I have had a very rewarding career as a Sports Medicine Physician over the past 27 years. I have had the opportunity to care for some of the world’s greatest and most famous athletes and have participated in the care of these athletes at the pinnacle of their careers, in front of thousands of fans. Performing these duties has never really phased me a great deal. This past summer I had the opportunity to stand on stage at Giant’s Stadium for the last performance of Bon Jovi’s “Have A Nice Day” tour. As I stared out at the sold out stadium of screaming fans I couldn’t help wonder if I had the opportunity would I have done something differently in life. During my high school and college days I was a fairly accomplished saxophonist and clarinetist and had aspirations of making music my career. During college, my interest began to turn towards medicine and eventually I attended and graduated medical school, completed my residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and two post-graduate Sports Medicine Fellowships. During that time and up until December 2001 I had not picked up my horns and to my disbelief, forgot how to read music. Granted, I could still play them, I just couldn’t read any longer. By this time I had a burning desire to learn to play the drums and get back into music. In December of 2001, I received a phone call from Gregg Bissonette who had given my name by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He came in as a patient, we became friends, he sat me down at the kit and my drumming career began.
Over the past 6 years I have had the opportunity to treat as patients some of the industries greatest drummers. It became quite evident that like the athletes I have cared for, these now middle age drummers were having the same orthopedic medical issues, such as rotator cuff tears, disc herniations, arthritis in every imaginable joint and other soft tissue conditions. During their visits I would often ask why do you think this has happened or what might have predisposed you to developing the problems that they were suffering from. It was from these conversations I realized that these interesting and influential individuals and drummers might be able to make a difference in a young musicians life. So I posed the question to Gregg Bissonette, Liberty DeVitto, Carmine Appice, Doane Perry, Myron Grombacher, Dave Weckl, and Jasson Bittner, “If you only knew then what you know now” what would you have done differently from a medical, social, family and personal stand point. If their collective wisdom and experiences could make a positive impact on a young drummers career or life and possibly prevent an injury or making the wrong choice, this article has served it’s purpose.
Gregg Bissonette is best known for his ability to play in a wide variety of styles. Gregg was born on June 9th, 1959, in Detroit, Michigan and later attended North Texas State University in Denton Texas where he became the drummer in the famed NTSU One O’Clock Big Band. After graduation from North Texas State University, Gregg became the drummer for Maynard Ferguson’s Big Band and moved to LA in 1982. Gregg has played with David Lee Roth, Joe Satriani, Gino Vannelli, Tania Maria, Brian Wilson, Robin Zander, Ringo Starr, James Taylor, Toto, Ray Charles, Don Henley, Santana and many others. Gregg got me started on the drums; he is a wonderful teacher and I credit him for any of the drumming ability that I posses which is not much.
Gregg Bissonette: Hello Drummers, I feel VERY strongly about this “If I only knew then what I know now” statement. In my junior high, high school, and even college days, I NEVER REALLY understood what it meant to COMPLETELY put the groove first. I would think about which beat I was about to play, or a certain fill I would do, but THE MOST IMPORTANT PART about playing drums I believe is focusing 100% on making sure that you are IN the groove and REALLY making the groove feel the best you can.
Now whenever I pick up the sticks, my #1 goal is to make people dance and feel good with the groove (this can be in ANY style). It makes me so happy to feel that I might be able to bring people joy with a groove. That is really what it is all about. I also wish I had warmed up for a few really big shows I did when I was in my twenties, instead of hanging out and schmoozing with friends and family an hour before the show. I always warm up really well now, but there were a few shows years ago that I know could have been better if I was completely warmed up!! God Bless all the drummers of the world…we can make people dance
Liberty Devitto was my inspiration to become a drummer. We grew up around the block from each other in Seaford, New York and attended Seaford High School. I was a few years younger but still have vivid memories of Liberty practicing in his back yard. Born August 8, 1950 in New York City, New York) of Italian ancestry, Liberty is an American rock drummer. Liberty taught himself to play the drums after seeing The Beatles on their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. In 1968, the same year he graduated high school, Liberty had the opportunity to play with Mitch Ryder. Throughout the seventies, eighties, nineties and up until the most recent 2006 tour, Liberty DeVitto has been the drummer for Billy Joel, the Hit Squad and has been a session drummer on recordings for many other artists.
Liberty DeVitto: From a medical standpoint I would have Protected my hearing. I have lost all high-end hearing. I didn’t care about the hearing loss when I was younger, I was having too much fun. Now I need to wear head phones just to hear the TV. You must workout! Keep your body at tiptop condition. From a lifestyle standpoint, I could have done without the artificial stimulants. Drugs and alcohol destroy, not create. From a family standpoint, traveling on the road separates you from your family. Still, I feel I was a good father and an ok husband. There is really nothing you can do about the separation. It’s the toughest part about going on the road. You hate to leave but you love to go away. It’s where the money is. You are helpless when something is wrong at home and you are a thousand miles away. I have been divorced twice and have had to build my relationship with my daughters. It’s getting better. Finally, from a social standpoint I have always stood strong and never compromised my belief in God, Country, or Family.
Carmine Appice was born December 15, 1946, in Staten Island, New York and first came to prominence in the late 1960s as the showy percussionist with Vanilla Fudge. Carmine is known for his showmanship, which includes stick tosses and twirls, power fills, and double-bass drum bombs. After five albums, Carmine and bassist Tim Bogert left Vanilla Fudge to form the blues-rock quartet Cactus. After leaving Cactus, Carmine and Bogert joined Jeff Beck and became the trio Beck, Bogert and Appice.
Carmine later joined Rod Stewart playing drums on and co-writing such Stewart hits as “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” and “Young Turks.” He was a member of the supergroup KGB, and has recorded with Stanley Clarke, Ozzy Osbourne, Ted Nugent, and Pink Floyd. He has also played in the bands King Kobra and Blue Murder.
Carmine Appice: Well I learned a lot in my career. A lot about my hearing, about career moves about staying healthy. Many, many things. Even about getting married to many times. So let me see if I can relay some of this to you.
I started my career with a successful first album from my group Vanilla Fudge in 1967. That was when all progressive music was underground and virgin. I guess we WERE ALTERNATIVE at that time. We had a first album that was almost Platinum in sales. We toured with the greatest Rock acts of the century Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and The Who. Led Zepplin was our opening act. We did Ed Sullivan show twice. We were ROCKIN. But we made a huge mistake. It was our second album. IT SUCKED. Why, because it wasn’t music. It was a concept album not created by us the BAND. It was created by the late great Arhmet Ertegun, the head of Atlantic records our label and our producer Shadow Morton. This should have been their album. All we had to do was the same as we did on our first big selling album. Do great arrangements of current songs. We had 4-5 in the can already. But we didn’t, we listened to Arhmet and Shadow and actually ruined our career. This album bombed so bad that we had to run into the studio and record our 3rd album really fast to try and save the band’s popularity.
In the end the band lost so much ground trying to recover from this album that it eventually broke up. What was on this album titled THE BEAT GOES ON. It had voices in time telling you all these political views, crowds chanting, Seg Hiel (to Hitler) and Black power, back and forth in stereo, at each other, Winston Churchill talking, Edison on his first telephone and there was hardly any music. If I had to do it all over I would have NEVER release this record. It Sucked!
Other things I would have done was wear ear plugs in my ears from the days of big amps. At one time I was playing in competition with five dual showman bass cabinets with two 15” speakers in each total 10 –15” speakers for bass with three 200 watt amps, 2 stacks of Marshall amps and 2- 200 watt amp tops for guitar, and an organ with 600 watt Leslie speakers, and me pounding my butt off with my maple oversized drums with two 26” bass drums and a 6 in. snare. I hit with the butt ends of my sticks to increase drum volume because there were NOT any PA systems in 1968. So I had to pound hard.
By 1973 with the Beck, Bogert and Appice group, we did have PAs and monitor systems and I had a monitor that was deafening. My ears use to ring after each gig. Luckily, I do not have permanent ringing in my ears like my partners Jeff Beck and Tim Bogert. I just lost lots of top end in my hearing. I didn’t notice it was happening, if I couldn’t hear the TV I turned it up. Not until I had kids and started living a normal life at home did I realize how bad my hearing was. In 1992 I went to get my hearing tested and fitted for musician ear- plugs. The people there told me I was a candidate for hearing aids. I said yeah OK!!! But I did start wearing earplugs. Musician plugs, which do a great job except when you’re pounding your butt off, and my drums sounded very small to me. I then started taking them out to do a drum solo. I needed to be able to hear the power of my kit coming from the stage. Then I would put them back in. Eventually I started wearing only one plug in one ear. After a while I started having to listen to TV with earphones. Even in the recording studio, my hearing started to suffer. I had to wear plugs in my ears and then the earphones. The studio earphones had so much top end that I could not hear anything else. Wearing the earplugs helped. This went on for years, I started to not be able to follow conversations at a dinner table. Then my new girlfriend Leslie insisted that I go for a hearing test and try to get some help. My sister recommended a guy near her work that would check my hearing and try out a hearing aid. Buy this time I couldn’t hear movies correctly in a theater and it was getting bad, so I went tried out the hearing aids and BAM I could hear much better. If I only would have worn ear plugs earlier in my career I would not have lost so much of my hearing. But I have it back when I wear these hearing aids. And the funny thing is that many of my drummer friends have the same hearing loss from playing drums. So my expression I use at clinics is: “WHERE EAR CONDOMS, SO YOU DON’T GET HEARING AIDS. “How true that is!
Well these were some things I would have done differently if I knew then what I know now and I’m sure I would have been better off.
Keep rockin Carmine Appice.
Doane Perry was born on June 16,1954 in Mt. Kisco, New York later attending Browning, St. Bernards and Collegiate Schools tghen New York University for 1 year and extension programs at The New School, Rutgers, and Julliard.
Doane began playing piano at age 7 and by age 11 when the Beatles came along I took up the drums. By age18 Doane turned professional and began doing everything he could to gain a wider musical background. Doane has been the long time drummer for Jethro Tull.
Over the years Doane has worked with a wide variety of gifted artists and bands including Lou Reed, Bette Midler,Todd Rundgren, Pat Benatar, Martha and the Vandellas, Peter Cetera, Dweezil Zappa, Laura Branigan, Dionne Warwick, Liza Minelli, and Stan Getz to name a few.
Doane Perry: In recent years I have noticed a marked and sharp change in my body’s willingness to cooperate as it once did so naturally when I sit down to play the drums. Years of very strenuous, physical playing, in the studio and on the road have suddenly come to collect the long overdue bill.
When I think of it in terms of the arc of the average professional athlete’s career, I consider myself and those of my musical colleagues of a similar vintage, extraordinarily fortunate. You won’t find many professional athletes who are engaged in seriously strenuous sports still able to function professionally into their 40’s or 50’s without some playing related injuries or chronic physical problems. Musicians generally have a much longer professional career that they enjoy but we all face different playing injuries that are simply a result of the repetitive nature of our work, our personal physiology and the idiosyncrasies of our particular instrument and set up. Drummers in particular can have more of a range of physical difficulties due to all the variables that exist based on the way we sit and the positioning of our equipment.
However, knowing what I do now and looking back at how I arrived here, there are a number of things that I would have done differently and certainly paid more attention to in the early stages.
From my early 20’s onward, I always played with my larger crash cymbals fairly high. Having seen a number of great drummers who placed their crashes high, I thought that it created a dramatic visual effect, without giving any thought as to what the actual physical consequences and repercussions might be! While that was fine then because I was younger, stronger and more resilient, my slightly less resilient, battle scarred body now takes exception to this practice.
Tendonitis and arthritis can also be an unfortunate by-product and a common occupational hazard amongst many drummers regardless of cymbal height. However, if this is recognized and dealt with in its early stages, many more serious long-term problems can be avoided. Both of these conditions I have dealt with reasonably effectively for a number of years through a combination of physical therapy and certain nutritional supplements. Unfortunately they were a precursor to a much larger problem despite the steps I took to deal with the early symptoms.
Consequently, I have recently been diagnosed with having a substantial tear in the rotator cuff of my right shoulder and a partial one in my left. This is something any musician really wants to avoid at all costs, as it is an extremely painful condition and one, which is not always simply treated. As a result, I have dropped my larger crash cymbal heights down considerably. They now sit slightly below shoulder height and could probably go even lower, but I am trying to gradually adjust things so that there still remains a familiar “comfort zone” in terms of the way I orchestrate my parts, but within a more contained area. I have also experimented from time to time with removing my third rack tom and placing the ride cymbal there, low down and almost directly in front of my right hand. Although it means having to change certain linear patterns on the toms due to the geographical jump, it has also opened up certain other patterns that would have been impossible before. For many years my set up remained very similar but my recent physical challenges necessitated a rearrangement of my gear and I am glad for that, as it has in turn, opened up new ways of playing that I might not have considered before.
Another very critical area that is often overlooked when one is younger relates to hearing protection. I cannot emphasize this enough. We have all read about the terrible effects of tinnitus and related hearing loss but often until one experience it first hand, can you really understand the gravity and long-term implications of such a condition. I have been in situations where I have been required to play very softly counterbalanced by other situations where I have been required to play very loudly. Drums, by their nature, can often times be quite loud instruments. Cymbals in particular, weigh in on the more seriously damaging side of things as well as repetitive, loud rim shots on the snare drum. For many years while I was in my 20’s, I never wore hearing protection, even in the loudest situations and I regret that now. I simply got accustomed to the ringing in my ears that would follow playing loud concerts or even having my headphones set too loud for extended periods in the studio. I started with simply wearing earplugs because I became concerned about the ringing in my ears, which was lasting longer and longer and getting louder and louder. And I was getting a lot of headaches, admittedly self-induced!
When in-ear monitors first began to be introduced I immediately tried them and it didn’t take long to adjust to this more effective way of not only blocking out harmful frequencies but also hearing the other musicians clearly at more sane audio levels. Additionally, this eliminated the post-gig ear ringing and it also substantially improved my touch on stage. It allowed me to hear all the elements of my drum kit with much greater articulation, with the hi-hat and cymbals being particularly enhanced by this new method. I was able to hear my hi-hat and ride cymbal with much greater clarity and as a result I could play them with a wider dynamic range and actually hear everything. What a revelation!
Looking back with the wonderful benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I also have recognized my highly “workaholic” habits of behavior. While this has served me very well up to a point, giving me incentive to practice, study and gig constantly, it also has a down side. I was quite happy working 16 hour days, doing sessions and live gigs, for literally months on end, with hardly a day off. I am not complaining at all as it my choice entirely to take on so much and I feel that it helped me enormously while serving my “apprenticeship” in the music business. It was what I believe I needed to do to get somewhere. It helped me to develop focus, drive and discipline and I’m sure many other professionals, whether they are doctors, lawyers, athletes or artists have felt it necessary to put in those hours at some point, in order to get where they wanted to go.
My difficulty is that I didn’t learn when or how to stop or even curtail some of that behavior. Even after I joined Jethro Tull I enjoyed the challenge of doing all of these other outside projects when the band wasn’t working… And we worked a hell of lot to start with. And despite the fact that they were all musical projects I really wanted to be a part of, it still added up to a LOT of work and not enough time off. I think I have finally learned the value of pacing myself and having time to reflect.
Enjoying time with my wife and family or simply sitting alone in the garden, contemplating or reading is highly valuable, rewarding and restorative time and I wished I had discovered the value of this practice long ago. In part, this was a very hard won lesson, as I just kept working and working, despite overwhelming fatigue at times. My body finally rebelled and started really letting me down in the last few years, which resulted in several different surgeries, including ones on my feet, back and this current condition in my shoulder. Some of those have been a result of genetic inheritance and some directly as a result of the work that I do. Nonetheless, I have come to believe that because “I” wouldn’t stop, my body finally stopped me instead and said, “ENOUGH!” I finally got the point and now I am really trying to achieve a meaningful balance between work and the rest of my life. So, if I can offer any personal advice from the perspective of age 53, it would be, slow down a bit, pace yourself, enjoy the scenery and all of the life around you, your family, your friends and not just your work or your time off. Take time to reflect and don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. It all goes by pretty quickly and I think each one of us would like to reach that inevitable end point and be able to look back and feel we have led a life well lived and loved.
Myron Grumbacher is a charter member of the Woodland Hills Drum Club with his long time friends Gregg Bissonette, and Doane Perry. Myron is best know for his work playing drums for Rick Derringer, Bob Dylan, Lita Ford and Pat Benatar.
Myron Grombacher: So my good friend and fellow drummer and physician in residence to the Woodland Hills Drum Club calls me and Says, I’m writing an article dealing with a drummers life-style and I want to know if there is anything you would have done differently if you had the chance. What? I said. Is there any thing you would change about, What, I said? In fact I say what a lot because of hearing loss. Why, because I never, ever wore any hearing protection. In fact I loved it loud! Loved it! In the good old arena rock days too much was not enough. You would start rehearsal with just a floor wedge, then another, and then maybe an S4 column, then another and another. Soon you’ve got you’re own mega watt sonic reducing temple of pure noise. Not that I needed it, I was hitting the drums so hard the heads barely lasted the night. The floor toms would leave the ground from sheer trauma. Houston we have lift off!
Patti (Benatar) used to call it death by snare drum. And my brother in noise Neil (Giraldo) and I would put a Marshall stack just to the right of the drum monolith. Fortunately, Jeff Chonis my trusty side kick wore the same dead phones favored by airline ground crews and I believe has fared a bit better than I. And click tracks, I won’t even go there. Now a day, we have inner ear monitors and headphones that limit outside noise, so you can slam and jam and not have to be a click cranker! So the life lesson from me to you is always protect your hearing. The damage is pretty much irreversible and some day you may want to listen to something soft and beautiful. Finally, I would limit swinging from the gong stand. Every time it’s cold and rainy, I revisit Madison Square Garden and the Kelsy Seebolt clinic in Dallas Texas. Like St. Anthony’s said “THEY SOUND BETTER WHEN I HIT THEM HARD “, but never ever without protection.
Dave Weckl has developed and maintained a reputation among fans, peers, and the international music community as one of the greatest living drummers. For this, he has received numerous accolades and honors; Modern Drummer inducted Dave into their Hall of Fame and named him “one of the 25 best drummers of all time.”
Born in St. Louis Missouri, January 8, 1960, Dave started playing drums around the age of 8.
At age 16, Dave began to work professionally with local pop and jazz groups. In 1979, he moved to the East coast to study music at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. At just 19 years of age, Dave was getting recognized. Dave has played on the prestigious Simon and Garfunkel reunion tour in 1983 an on numerous radio and TV jingles, sound track sessions, and top recording dates with such artists as George Benson, Peabo Bryson, Diana Ross, and Robert Plant. Dave has played with Chick Corea prior to becoming a solo artist. Dave has recorded and produced nine recordings to date.
A constant student of the art of drumming and music, Dave gives back every chance he gets through clinics and classes all over the world.
Dave Weckl: I am blessed and thankful to be able to say I have been playing drums for more than 40 years now. I don’t plan on stopping any time soon because the quest to always find a new path; something different to play and learning about new and different music from far away places, are life-long desires.
Unfortunately, finding the time to keep doing it and having the body cooperate without protest to the endless hours it takes to satisfy the quest is a challenge. In fact, there are many physical and emotional hurdles to overcome along the way.
I will try to shed some light on the hurdles I have faced and what I might change looking back at 40 years of playing. First, I’ll start with things that I would not change. These things emanate from my family and social standpoint, and have helped shape who I am.
I am an only child, and my parents gave me the foundation and freedom to choose my path. I still thank them every day for this. They gave me guidance and helped me in so many ways.
Of course, it was still up to me to make the choice that playing the drums was to be more than a hobby – much more. But the guidance they gave and my own belief in drumming and music shaped my decision to pursue it as a career. I would never change this – the belief in what I wanted and the belief in myself.
Being a kid though, other things eventually entered into my ‘time space’ arena. I loved sports, and played a lot of them between the ages of 6 – 13;mostly baseball, soccer, and football. This is where some distractions and physical hurdles came into play.
It was that one-year of football, and probably soccer over the other six years, that messed up my knee. My dad tried to talk me out of the football thing; I was too small, and he knew it, but peer pressure kicked in. I was 13 and girls were starting to be important! I wanted to be a jock and get some attention from the cheerleaders!
If I could go back and make that choice again, I definitely would not have played football. My right knee, although not needing immediate attention then, became a real problem in my late 20s. It inhibited me from playing the foot pedal the way I wanted to, and this condition eventually became quite painful.
I ended up having knee surgery in the early ’90s and, although it got better, my knee really never came back 100%. This was probably due in large part to the continued stress of playing drums (and still wanting to be a part time jock!).
One thing I have definitely learned regarding drums and knees: your pedal and bass drum muffling/tuning practices can definitely affect how much shock your body absorbs. The more dead your bass drum is from padding and/or thicker heads, the more shock to the body.
Over the past 10 years, I have tried to muffle my bass drums a lot less, and even helped design a muffling system with Remo to aid in the effort. The idea was to let the head ‘give’ a bit, allowing the drum be more responsive and less shocking to my body.
A thinner head helps, too. The best scenario is to play a double headed drum, and get the beater out of the head (the latter also being important from a musical standpoint). Then, the drum can respond like the rest of the drums on the kit.
Some pedals are very stiff feeling too, not able to dissipate shock very well, so it goes up through your leg. Using straps instead of chains, and felt beaters, seems to help.
One good decision I made after that fateful year of football was that drums would be my focus. I dropped out of all organized sports that next year, diving into heavy practice, no longer letting peer pressure determine how and where I spent my time.
I was in junior high now, and had just gotten into the high school jazz band. The inspiration (and necessity!) to get better was very strong. Again, this is something I would not have changed: the strength and determination to follow my own path.
But this does bring up another aspect of being a hard-working and focused person: you don’t have to lose you social skills! For me, it simply has meant picking friends wisely, and hanging out with whom I WANT to, not because I feel I HAVE to.
This also brings up other aspects of coming-of-age as a person and especially a musician.
Drugs and alcohol can be a temptation for anyone growing up, especially those who hang in musical circles. But getting into these things did not fit with the goals I was chasing as a musician or a person, so I never altered my course in that regard. I had no interest in polluting my body and making life harder than it already was!
I was stressed a bit about this early on in my career because I knew the stereotype of some people in the profession. Thankfully, by the time I got to New York in 1979, the industry was changing.
It was no longer cool to be high, at least not in the circles I wanted to get into, which was the studio/live scene in New York City. I was very happy to discover that my playing and my character could help me gain the respect I needed to succeed.
Again – the same lesson: stay strong.
As I got a bit older, having moved to the East coast, I started to climb the ladder of progress and success. The hours of practice and ‘use’ of the body too not only play the drums, but also to MOVE them too, got more intense. This is when more of the physical aspects of the job began to take their toll, particularly on my hands, arms, shoulders, and neck.
These are problems any drummer can face – and I have become a bit of a spokesman for these conditions over the years.
Let’s put it this way: anytime you hold your body in an “unnatural” position for long periods of time, you are asking for trouble, and pain! This can cause an endless domino effect.
For example, I used to play my main ride cymbal pretty high to the right of the second rack tom on the bass drum. This positioning was necessary to attain the clearance necessary to hit the rack tom cleanly, and still be able to get to the ride.
The problem is that it caused me to have my arm up in the air, thus crunching my shoulder against my neck. This caused nerves to eventually get pinched, causing numbness in the fingertips and hands – eventually leading to my hands freezing up.
When adding the stress of carrying lots of boxes and equipment, things got bad, leading to a catastrophic event while playing live in South America. I was playing a show with my newly-formed group, and after a very successful first set, we came back out to play a “labor intensive” song. I was “stretching out” to play all the parts, some of which requiring me to focus on percussion to my left. I got through most of the song fine, but during the drum solo, my hands just froze!
It wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling, but it had always been the right hand that would go, and that only happened a few times in the 25-30 years I had been playing. It was usually a temporary condition, but not this time. BOTH hands froze, and I could not hold a stick! For the first time in my career, I had to stop the show, get up, and announce to the crowd, “sorry, I need to take a break here!”
I really had no idea of what to do! Ice? Heat? I was in South America on top of it, so English-speaking people were not all that accessible! It was very frightening to say the least.
I ran hot water over my hands to try and get blood flowing while also stretching them out. I went back out 25 minutes later and somehow finished the show, walking on eggshells the whole time.
I was eventually told that this was due to ‘repetitive motion’, and later, the 5th vertebrae hitting nerves due to being out of place. I was also told this was caused by being in the wrong position for too long, including when I slept, but especially when I played the drums.
I went to Gordon Chiropractic where Arlo Gordon and team (yeah Arlo and Dr Mike!) “fixed” me, with nutrients, adjustments, and advise. I bought a pillow that keeps my spine straight no matter how I sleep, and I set up my gear so as not to reach unnaturally.
I also stopped playing matched-grip almost altogether, as I was switching back and forth quite a bit in those days, causing muscle tension. I am now relying on my old tried-and-true traditional grip. The neck/hand problem has not returned now in more than seven years, thankfully.
The lesson in all of this- As you get older, pay attention to how you sleep and your pillow choice. Try and keep your neck straight.
On the kit: set things up to reach everything without moving your body too much in any direction. Don’t LIFT a lot of heavy things, especially with your fingers! Figure out how to get someone else to do that! Barter if you have to! Offer a free lesson in exchange for carrying your stuff! And hire movers!
Of course, you never know what is going to catch up with you down-the-road. A few years ago, from playing traditional grip and still reaching a lot for that percussion (and probably from doing a chest fly on a Bowflex machine), I started to develop a shoulder problem in my left side. MRIs revealed a small tear in my rotator cuff.
Many drummers have had this problem, and after calling around, the author of this article, Luga Podesta, was referred by many. He sent me to a physical therapy practice called ‘Athletic PT’ in Thousand Oaks, CA, where the staff (Eric Honbo was in charge of me most of the time) really knew their stuff.
Through small, lightweight but intense exercises, they helped rebuild a lot of the smaller muscles around my shoulder tear and the biceps tendon that was out of whack, too. Once again, I seemed to have beaten the odds, and had managed to continue playing fairly uninhibited.
What I learned? Don’t reach so much back and behind you when at the kit. Again: setup is important to stay in a more natural flow with the body. And – be careful with weight-bearing exercises that can cause injuries!
My biggest problem now is an arthritic thumb in my left hand. I believe this condition, though partially due to heredity, is also due to playing the traditional grip far back in my hand for so long while slamming backbeats. This is something I don’t do now, and haven’t done for many years, but know has caused a lot of stress on my thumb for many years.
My point in mentioning it is to think about your positioning, both how you hold the sticks, and how you hit the drums. Since I was going back and forth so much from traditional to matched grip, the kit was set up to try to accommodate both – a fairly impossible task in terms of heights and angles.
In my latest video series, ‘A Natural Evolution’, I go into great detail about approaching the kit from a natural standpoint, and setting up that way as well. Get the sticks to work for you, to bounce, so you don’t have to work so hard to play. Most of this approach is the result of what I have learned from my most recent teacher, Mr. Freddy Gruber.
These physical conditions, which many drummers go through, are all works-in-progress for me. The best you can do is try to prevent bad things from happening, but also learn how to cope with the inevitable issues that come up.
The same can be said for the personal stresses that working musicians often face.
At the end of the day, achieving excellence in music or any career means making some choices. Particularly in music, where rehearsal time and travel take a toll, it is important to be honest with yourself and the people in your life about the realities of the business.
An aspiring musician needs to have undistracted time to focus on the craft while also having time to perform music as part of a career. Life has many distractions, but a relationship needs to be built around an understanding of these needs, or trouble can arise, causing more distractions, and inhibiting creativity and growth.
Undoubtedly, our physical and emotional lives are intertwined. The moral of the story: there will be plenty of physical and emotional hurdles to overcome in our lives. There a plenty of things we all can look back upon and want to change.
For me, learning how to make wise choices in my personal and professional lives is an ongoing area of growth. But at the end of the day, I can honestly say that the things I would keep the same far outweigh the things I would change.
That inner-strength and my parents’ guidance led me on a path I know I was meant to follow. Clearly, this is the most important part of the equation.
Jason Bittner, a native of Albany, NY, started taking formal drum lessons at the age of ten years old, however he had been banging on pots, pans, and garbage cans since he was about five. He continued to take lessons and perform before heading off to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in 1988.
Jason left school to begin playing in various metal and hard rock bands throughout the late eighties and early nineties
In 1994 he joined Stigmata, who was, at the time, one of the biggest hardcore bands on the New York scene. Over the course of the next 7 years, he recorded 3 albums, released a home video, and toured the U.S. and Europe.
In the fall of 2001 Jason joined Century Media recording artists Shadows Fall for whom he continues to play with today. Bittner has received numerous accolades including his first Modern Drummer Reader’s poll for #1 Up and Coming Drummer of 2004, the 2005 Modern Drummer readers’ poll #1 Best Recorded Performance, and #1 Metal drummer in 2005 and 2006.
Janson Bittner: From a medical standpoint I have had a chronic arm/shoulder/neck issue for years that started with the arm, and then other areas started to become affected due to the weak arm. The first thing I would have done differently was LISTEN to the Doctor, who told me to take 3-4 weeks off, rest the arm, and not play in 3 different bands. Unfortunately I was young (26), naive, and I thought I was invincible. Well long story short, I made the issue worse, and have had to deal with it for years. Injuries are no fun on the road (not to mention the hundreds of dollars I spend for massage therapy while on the road). Fortunately I’ve had the good fortune to work with Dr. Podesta over the last year, and I’m happy to say that I’m feeling much better now concerning that problem. My arm isn’t 100% and it may never be (due to my past stubbornness) but it’s way better than it was! From a lifestyle standpoint, I would have listened to my mother who always told me I was doing to much to my body A typical day used to be 2-3 hours of intense drumming, followed by a 2 mile run, and then a trip to the gym later for a work out. I’ve realized many, many years later that the 2-3 hours of drumming was enough for one day! Besides, I didn’t have the genetics to be a bodybuilder! From a social standpoint knowing what I know now, I would have never taken back any ex-girlfriend who cheated on me once, because if they did it once, they’ll do it again!
For me I will stick with medicine and continue to take care of my newfound friends aches and pains and continue to improve my skills as a drummer. As most of these legends are around my age, I can only commiserate with what they have been through and what they are feeling. There are many lessons that can be learned from these experienced individuals words. You don’t have to make the same mistakes as we have. We continue to learn throughout are lives in many ways, through experiencing life, through failing, after succeeding and from listening to and observing others accomplishments and mistakes. Take these individuals life experiences and learn from them. Don’t allow yourself later in life wonder “If I Only Knew Then What I Know Now!” By then I may be too late.