Community Jam

One of the best things I’ve done lately is join in a weekly jam session held at my local music studio. The fact that we have a local music studio is amazing. The fact that I can just drop in, join a bunch of strangers, smash out some tunes and blether about music for a few hours, all for free, is incredible.

I live in a medium-sized town – by Scottish standards – around 15,000 people, but one with very few amenities. All over the country, local services and facilities are being cut or forced to close. Places like this – not just music studios, but libraries, community centres and cafes are so valuable. Places where people can gather for a particular purpose, or none. Places run by people who know the community want to make it better. Erskine Arts offers music lessons to kids and adults, various projects for young people, drop in soup & chat sessions as well as the jam sessions. It’s run by a great group of guys who are always looking for ways to contribute to the community and to get the community involved in what they are doing. My older child went there for guitar lessons for a while and I loved going there, seeing what they were up to and secretly (ok sometimes not to secretly) wished I could jump on the drum kit and have a play.

I took up drums again a few years ago, well twice, I wrote about it here and here. The second time I did end up joining with some others to form a wee band, playing covers. Unfortunately that petered out, then the pandemic happened. I continued to practice a bit at home, sadly my acoustic kit had to be relegated to the attic when I needed more space in my bedroom for home working, but I have a cheap electronic kit that is fine for a bashabout. Not having lessons or band practice meant I lacked any focus or motivation, plus there’s always something else to do with the kids, work, house, etc drumming just got lower in the priority list. Then I started to get a weird thing happen to my foot, then leg then whole left side (it’s being investigated by neurology but so far there’s been a lot of ruling things out and not much agreement on what it actually is) so that was scary and I stopped playing at all for over a year for fear that I wouldn’t be able to or that it would show up exactly how much function I had lost.

Then started the adult jam sessions. I didn’t go immediately, but eventually made tentative enquiries, told them about my weird foot/leg/arm thing but was encouraged to come along and just watch or join in if I felt like it. I was reminded that everyone brings something, maybe they have just started learning to play their instrument, have physical or mental health issues, or just lack confidence playing in front of others. It’s on a Friday afternoon, which luckily is the 1 day I don’t usually work. It’s usually me and a bunch of older men. The demographic of the group definitely influences the song choices – we’ve done Eric Clapton, Elvis, Cat Stephens, Kenny Rogers, Chuck Berry and a load of blues numbers that I don’t really know but that doesn’t matter. Someone suggests a song, gets cajoled into taking the mic, gives a quick rundown of the chords and we give it a whirl. People join in with what they can, whether it’s simple strumming along or contributing a lead solo. We are good at starting, the middle bits sound great we’re usually not so hot on endings, but nobody cares, it’s all good fun.

Jam session in progress, that’s me on drums! – photo by Erskine Arts

I’ve written before that improvising was never part of my learning before, I was taught technical skills but not anything about interpreting a song. That combined with never having access to a kit to play about on meant that now I struggle with adding my own elements into playing. I can play along to most song with a basic beat but am still reticent about adding fills or variations. At the moment it’s mainly confidence, but as each week goes by I get more comfortable behind the kit, more familiar with the songs and more aware of how I need to adapt my playing to suit my wonky arm and foot. The guys are nothing but supportive, to me and to each other. It’s great to see everyone helping each other out and encouraging them to have a go of singing or improvising a solo.

Continuing the theme of my last post, we’re lucky to have this facility in our town. I most likely wouldn’t go if this was in Renfrew or Paisley. Practically, it’s only a 5 minute drive away, but more than that it feels like something that is for me because it’s here just down the road. Almost like it would be rude not to get involved with something so amazing, friendly and welcoming for my community, for all of us, for me.

The Drums!!! (pt2)

Well it’s been 5 years (!) since my last drumming adventure, but events of the last couple of weeks lead to me being in possession of a drumstick for the first time in a long time. It was only 1 (not complaining, the circumstances under which it was acquired were pretty amazing – thanks again, Keith!) but I immediately wanted to hold another and get tapping.  I tapped (with my hands) on the table and my knees the whole journey home on the train. The next day at work I tapped on my desk. I had that drumming itch again.  There was also something about going from festivals and gigs and speaking to musicians to changing bunk beds and trudging around Aldi. I missed playing and having something that was just *me*.  So I thought, f*#% it, why wait. I started looking for drum lessons.

I decided to go back to the same place I went for those 3 lessons 5 years ago.  They were good, encouraging, clearly passionate and there was no attitude about me being female or not a teenager.  I hate that I even need to consider this, but I couldn’t be sure of the same positive approach if I went elsewhere.  I wasn’t sure what had happened to my sticks when I moved house last year, but found them safely under my bed. I must have been unconsciously protective of them.


So I had my first lesson on Saturday.  I was really nervous at first, especially when he did that thing, “I’ll just leave you for a minute or 2 to get comfortable, have a play around”. Eek. I hate that. I know they can hear, I’m anxious as hell and haven’t hit a drum for 5 years. I bashed out a few basic rhythms as best I could and prayed he came back soon. We started off on some really basic “grooves” (not sure just how groovy I really was), involving a simple beat and different bass drum patterns.  It took me a while to get into the way of it again, given that another 5 years had passed since I played regularly and I was another 5 years older.  However, I managed to get them all in the end.


It was fun, when I remembered it was supposed to be fun and relaxed. I think I spent half the lesson with my eyes closed, trying to bring the memory of the movements back up from the deepest recesses of my brain. Lots of times I was trying too hard and it fell apart. I remembered that amazing feeling when you stop trying, relax into it, suspend your conscious movements and let your body do what it knows how to do.

I explained that I wouldn’t be able to come every week, but booked in again for 2 weeks time.  I’ll aim to go every fortnight initially but may have to go down to once a month if finances or time are stretched.  I have my homework to do, so will be air drumming and foot pressing between lessons. Tantalizingly, I was told that back around Christmas time, they had an offer on for a series of lessons and an electronic drum kit for about £250. Although being a current customer/student doesn’t exclude me from any future deals so I’ll be keeping an eye out.  In any case, I wasn’t in the right place to be doing this back at Christmas, so I tried not to be too annoyed.

Interestingly, a whole separate conversation with my cousin about examinations for deaf students, in particular deaf music students, led us to consider Evelyn Glennie.  Evelyn Glennie was a huge influence on me when I was learning percussion at school. My school lessons included a whole range of percussion including timpani (kettle) drums and tuned percussion such as xylophones. I played with various wind bands, brass bands and orchestras through the amazing Dundee City Council schools music programme. I once played triangle at the Edinburgh Festival. The real highfalutin festival, not the Festival Fringe. I mostly played timpani, because that was what the performance pieces called for. If there was ever a drum kit part, there would always be an older, more confident boy there to leap into the stool.

Anyway, I was such a fan of Evelyn Glennie, that my parents took me to see her in concert, although unfortunately I have absolutely no memory of that. My cousin made me aware of a TED talk that Glennie had done a few years ago. Her talk is amazing and you should definitely watch all of it.  Part of what she talks about is the difference between reading music and playing what you see, and feeling and interpreting music. This is why I paniced when left alone with a drum kit. Back when I learned at school, I was never given any chance to play around, experiment, improvise.  Partly due to not having my own kit or access to one, but also the way our lessons were structured were very programmatic and designed to teach technical skills and pass grade exams.  I’m sure this is not the fault of my teacher, he played jazz so I’m sure would have been all about the improvisation, but he was limited by the curriculum. So we spent a lot of time on flams and paradiddles and snare drum only pieces. I found some of my old books.


This is the kind of thing we worked on:


So my snare drum sticking got pretty good, I would have been ideally placed to join a marching band, but that’s not really what I wanted to do.

There was some drum kit work, such as this:


So I learned all that, but never learned to be creative with my playing. I was never given a piece of music and asked to create a drum part to accompany it. So on the few occasions I had the opportunity to play with other musicians, I was a bit lost, had no confidence without a drum score in front of me and was soon de-throned by an older boy whose parents had the space and indulgent nature to buy him a kit.

I don’t know if I’ll ever have my own kit. I don’t know if I’ll ever play with other people. I don’t know if I’ll ever get any good. I do want to pick it up again, so that when I say I’m a drummer I’m not referring to 20 years ago, or 3 measly lessons 5 years ago. I want to build my confidence and my improvisation skills. I want to prove myself and defy expectations.