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20 Weird Things I Learned About Drumming That Have Nothing to Do With Drumming

My Fogo Azul story began in January 2017, when I got a text from a friend asking, “Hey, Tina, do you want to join a band?” Without even thinking about it, I fired back, “Okay,” adding “I’m still playing electric guitar,” because my friend and I had done some music together before. She replied, “It’s not that kind of band, they march,” so I said, on my tiny keyboard, “That’s okay I have a portable amplifier that clips onto my belt,” and she said, “No, it’s all drums.” Learn Drums!

Well, I didn’t know anything about drums but my friend said they teach everything and she gave me the website to look at, so I looked at it. It looked very exciting. I was too lazy to click on the links and hear what they sounded like but they were holding an open rehearsal so I figured I would go to that and hear Fogo Azul in person.

Fogo Azul is a unique musical organization in that you can join without knowing anything about drumming or music. That’s because everything we do is taught by ear, repetition, and body movement. If you can walk and move your arms at the same time, you’re in.

On the other hand, there are a few other things that go into this whole endeavor, which require developing other talents that have nothing to do with picking up a stick and hitting a drum or even keeping a rhythm.

Some of these talents may be new. Some may be long-dormant, waiting for the chance to be rediscovered, and some are just really random things that you have to do because, well, you have to do them.

That’s when I started learning new things that have nothing to do with picking up a stick and hitting a drum with it. My Top 20 is below.

1. Knee pads. KNEE PADS. That is all.

2. Walk with drum overhead. I got to my first rehearsal the day before the Chinese New Year Parade in Chinatown, which I never went to before in my life because I don’t like crowds of people, but apparently I was already recruited along with some other new drummers to march in the Chinese New Year parade. We had to cut through the crowd to get to our mustering spot on Mott Street a couple of blocks below Canal, which is a lot easier to do with your drum over your head because otherwise people get their clothes stuck in the little things that stick out of our drum and also, you don’t want to be the one who hits a child in the back of the head with the rim of your drum because it is made of metal and it is sharp.

3. Run with drum overhead. It turned out that we were expected to be above Canal, so we walked up there with our drums over our heads and then we found out that no, we were supposed to be down below Canal where we had begun, so we ran, through the crowds, to get to back to our right spot on Mott Street below Canal. Not as easy as walking with drum overhead.

4. Run back and forth, with drum overhead. Actually, that turned out not to be the right spot after all. So we had to run up Mott and back across Canal and up about three blocks north, but by now Mott Street was too crowded,  so we cut a block over to the west and then back to Mott Street, where we ended up behind a float with a stinky diesel engine, so we ran back one block west and a couple of blocks south and then we cut back over to Mott Street (after some negotiations with the police who were guarding the line of march) so we could sneak into a spot in the line.

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5. Layer for weather. This one is easy if you’ve gone camping or hiking and it’s freezing cold at first but then you warm up so you peel off a layer or two and then it starts raining, but you can’t hide in your tent because you are outside, playing your drum. Or if you show up to Chinese New Year in Chinatown in the freezing cold with a drum but then after running back and forth for 45 minutes you are pretty warmed up and dying of heat.

6. Predict the future. I got to that first Chinese New Year parade by car and I figured the parking in Chinatown would be all booked up so I parked all the way up by Houston Street, which meant I had to walk down to Canal to find the band. The good news? My parking spot turned out to be half a block away from the end of the parade route. So when the parade ended all I had to do was stumble half a block, and there was my car.

7. Tune your drum, part 1. Who knew that drums had to be tuned? Not me. Part of the reason why I was excited to join Fogo Azul was because I was always bad at tuning my guitar. I thought the nice thing about playing drums is you don’t have to tune them. Well, you do, and if you’ve never handled a wrench before, this is your chance to learn. You tune the drums by tightening or loosening the little metal nuts that hold the top and bottom together, and you need a wrench to do that. I know, right? Crazy world, crazy world.

8. Tune your drum, part 2. So, how do you know when your drum is tuned? You learn how to use a tuning app. Yes, you can get a tuning app on your phone that lets you know when you’ve hit the right spot. That’s when I learned how to pay for an app, because after all these years, my tuning app is the only one I paid money for.

8. Label your stuff. Some of us have not had to label our stuff since summer camp. This is a valuable skill to brush up on because almost everything you have looks a lot like everybody else’s stuff, including your drum, your drumsticks, your belt, your Fogo T-shirt, your hand-embellished Fogo pants, and especially your tuning wrenches.

9. Build your own drum. If you can tune a drum, you can make your own drum. Just take a top part and a bottom part and put them on either side of the middle part, and then attach everything together with little metal rods and then tighten the nuts until the drum sounds right. But don’t forget to put the Fogo Azul sticker on the drum first, before you put all the rods in, because otherwise you’ll have to take the whole thing apart and start over. Don’t find out the hard way.

10. Make your own drumsticks. There will come a time when you might need to make your own drumsticks or mallets. This can be done in a variety of ways, depending on what materials are at hand. A pair of baby socks is helpful but not necessary.

11. Use new apps (see #8 above). The tuning app is only the beginning. There was Teamstuff, and now Spond, and of course Facebook, which is still new to some, and What’s App and now with the COVID separation, there is Zoom and Acapela.

12. Spreadsheets. Ughhhhhhh I hate spreadsheets more than Bogey hates leeches in The African Queen. But really, they’re not that bad. They’re not slimy and they don’t suck your blood out.

13. Put on makeup (optional). On this topic, I still have not a clue, but the trick is to buy a really colorful palette with a lot of bright blue in it and apply it liberally because otherwise nobody will see it.

14. Wear baggy pants with sparkly blue flames down the side and “Fogo Azul” in silver letters down your butt. I’m not used to uniforms but I was in a women’s softball team when I was in 10th grade because they didn’t have enough women to fill the team so they recruited some kids from the local high school. Our name was the Vixens, which I did not appreciate at the time, and I really really really wish I had kept my team T-shirt. As compensation I keep the “JK Office Machines” tee-ball T-shirt that once belonged to someone very close to me who is now almost 30, so now you know approximately how old I am.

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15. Keep track of your drumsticks. Shove them firmly in your belt or in your kneepads (see #1 above) while waiting to perform because sometimes it’s two or three hours of waiting around and meanwhile your drumsticks might get bored and decide to go for a walk or score some drugs or something.

16. Fix your sewing machine. The needle arts sure come in handy when you’re performing on drums. You can’t sew the drums themselves, but you can attach flames and silver lettering to baggy pants (see #14 above), repair rips in baggy pants, make costumes for special occasions, and of course make giant-sized outfits for giant-sized puppets. All of this is difficult if your old Singer machine which was passed to you from your mother-in-law’s mother-in-law (long story) has a broken power cord, which I was going to try and rewire myself and it took me three years to screw up the courage to dig in there with a screwdriver because what if I blew a fuse or blew out the tiny little motor that makes the whole thing go, but as it turns out you can buy a whole new power cord online so all I had to do was take the foot pedal apart and attach these two wires in there and then plug it in. The old gal runs like butter now. 

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17. Fix the typewriter. With success in the sewing machine department in my pocket, I had the confidence to fix some other things around the house, such as an old portable Remington manual typewriter that I bought for my mother (another long story) on the cheap from a pawn shop just before the COVID-19 lockdown. It wasn’t working, but all it needed was a new ribbon and some detective work, to find the original user’s manual online to learn that there is a tiny little lever on the right-hand side that you push up to unlock the stuck carriage, because it’s a portable typewriter and the lock keeps the carriage from swinging back and forth when you port it from place to place.

18. Fix the accordion (see #16 above). I bought an old accordion at a thrift shop about three years ago, but I didn’t play it until this past January. After two weeks of regular practice a problem developed because the thing started making sounds on its own, even when I wasn’t pressing on a key. It took me three weeks and a video that I found on Google to screw up the courage to unscrew the front panel and take a look inside to see what the problem was: a little pad that slipped off the key. As these things sometimes do happen, I had some Shoe Glue right there to put it back on.

19. Fix that old radio! One day, I was down in the basement doing my laundry when I decided to fix this old radio named “Juliette,” which was sitting in my basement window for 20 years (so now you know how long I have lived in this house). The last time I plugged it in 20 years ago there was this awful static. So I plugged it in and there was this awful static but then right after that it worked! I fixed it!

20. Fix that lamp! Similarly, one of the cats (not naming names here) knocked over this little table lamp and broke the whole socket off so I was going to socially distance myself down to the local hardware store and buy a new socket and see if I could figure out how to rewire it but then I took a closer look and I figured out that the socket was cracked but it could still be screwed back together and guess what, I fixed it!

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There are actually more than 20 weird things I’ve learned since joining this group, but they all have one thing in common: Leaping into the void of the unknown with full confidence that the results will be mighty satisfying – and learning all kinds of new things, about myself and what I can do when I’m determined – is what I’ve learned in Fogo Azul.

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