By a show of hands, who regularly drums on their steering wheel while driving—or at least while sitting in rush-hour traffic or at a red light? My guess is that every percussionist reading this post has his or her hand in the air. Of course you do! Whether drumming along to the song on the radio, working out licks for a cadence or show book you are writing, or just mindlessly tapping as we all tend to do, the steering wheel is a practice pad ready and available for us when we are captives of our car getting from point A to point B.
In an effort to use that time a little more intentionally (during commercials on the radio, perhaps), I offer an update to the Phone Book exercise. For those of you who don’t know what a phone book is, let me start there. About 25 or so years ago, when most phones were connected to the wall and dial-up took a minute and a half to connect to whatever was on the internet prior to social media, countless numbers of trees each year were cut down to deliver a thick book to every house with a list of phone numbers for all the people you didn’t know in your city. You could open that book to any page and have literally thousands of randomly sequenced digits to use for practicing rhythmic groupings. Presumably, now you could still use the contact list on the phone in your pocket to do the same thing, but since we’re talking about drumming while driving, adding a mobile device to the mix is probably not the safest option. Instead, look at the license plate of the car in front of you. Here’s mine as an example:
Most license plates are a combination of letters and numbers. Ignore the letters and check out the numbers. For however many numbers you see, make that the number on top of your time signature. If three numbers, you are in 3/4 time; if five numbers, you are in 5/4 time, etc. In this case, we’re obviously in a nice and comfortable 4/4 (or common) time. Give yourself a steady pulse and play the number of notes represented by the digits you see. My license plate would play out as follows:
To borrow an instruction from Stone’s Stick Control, practice each pattern 20 times before moving on to the next one—in this case, the next license plate. Hopefully you can enjoy your drive time a little more with this handy (and productive) trick. Radio commercial is probably over now; back to the rock beat!
Josh Gottry is a respected educator, accomplished percussionist, and internationally recognized composer who has been working with, and creating music for, the next generation of percussionists for over twenty years. He has served as part of the music faculty on college and university campuses around the Phoenix metropolitan area, works regularly with ensembles and students at all grade levels as a clinician and within his private lesson studio, and his performance record includes professional orchestras, musical theater, worship teams, jazz combos, community and chamber ensembles, as well as solo performances and recitals. Gottry is an ASCAP award-winning composer whose works have been performed at universities, junior high and high schools, and multiple national conferences, and he serves as editor for Rhythm! Scene.