Do you remember your first steps?
If you were to look back on learning to walk, it was the most pivotal point in your life. Before you could take steps, your ability to be mobile was strictly limited to crawling or being carted from one room to the next by your parents. Imagine how frustrating that was watching all the “big” people in your life walking around at will without even stumbling once. So eventually enough was enough and you began to walk.
When I first took up drumming I was mesmerized by the song “Wipeout.” The idea that someone wrote a song for drummers really blew me away, and I immediately took to learning the tune. In the beginning I couldn’t maintain the speed or accuracy it took to play “Wipeout.” Try as I may my version was somewhat akin to that of a bull dancing ballet in a china shop. What I wasn’t aware of back then is that with each small failure comes a certain amount of success. Sometimes it is not necessarily what steps you are taking to improve, but the fact that you are taking the steps at all.
When I was a teenager practicing in the garage, it was all I could do to perfect each stroke and learn the momentum of the rhythm I was trying to perfect. I am sure my parents grew very tired of the paradiddle, double stroke roll, and yes of course “Wipeout.” But I really wanted to be a drummer in a band and play to an audience, so I stuck with it. Advance two years into the future and I am standing stage right at a high school talent competition with three of my band mates. We are about to go onstage to perform three cover songs, the only three cover songs we knew start to finish at that point in our lives. It is all I can do to stop my legs from shaking; I had never played in front of a crowd. The first song is a blur. After the third song, we finish and exit stage left. Then and only then, when the performance is all over, I am hit with the rapture that every performer feels after playing to a live audience for the first time. I don’t remember how well I played each song, but it felt great to play in front of a real audience.
Advance five more years into the future and I am sitting behind a drum kit at a large music festival at eleven o’clock in the morning. As we intro into our opening song my legs are not shaking as bad and I remember how good the kit felt and how crisp my monitor mix was. We played a ten song set took our bow and exited the stage. Eleven o’clock in the morning is obviously not a stellar spot on a main stage, but it felt great to be part of a huge venue performing for more than five hundred people. Advance a few more years and the crowds got bigger, the spots got better and the set list grew longer.
Two years ago I was filling in for a drummer friend of mine at a nightclub gig. The crowd loved us and the energy was great. Near the last song of our final set, the lead singer turned to me and said, “Do you know ‘Wipeout’? We usually do ‘Wipeout’ at this point.” Did I know “Wipeout”? Of course I knew “Wipeout.” I spent the better part of my youth learning the tune. As we broke into the song I smiled and was hit with the realization that this was the first time I had ever played “Wipeout” in front of a crowd. Gone was the green horn kid who only knew a few songs and had terrible stage fright. In his place sat a confident adult who enjoyed playing the solo that started the journey. It never really was about “Wipeout” or the talent contest or Craven Big Valley Jamboree. Every step I took, took me one step closer to being a drummer, in a band, on a stage, in front of an audience! And to that point I achieved what I had set out to do.
A great drum teacher of mine once told me that he believed I could rule the world. It was only after I came up with the idea to write this article and read it aloud to myself that I began to fully understand what he meant. As I continue to learn and progress, I am no longer afraid to limit what my goals are. My only fear now is that I don’t dream big enough or set my sights high enough. Because I know first hand that as much as it ain’t easy being green, it is the first step in any journey.
Sean Mitchell is a drummer/artist, songwriter and the creator of Drum Geek.