Ergonomically Challenged: Getting comfortable behind the kit

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Ergonomically Challenged: Getting comfortable behind the kit

Words by Adrian Violi

I have a problem.

Besides the obvious jokes my brother could not resist throwing at me if he heard me make a statement like that, the truth is I’m a drummer (okay, walked into that one) and unfortunately, it seems my body is telling me I have issues. 

I’m a 41-year-old Italian and a bit of a fan of the ol’ carbonara so to speak and thus, I’m carrying a few extra kgs than I’d like to – lockdowns anyone? But recently, I just can’t get comfortable on the instrument. Oh, and everything hurts. 

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My own worst enemy

I teach full time, I’m the head of music at a school and I gig whenever I can, perhaps on average around two gigs a week. My nights are usually taken up with being a Dad and then, being on the couch, completing school work, or something related to running the music program at school before it all starts again. It’s pretty flat chat most of the time and results in not that many weekends off. School holidays bring some relief but then, that just means I’m more available for gigs and somehow, I fill up the time. 

I’ve had my fair share of back pain and in the last few years, some non-heart related but nevertheless, hurty chest and upper body pain. I’ve seen many practitioners about this and despite some mild relief here and there, I’ve never been able to fully get on top of it. I’ve also had some tendinitis issues in the hands, which really caused issues. Now, please don’t get me wrong – not looking for the pity party here but perhaps, there’s a correlation with another issue. Lots of people might even have had similar issues so let’s suss it out. 

Terribly vexed

Here is a perplexing and somewhat annoying thing. I’ve played drums for a lot of my 41 years and while I’ve experimented with set ups, angles and so on, suddenly, I can’t find a comfy set up. Like, I’m constantly unhappy with how the drum kit feels now. Mid-gig I will often find myself lowering or raising my seat height to alleviate back pain and subsequently, doing the same for the snare – making it higher or lower to compensate for the seat movement, angling it towards me, laying it flat, raising the hi-hat to match etc. 

The theory might be that sitting a little higher can take pressure off the back, but then I noticed some increased strain in my chest, shoulder blades, aches etc. Sitting lower felt better for my upper body but then I was getting pins and needles in the ol’ gluteus maximus. Another reason for wanting to sit higher is because I’m a tall guy and my legs simply get in the way of my snare. However, raising the snare drum puts my wrists at a different angle and then I’ve been getting pain. Die cast hoops on my snare drums are a consideration too when changing angles as rim shots can actually hurt if not comfortable. Regardless, I feel like it’s a total cluster and I’m confused as to why I can’t find a set up that ergonomically works for my body and allows for some pain free playing. 

Perhaps, perhaps

Some people reading this might just say I’m as weak as a certain type of liquid and I should harden up. And, I suppose to a degree, that might be true. We can all do with being stronger, healthier etc. But also, I’m not playing super hardcore, demanding drums here. I get these issues at a jazz gig. But perhaps, there’s something to be said for not being aware of ergonomically bad set ups in my younger years and now, things are catching up with me. Not necessarily saying that that is the only reason. Work desks and other activities could be a major factor too, but I play drums a lot. 

Another issue is the weight of the instrument and the constant loading/setting up/down cannot be ignored and there is definitely an argument for having lighter hardware and smaller, lighter drums. Or, picking the kit that will get the job done the majority of the time and saving the big gun drums for the gigs that really require it. Perhaps, the seats in my sporty hot hatch aren’t doing me any favours on long trips. Perhaps, working all week and then smashing gigs is also a factor, and just maybe, my body is cracking the barneys and telling me to chill out a bit. Perhaps, perhaps. 

My hips don’t lie?

In reflection, it seems that the body doesn’t lie and when it comes to playing drums, being aware of how your set up is affecting your body, regardless of how great your technique is, should be a major factor when learning and when performing regularly. And consideration for gig-friendly gear that ultimately puts less strain on you between set ups makes sense. Yamaha for example, makes lightweight aluminium hardware and hip gig kits with shorter shell depths. Other companies also offer solutions to the big drum kit. Considering I always mic up a part of my kit, perhaps, the impact on sound won’t be as drastic as I think and perhaps, something I can live with in lieu of my beloved Ludwig. The punter demanding I play ‘The Horses’ probably doesn’t really give a toss if my bass drum is a 14” depth or an 8”. There’ll still be room for the vintage kit at gigs from time to time too, I’m sure. 

So, do I have a solution to my problem? Well, not in the short term. I need to address the body aches and pains and see how I can adapt my playing to compensate for the time being. Then I can look to ergonomically satisfy my set up needs on the drums and potentially look to use some different gear in the process of making this happen if necessary. Regardless, it certainly got me thinking. 

More on ergonomic setups here.