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Things You Don't Know You Don't Know...Yet

Article by Sean Mitchell // October 02 2008
Things You Don't Know You Don't Know...Yet

It’s hard to put a title to something you do not yet know. As I sit here and type, I actually have no freaking clue what I want to write about (hence my witty and somewhat ambiguous title). Obviously I feel the need to say something or else I would be in bed like everyone else at four in the morning. In the spirit of Jeopardy and one Mr. Alex Trebek, let’s start with a game. I will pose an answer and you can come up with the question. The answer is “obstinate.”

By now you are probably doing your best DeNiro impression and asking the question, “Are you talking to me?” Maybe, maybe not. While “idiot” is a very simple answer (pardon the pun), the most important part of the puzzle is actually missing. The information you lack lies in the question which, at this juncture, you do not know. Yet. Last month my friend and drummer extraordinaire Jayson Brinkworth wrote these simple yet profound words: “I have learned that if I want to know something, all I have to do is ask.” Simple, yeah? But do you do it? Honestly, ask yourself this question.

Often times, those of us drawn to musical pursuits feel too stupid to ask questions for fear of embarrassment amongst our peers. Well, how about this? John Bonham never took a lesson in his life. Instead, as a teenager he knocked on the doors of other drummers to ask for advice.

It would seem simple, yet the all-powerful ego often steps in and disallows any growth potential. Forget ego, forget embarrassment. Knowledge is power, my friend, especially in this the information age. It’s like a poker game: if you can’t spot the sucker in two minutes, guess what?

The drummer is a constant state of becoming. Write that in black permanent marker on your batter side snare head. No, seriously, go do that now! As your knowledge grows so too will your thirst for it, and your ability to ask not only smarter questions but the right questions will come as well.

Think of a combination lock. With only one number of a three-digit combination, you can work as hard as you want, think as optimistically as you want, create as many game plans as you want, but that lock will stay locked until you have all the information. Period.

Are you even aware of the little things you need to know about your playing? Have you watched yourself play? As Jayson suggested last month, videotape yourself and really analyze your movements. Are they fluid, or are they choppy and aggressive? As within, so be it without.

If you are an aggressive person or you find yourself in a mood, you will no doubt see it manifest behind the kit. Drumming is just energy (you) in motion, arranged in a pleasing rhythmic fashion. You have to have all three aspects of the human condition aligned, much like numbers in a combination lock, to begin to understand who you are as a drummer. The big three: mind, spirit and, drum roll please, body.

As a drummer you have the responsibility to take the grey matter you have upstairs and the meat-suit you carry it around in and discover how it all works together. Find out why you can’t get this hand to work well with this groove. Is it in your head, or is it a physical thing? Do you even know if something is wrong? Sometimes the answer may even lie beyond the kit in your non-musical life. Knowledge is power. You are your own vessel. It doesn’t hurt to have a good honest look at y-o-u and kick the tires once in awhile.

Now watch your tape again paying close attention to your movements, and then watch someone like Dennis Chambers or Dave Langguth. Enough said. Go unlock your potential!

Clinician and Grammy award-winning drummer Mitch Dorge had this to say about knowledge during one of my lessons. Hold on, this gets heavy!

“If, on a twenty-one inch cymbal, you drew a line with a pencil, from its middle to its outer edge, the space that that pencil lead would occupy would represent what you know that you know. For example, you know that the combination of letters d-o-g spells dog. You know that should you strike an object, it should make some sort of sound—although the true physicist always accepts the idea that even though we know it should, perhaps one day it won’t.

If, you, next to the line already drawn on your cymbal, drew a second line adjacent to the first one, that second line and the space it would occupy would represent what you know that you don’t know. For example, you know that you don’t know how an MRI works, or you know that you don’t know the complexities of your own neural network—which is even more baffling being that your neural network is responsible for your thinking of your neural network.

Now the rest of the space left untouched on that cymbal represents what you don’t know that you don’t know. We’ve all been in the position where someone presents a theory such as this one or interprets a piece of music in a way that never occurred to us. This is one of the many ‘things’ that rest in that space of what you don’t know that you don’t know. Of course, when it is presented, it becomes what you know that you don’t know. Should the idea, or thought, or experience take hold of you in such a way that you find yourself immersed in the essence of what that is, it becomes something that you know you know, which then contributes to the space that your first and second pencil line occupies.

The wonderful thing about this experience is that as your penciled areas grow, so does the untouched area, exponentially. As long as we continually leap into this untouched space or abyss (as one can define what one knows but cannot even fathom what is unknown), we will continue to grow. When we play only what we know, we lose our ability to grow, to express, to find ourselves. We lose the way of the poet: to say what cannot be said. There is, however, a ‘fragment’ dangerous and deadly, and that is getting caught up in what we think we know."

The question to my Jeopardy answer at the beginning of this article was: “Ostinato is derived from what word in Italian?” You are only a question away from knowing everything in this entire universe. All you have to do is ask.



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About the Author
Sean Mitchell

Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.

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