Drumming to Inner Peace

Magesh

May 29, 2022

The biggest connection I made between music and spirituality was that they both focus on the present moment. When I managed to stay in the present moment in both the song and in life, I realized there was no time for anxiety.

I've had a great career as a session musician. I played the drums for Lionel Richie, Rhianna, Ricky Martin, Nelly Fertado, Kimbra, and many other pop stars. I have also taught the drums and piano for over 20 years. (Although now all my teaching is online...thanks, Covid!)

Playing music has taught me many things: the discipline of practice, how working hard yields results, and that, if you get lucky enough, your dreams may come true.

Although I have done many cool things like playing on television, performing in multiple countries, and appearing in magazines, there was one thing that trumped all of these: playing music gave me inner peace.


Here is how that happened…

As an adolescent, my mind always moved quickly with racing thoughts. Looking back, it was probably teen angst and a good dose of old-fashioned anxiety. My older brother played music, too, and one day, he took me to the concert of a famous drummer.

I can still vividly remember the performance. The drummer played to a sold-out auditorium of 1,000 people. His performance was so outstanding by the end, he received a standing ovation. I was mesmerized by it and also by the crowd’s reaction. At 14-years-old, I didn't know many things; what I did know was that I, too, was going to be a famous drummer.

After convincing my parents that my school grades would improve if they bought me a drum kit, (they didn’t!), I sat down in my bedroom to start my first practice session. As soon as I hit the snare drum, all my racing thoughts stopped. Just like that! There was no worrying about what was going to happen at school tomorrow, nor any worry about if the girl on the bus liked me; in fact, there was no worrying about anything. What there was, was the present moment each time I hit that drum. I remember feeling incredible peace as I launched into a basic rock beat. (The irony was this beat probably filled my neighbor with anxiety because it was as loud as a jackhammer!)

I've read stories of Buddhist monks who achieved a blissful state of mind through constant meditation. I don't know if I reached that state of bliss, but my teenage angst definitely disappeared. By playing music and literally concentrating on one note at a time, I didn't have the time to be concerned about problems outside my bedroom door, and, after playing for just a few months, my self-esteem and confidence improved tenfold. This was simply because I was starting to sound great…or so I thought.

My older brother was a professional musician. After I had been playing the drums for ten months, he opened my bedroom door and quite calmly said, “Your timing sucks. You should get some drum lessons.”

After picking up the shards of my shattered self-esteem off the floor, I realized that maybe he was right. I booked a 30-minute lesson with a famous Australian drummer. I really thought this teacher would be impressed with my ability to play several types of drum beats. However, as I sat down to play, he said, “Your posture is all wrong.”


How could I screw up sitting down?


He then asked me to play something I was comfortable playing and to pretend that he wasn't there. I played a basic rock pattern, which, I thought, was decent.

The instructor had a look on his face as if someone had just insulted his mother. Slightly in shock, slightly angry, he said something I didn't understand at the time: “How do you go about breathing?”

“I usually just breathe in and out,” I replied.

This actually made him laugh out loud because what he meant was how I breathed when I played the drums. After carefully explaining to me that drumming was an extremely intense physical activity, he suggested I breathe two counts in, two counts out. This changed everything for me. I don't know the science behind it, but the exercise slowed down both my heart rate and my mind, which, in turn, made me feel incredibly calm.

I would go on to have lessons with this teacher for 13 additional years. I would be performing with some of the biggest artists in the world, and still, I’d go to my weekly drum lesson. When people asked me why I was still taking lessons as a top professional, my answer was always the same: “It makes me feel good.”

The biggest connection I made between music and spirituality was that they both focus on the present moment. When I managed to stay in the present moment in both the song and in life, I realized there was no time for anxiety.

I remember being 16-years-old and saying to my teacher, “What happens if I'm on stage playing a concert and I make a mistake?”


Without hesitating, he said, “Once you make a mistake, that moment is over. You have to leave it in the past. If you focus on that mistake, it will only lead to more mistakes.”


If that isn't a metaphor for life, I don't know what is.


* Editor's Note: Music can play an important role in how we experience the world and communicate that experience to others. Be sure to check out The Meaning of Music in this issue of AT Magazine.

 

Magesh has written for “Lessonface,” “Aeyons,” “The Modern Rogue,” “Euronews,” “The Roland corporation,” “Penlight,” and “Elite Music.” He writes several monthly publications on music education. In the past, Magesh has written for parenting, humor, mental health, and travel websites as well.



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