“You just have to build chops. Your muscle just aren’t strong enough,” they said.

“Just practice 3 hours a day and you’ll get more control,” they said.

I’m not convinced. For years, I’ve heard instructors say that young players can’t play certain licks because they don’t have enough physical strength to do it. As if it’s a body building contest.

It’s not about strength at all.

It’s about timing.

There are only three things to consider when drumming: fingers, wrist, and arm. The secret is in the timing, not the strength. Sometimes we teach that it’s a control issue. I agree. Sort of. To me, lacking control is a lack of a direct line communication between the brain and the muscles. As if our muscles go flying around and we can’t stop it.

Timing is different. We have control of our limbs and are executing muscle movements with purpose, except that WHEN we move them is wrong. It’s also about the order we move those body parts.

Instead of convincing our students that they need 3 hours a day of chopping out and learning to play things as fast as possible, let’s convince them to sit for 15 minutes. For 15 minutes, focus on one exercise, like Bucks, and evaluate everything.

Answer the obvious question first: “Do I feel awkward at all while I play this?”

If you say “Yes”, then begin digging deeper to identify where the awkward lives. Feel your fingers. Wrists. Arms. Any one of those areas in particular feel funny? If so, target it for a moment.

If your fingers feel funny, then evaluate your grip. Where are you holding. Any fingers leaving the stick at any point? Any particular finger holding on the most? Play with these ideas. Change things up. Hold on more with naturally weak fingers, or hold on less with the naturally strong fingers. This little tweak could be the trick. If you try all the combinations and you still feel awkward, maybe it isn’t the grip itself. Maybe it’s the stroke and the timing in which your fingers work.

Try opening the fingers sooner. Try opening later. Try relaxing different parts of the grip as you open. Through a brief, yet focused 15 minutes, you could potentially solve your entire problem. However, be aware that though the stick may appear to move more freely, there may be a lingering sense of awkward.

There are two types of awkward. There’s the “…it feels awkward because the timing is off.” Then there’s the “…I think it’s awkward because I’m not used to having to think like this, though when I do, it feels great.”

One is a physical awkward and the other mental. The physical awkward alerts us that a problem exists. The mental awkward means we’re putting in good effort and we’re getting good results, it’s just not natural yet.

Just hang in there.

Remember what you had to do to fix the problem and commit to thinking about it BEFORE you play- every time. The more you commit to proactive thinking, the quicker your hands begin to adopt this new way of playing. And the less time you have to actively think about this new approach.