The road. Its mysticism calls, beckons one onto its cemented expressways and dirt country paths. It leads to beautiful, strange lands near and far, and dares even the most reclusive into its ridership. It’s pure, honest, fierce, and forgiving all at the same time. Yes, the road is the gateway on which many musicians strive to be, but unpreparedness for the journey can be taxing on the body and mind. Having more than ten years of touring experience, I can personally attest to the brutality the road can cause if not primed for. And let’s face it, the drummer doesn’t particularly have it easy. It is important to keep up good health and mental clarity while on the road, but it can be challenging when your options are pizza and gas station food. Here are some quick tips for staying on top of your game for the long haul.
Paramount to longevity, a good diet provides the energy needed for drummers to keep the crowd moving every night. Try to steer clear of fried foods and energy drinks, and integrate more vegetables, fruits, and grains on the daily. Greasy snacks are hard on the digestive system by taking longer to process and require more energy to break down. Sodas and energy drinks are not only high in sugar, which spikes insulin levels causing the infamous “crash” effect, but are also overly caffeinated, which causes water excretion that can lead to dehydration. Instead, stop off at a grocery store and grab some fresh produce and some dry, non-sugary cereal. Even most gas stations carry a small selection selection of fruits and vegetables, and hot water to cook grains in. My favorite road snacks are hummus, granola, peanut butter, bananas, green apples, Cliff bars, dried mango, and dark chocolate.
While the “Drink 8 Glasses of Water Every Day” myth may have been debunked, I cannot stress the importance of staying hydrated on the road. Pairing nicely with a good diet, water is the key to stamina, the arbiter of acuity. It not only provides pure energy that keep the systems in good function but also aids in the digestive process. It’s easy to dismiss how much physical effort is needed to play shows five nights a week, and banging the drums can work up quite a sweat. A good practice is to always have a water bottle or cup by your side when playing.
Unless you’re Beyonce, chances are you won’t have access to a gym while touring. More accurately, you’re probably crammed tightly in a minivan with four other friends, vying for just enough space to stretch out. A lot of road life is sedentary life, sitting for hours at a time, but there are always small opportunities to be seized for activity. For example, whenever you stop for gas, get out and do 50 jumping jacks or try 25 pushups. You’ll get the blood flowing again and immediately feel better. Being an avid runner myself, I always pack my sneakers in the van and get a nice morning 5k in once in a while. Any exercise that pushes the lungs is great for drummers; it will stave off the fatigue, keeping you right on beat until the very last song.
Now that you’re crushing the calisthenics during lunch breaks, time to flex the most important muscle of all – your brain. Stay sharp by doing crosswords and other word games, or delve into a good book during the long drives. Want an exercise to help stay sharp AND build chops? Try out this simple paradiddle pattern of two singles, two doubles, and two triples back to back to back:
When you get comfortable with the pattern, repeat three times.
Touring is an invaluable opportunity for any musician. It offers time for introspection and pure career building experience. Saint Augustine has famously been quoted: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” So pack your bag. Pack your sticks. Stay healthy, stay hydrated. Explore the land. And do those paradiddles!
Dylan M. teaches drum and percussion lessons to students of all ages in Brooklyn, NY. His specialties include stick control, syncopation, brush work, independence and linear exercises and technique, covering many styles including jazz, funk, rock and R&B. Learn more about Dylan, or search for a teacher near you!
Photo by Dena Flows