The Thinking Drummer: How To Use Visualization To Improve Your Drumming


Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could get something you wanted simply by imagining it in your mind?

Well, guess what, you can. Yes, you can do this with your drumming. I’m not joking. This is for real.

No, I’m not saying that you don’t have to practice, and I’m not saying that if you close your eyes and wish for a new drum set that it will magically appear. You’re smart, so you already know this.

But I am saying that it IS possible to improve your drumming by using a method called visualization that many famous athletes use to help them improve their competitive skills. Many of these folks make millions of dollars a year and rely on visualization as one of their keys to success.

Want to know more? Pull up a chair and let me tell you a true story. It’s the story about “A Drum Lesson With Margot.”


A Drum Lesson With Margot

Margot, one of my drum students, was having trouble with her hand technique. She is right handed. If you’re a right handed drummer this will be all too familiar to you. Her right hand technique was looking pretty good. As a result, the stick was bouncing freely in her right hand. Her left hand, however, needed work. Her left wrist twisted her hand over to the left in an awkward way. Her stroke suffered. The stick was not bouncing too well.

Margot, through our lessons, knew how the hand and stroke was supposed to look. This is KEY to the success of the visualization method—you have to be able to mentally “see” EXACTLY what you want.

OK, you got it. Right hand: good. Left hand: not that good. So, what happened? One day last week, Margot came for a lesson.

“What do you want to work on first?” I asked.

“Let’s do some technique work. I think I’ve made some real improvement with my left hand,” Margot replied.

“Great,” I said. “Let’s have a look.”

Margot whipped out her sticks and started playing some slow bouncing strokes with each hand. Right right right right right. Then, left left left left left.

Her left hand had made a somewhat stunning improvement. I told her so. Not perfect, but significantly better than her last lesson, which was only the week before.

Pretty impressive—she had not made anywhere near that kind of improvement on this score in several months. Week after week, her left hand had looked the same. Really not much improvement. Until now.

“Wow,” I nodded excitedly. “That is great. It really looks a lot better.”

I REALLY wanted to know how she had made this much improvement in a week.


How Margot Dramatically Improved Her Left Hand Technique

“How did you improve so much?” I asked. “Did you spend a lot of time practicing this week?”

“Not really,” Margot said. “I mean, I practiced, but not more than usual. But I remembered that story you told me about playing tennis, and I used that idea…I just applied your tennis story to my left hand.”

A few weeks earlier, I had told Margot about how I used visualization techniques to help my tennis game. Simply imagine what you want, and your body makes it happen. It really works, and I am living proof of that.

Here is how I used it in my tennis. I wanted to serve the ball to specific parts of the service box: down the middle, to the far corner, etc. Before I served the ball, I would close my eyes for a few seconds, and visualize where I wanted my serve to go.

I would create the image in my mind of what I wanted to happen after I struck the ball. If I wanted to serve the ball into my opponent’s body, I would close my eyes and see just that. I would imagine the ball coming off of my racquet and landing exactly where I wanted it to–in this example, bouncing right in front of my adversary. I would create a vivid and specific picture of what I wanted. Then, I would open my eyes, and serve the ball.

Now, here’s the craziest part of all. It worked! Much of the time, my serve would go where I had imagined it going. Can you see how powerful this is?

Imagine applying this notion to your drumming. That’s what Margot did. And it worked.

She simply saw the proper hand position, grip, stick angle and motion in her mind. Margot imagined her left hand looking perfect, and then she practiced. She’d stop and imagine it again, and then practice some more. The result? Her left hand started to look more and more as she had visualized it needing to look! The ultimate result? Better hand technique.


How Visualization Works: The Science

If you’re thinking, “what a load of bullsh*t,” I understand why. It DOES seem too good to be true. How can this possibly work? How exactly can the mind make your body do something so differently simply by THINKING about it? I know, I wondered about this too. The brain is very powerful. But you already know that.

The bottom line is that there is real science behind this. There are numerous studies that have proven that visualization is a real technique that actually works. The quick answer to how: when we imagine that we take a specific physical action, we stimulate the same part of the brain as when we actually perform that same physical action. I’m not a scientist, but as I’ve explained, I’ve used this technique in my life and had success. My student, Margot, applied this technique to her drumming and had some success. If you would like to read some more about the science of visualization to help you understand it, here is a link to one useful article I found on the Huffington Post, written by Srinvasa Pillay, an MD and assistant Clinical Professor at Harvard: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/srinivasan-pillay/the-science-of-visualizat_b_171340.html

All I’m saying is, this is no joke—it’s a real tool that people use all the time. There is scientific research that backs it up.


Why Wouldn’t You Try It?

I’m not saying that this is a magic bullet. There are none. Margot practices. I practiced the mechanics of my serve a lot, before using the technique on my serve. I knew what the mechanics of a good serve looked like and Margot knows what the mechanics of good hand technique look like. We both used these mental images in our visualization.

But combine this visualization technique with some good old fashioned hard work and you might be surprised with the results.

You don’t have to try this. But why wouldn’t you? Isn’t there something about your drumming that you’ve been trying to fix for a long time? This technique could help. Give it a try and let me know what happens. I want to write about your story next.