My son’s drum set had been sitting in the garage for quite awhile collecting dust, so I figured I would set it up and play on it a little. (Drummer jokes aside, it is a well-known secret that all musicians secretly wish they could play the drums.)
Now, I’m not a drummer. So I’ve always been a little uncoordinated on the drums, even though I can keep a steady beat and can program drums very quickly and credibly. I’d always attributed my klutziness to not having any formal training in 4-way coordination (for you non-musicians, that means banging something with each limb at the same time in a way that doesn’t sound like someone is falling down the stairs).
And then something long ago occurred to me. Many years ago as an adult, I was visiting my parents and was looking through some of the old family photo albums. I asked them why there were a number of childhood photos with me holding objects with my left hand, mirroring my little brother. Things like pop guns or hammers or other toys. My father then confessed to me that when I was a very little boy, I showed left-handed tendencies. But he forced me to use my right hand—eating with a fork, writing with a pencil, picking up the phone, everything. He had reasoned that life would be easier for me as a right-handed person.
It turned out he was wrong. I bat left-handed, throw right-handed, kick left-footed, and am right-eye dominant. In other words, in sports, I was all messed up. Not only was I a short and dumpy kid, but I had always felt a little awkward and uncoordinated.
So this is what I did. I took the snare drum, which sits just to the left front of the kick drum, and switched it with the floor tom, which normally sits on the right. I took the cymbal stand, normally on the right, and placed it on the left. And so on. What I ended up with was a completely left-handed drum set. Then I took a couple of sticks, sat down on the throne, took a deep breath, and began to play.
At first, I was like Bambi on ice. But though it was slow going, something about the way my body was positioned felt really right. My stroke was fluid, my beat was steady, my cross-sticking was meshing like gears on a bike. Experimenting, I went from a straight rock beat to hip hop. I closed my eyes, switched to traditional grip, and suddenly I was Stewart Copeland. Then I grabbed some brushes, laid into the ride cymbal, and suddenly I was a sloppy version of Buddy Rich. I went back to match grip and became a sweaty two-fisted Carter Beauford. About a half hour of this and I came to the slow realization—I could actually play the drums!
Now, I certainly make no claims at being an idiot savant (though I have been accused of this more than once). And I’m decades of practice away from considering myself a real drummer. But I did experience a small but marked epiphany about myself and how I approach art.
You know that I believe and espouse that we are all artists. But I also believe now that some of us have never experienced the artistic medium(s) to which we are best suited. Some of us are photographers who could be amazing oil painters if we gave ourselves the chance. Some of us play clarinet when our true destiny is the cello. I have personally supervised the transformation of several wannabe guitarists who found joy and side careers as bass players. And on and on. We must never be too old, or too set in our ways, to experiment with other mediums, other techniques, other paradigms.
Also, within our given mediums, we need to rattle our preconceptions of how we create. For me, it is a pianist getting behind a drum set. It will be different for others. If you write lyrical songs, maybe you should try writing an instrumental piece and focus on stronger melody. Visual artists who lean into representational art should experiment with creating abstract or iconographic art forms. Aspiring novelists should try a little poetry now and then. If you are primarily a ballet dancer, you should try line dancing (okay, maybe not line dancing, but you get the idea).
Can you relate to this? Do you have a tale to tell? Have you experienced moments when right was wrong? I invite you to share your story with me.