Saturday, November 19, 2011

Rocking the Bamako Style dunun

After almost a year and a half playing the dunun, I was still finding myself choking at performances. I have wicked stage fright when it comes to drumming and it inevitably happened that when I played in front of people, I would mess up and get even MORE nervous. It was rough.

In addition, while I have good skill in terms of being able to pick up and remember dunun parts very well, I was only really comfortable playing them at moderate speed. So when I would play with Malians on stage, the speed is way faster and my mind would start playing tricks on me. (Am I in the right place in the rhythm? Can I keep up? Are my arms going to fall off?) Crash.

Last Friday I played ONE song for one of my teacher's gigs. I was up on the stage with a Kora player (Yacouba Diabaté),Nampé Sadio and Sidy. I was playing Mendiani, which I know very well. And in the middle of the song, I started worrying that my hands were cramping up. I freaked out, made a mistake, got back on track and finished.

The next day I was a mess. I was so frustrated that I have been unable to get past this stage fright issue. I actually cried, LOL. And then I started to think about what I wanted to actually accomplish.

I want to be able to play with Bamako players at their speed. Nothing fancy, just keep up and not get lost in the rhythm or scared or cramped up, just play at breakneck speed for long periods of time without screwing up.

This is such a no-brainer it is embarrassing. I realized that in order to accomplish this, I was going to have to.... wait for it.... practice. Every day. For 30 to 40 minutes. At Bamako speed. Nonstop.

Within a day or two of starting a new practice regimen, I began to realize that I don't have enough strength in my arms to be able to play for 40 minutes. My shoulders and neck were seizing up.... my arms were in pain. I discussed this with my teacher, who gave me some pointers on how to reduce the amount of muscle power necessary to make the sounds. (Mostly involving relaxing your hands so that your arm muscles don't have to work as hard.)

I tried it. It worked.

Now I am able to play for 40 minutes straight at Bamako speed with fewer mistakes, less fatigue and much more confidence. All in a week of daily practice.

I am sharing this because, well, it feels like a little bit of a breakthrough. I am not sure that I will have less stage fright next time I play out, but at least I will know that I am physically capable of playing at Bamako speed for a full set.


Who knew?

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