My students say this a lot. I used to say it a lot too, back in high school when I didn’t know better.  I say “didn’t know better” because I have a different take on things these days.

Another phrase showed up at a lesson yesterday.  A student was having trouble with an exercise, and I told him to focus hard and go slower.  He said: “I am focusing, but I think my arms just don’t want to do it right.”  I’ve heard that phrase many times from other students, but this time we stopped and talked about it.  The phrase is related to “this is too difficult,” in that it places the blame on the pattern or your arms, and not on YOU.

The way I see it is this: your arms have no mind of their own.  They do what they’re told to do.  Now, sometimes the arms are told to do something by habit or by discomfort.  This is problematic for drummers, because it can give the impression that you don’t have control over your own limbs.  But, this is not true.  We ALWAYS have control over our own motor skills (with the exception of illness or injury).

So, a more accurate version of the phrase above would be: “my arms just don’t want to do that, and I’m not currently putting in the mental effort to MAKE my arms do what I want them to.”  That sheds light on the real issue.  It’s not your arms’ fault for being “unwilling” to play the rudiment/fill/exercise/whatever – it’s YOUR fault for not using the very real control that your mind has over your arms.

Many times I think I’m focusing on doing something, but I’m really not.  I intend to tell my arms and legs what to do in trying to master a difficult pattern, but I’m really just hoping that they’ll figure it out on their own.

So, anyway, after discussing this with the student, he tried the exercise he was working on again and immediately had much more success.  I asked him if he thought the exercise felt easier after out discussion, and he said yes, and told me that he felt like he had a clearer picture of what to focus on.