The Emergence of Air Drumming

by Omar on July 18, 2009

in Editorials, Education


If we look around in the drumming landscape, we'll notice that air drumming is garnering a little bit of attention lately.

For example, the movie "Adventures of Power" glorifies wannabe drummers and shine the spotlight on the guilty pleasure of thinking we know what the real drummer is doing! Recently as well, DrumChannel.com hosted an air drumming contest with Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chickenfoot) where you could submit via video your air drumming prowess in hopes of winning a prize for the most views.

So what's the deal? Is air drumming for real? Are those who are pretty accurate in their renditions able to seamlessly transfer their skill to the drum kit? Transfer, yes! Seamlessly, well, no. But it's a great place to start.

Much can be said about the power of visualization. There have been studies conducted that have shown that if you visualize a specific task repeatedly, you are more likely to execute it successfully (notice I said more likely - I didn't say definitely; but visualization helps!).

Here's something you can try to test for yourself if you like (or you can take my word for it and not try it, but it works!). Now, this is an example - it could be any activity you want, but this is simple enough. Say you absolutely stink at shooting free throws (if you don't know what a free throw is, then you really stink! 🙂 ). Or maybe you just want to shoot a higher percentage of them to impress others on the court.

As you go to sleep at night, picture yourself (that's a moving picture) shooting free throws. Don't picture yourself missing. Picture yourself making the shot every time. Remember yourself standing at the free throw line, you're bouncing the ball, you look up at the hoop. You figure out more or less how far the hoop is. You process that you have to toss the ball at a certain arc so that it's not shot like a bullet, so that it doesn't ram the front or back of the rim. You then bring the ball up, properly holding it, so you push up and forward at the arc required for the ball to travel the allotted distance, and then swoosh!

You can visualize layups, shooting from three-point range, whatever. But the point is you make a strong visualization of success. What happens after a while? You've visualized successful free throws so much in your head that when you actually get to the free throw line, you're better prepared! Will you make the shot every time? Of course not! Not even the pros can do that. But your likelihood of success will increase because you've familiarized yourself with the process.

Back to air drumming (finally!). What has the air drummer been doing all that time? They've visualized the drum set, where the hi-hat is, snare, bass drum, cymbals - the whole kit. They most likely have watched, at least in video, their favorite drummer, what the kit looks like, and how the drummer plays. What happens when you sit that air drummer behind a real kit?

Ok, they won't be as good as the original (obviously!), but at least they have a good frame of reference. Air drumming - actually, visualization - will have been a valuable tool in learning how to play. This does not negate the fact that, if you want to play well, you have to practice. Regular practice is what will make you a better player (or a better anything). Air drumming is just a tool you can use to improve your playing, especially since you may not always have access to the real thing. Of course, if all you want to do is air drum and nothing else, then by all means, just do that, and have fun!

In my case, for many years I did not have access to a kit. So my method of learning was almost exclusively air drumming. I did other things too, like watching videos of drummers (especially my favorite ones) when I could, observing them, then just copying them. I'd then, when I had drum sticks, just bang on pillows trying to see how fast I could drum roll. Yes, I did get access to a kit for a very short time when I was a teenager, and actually, I was pretty good right off the bat! I didn't have time to develop the real skills until later, though.

The hugest disadvantage of air drumming in regards to transferring your skills to the kit is that, obviously, you're not learning a sense of feel, or rebounding. You're just bouncing off the air. You're not really hitting that tom in exactly the same area every time. There's no way to practice dynamics with air drumming. That can only be learned when you're actually hitting something! This was (and is!) one of my biggest challenges as I now do have access to a kit. Dynamics are one of the tools that makes your drumming not only about timekeeping, but about being musical. You could say that, the shells and skins are the beat, the cymbals are the voice, but the dynamics are the music.

In any case, I'm a huge fan of air drumming (the jury's out on the "Adventures of Power" movie). It was one of the biggest tools of mine to learning how to play. In addition to watching instructional videos, going to concerts, listening to drummers, practicing rudiments, etc., air drumming can be one of the tools to use to help visualize what you will be doing at the real kit.

All that being said, air drumming can be just for goofing off! This article has more of a serious slant, extolling the virtues of air drumming and how it could be used as a practice tool. But it's loads of fun. What's more fun that air drumming a song from Rush, Van Halen, or Metallica? Maybe nothing! So air drum on, drumming fans! Don't let anyone take our fun away! And after our sister, Mom, Dad, or wife (or husband!) tells us how crazy we are, we just say "Yup, you're right - ridiculous! Who air drums? Please!", we close the door, and we just keep on air drumming!

Drum on.

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