“Practice Makes Perfect”. I’ve heard it a thousand times. But then I heard a corrected version, “Perfect Practice Makes Perfect”. It works for anything you are doing – are you practicing with intention? Or are you just having fun? Don’t confuse the two. To play for hours at a drum circle with improper posture because the circle is so crowded that you have to keep your elbows in is not going to improve your posture or technique – in fact it can make it worse. (If you are there for spiritual purposes I fully understand, and a good “no mind” trance session induced by rhythmic repetition is one of the best – that is a different story and another topic for another day.)
We all hear a song in our head while we are hitting the drum, even if it’s just a one note slap. Your brain is hearing the slap you WANT to produce in your head. Often that is what you hear when you play. What your BRAIN thinks it is SUPPOSED to sound like. You might not hear your actual note, or lack thereof, if you let your brain put your listening skills on autopilot. This is why recording your practice session can be very helpful.
Try it once – you don’t need a fancy recorder – just use your voice memo app on your phone – in this case we are just trying to hear how much range there is between our slap and tone and bass, and whether or not one of our hits (slap/tone) is louder than the other. When I first did this years ago I was surprised to find that my tones were much lighter than my slaps due to the way I had been tense in my hands during tones, giving them a muted sound. It’s something that I have to be aware of when I play if I haven’t played in while – that’s how strong the “BAD PRACTICE” had affected me.
Remember, the djembe makes music – it has notes like a flute or piano. Many people are running around with two notes only – bass and mud. Don’t make mud. Record your practice once in a while and work on your hands as you strike. Try relaxing them more or whatever it takes to get the right notes. Try hitting a perfect LOUD tone with only one hand 10 times in a row (as you hit the tone think “is there any slap/ring in that tone?”). Make your practice something more than a space-out jam session (those are great also – just not all of the time) and reap the benefits of having clean notes with good range.