seems like continuing drumming is compulsory, right? I’ve got some work to do to turn my little drum studio into my own oasis, but I am finally ready to make it my own.
I may never be a great drummer, but working on the skill is enough for me. It will keep my brain flexible as I age. Maybe someday my grandkids (when I have grandkids) will think I am badass too. That would be kind of cool.
I might need another tattoo, though.
My friend Christopher Olivas was the drummer for Berlin(as in Terri Nunn)! He’ll be here in two weeks to visit!
Gosh, I had wondered just a couple of weeks ago if you were still playing the drums! Good for you Justine for getting them back out!
Thanks, Gail. I am trying hard to make time for things I enjoy rather than simply zoning out and staring at my phone. Trying to unplug more often. I think the new puppy will help with that too!
Puppies always make things better!!!!
Good for you! Hearing that you’re playing once again makes me happy
I have just stumbled across your posts about drumming. I started 5 years ago (at 55!) and guess what – I have had the very same experiences. Your description of learning the groove for The Thrill Has Gone mirrors my own attempts at Creep which is the same, soooo hard to add that extra beat. Am embarrassed by the time it took to get it down – sort of. Anyway, keep going with the drumming and the writing.
Ross…I still struggle with that beat. Sometimes I nail it and am so proud. Then ten seconds later I’ve lost it again. Still, I feel the practice is what matters. I’m forging new neural pathways. It won’t always be perfect, but the gain is in the trying. Thanks for reaching out. Bang on!