When I was in grade school, it was always the girls who could jump rope the best. The school had physical fitness test in which we jumped as many times as possible in a minute. Usually, I did about 12 or so, and made a joke of it so as not to be embarrassed. But in reality, I was confounded as to why the girls were better than us boys at something and secretly I wanted to be good at it.
Around the age of 11 my dad took me to the local boxing gym. I’d been hassled by a guy at school and the old man wanted me to be able to throw a punch. They let me work out there and I picked up on jump rope steps. It came pretty easily once I got the basic alternate foot step. With the alternate foot step you could pretty much run in place and go much faster with less effort. And it felt great, the perpetual motion of it, turning yourself into a human gyro. The sounds of the boxing gym provided me with the foundational rhythmic sense I would use throughout my life.
At the time, I thought I’d learned a novel kind of thing, but it was really a gift. The rhythm and timing that I had learned through jumping rope never left me. Years later, in college, I dusted off my old jump rope and started working at it again. It came back easily and I enjoyed the freedom of it as opposed to a stationary machine. I found that jumping rope for 10 minutes before and after lifting weights kept my muscles from stiffening up. And, it was the perfect quick workout for my college schedule when I may have only an hour to get in my workout.
Backtracking a bit, I began playing the drums at age six. After trying all kinds of sports, I found my calling in music. The drums are the most physical instrument and I knew that I had to be in shape to play them for a lifetime. Every great drummer I admire: Elvin Jones, Art Blakey and Roy Haynes always looked so strong in pictures and videos I saw of them. Roy is still playing at age 92, so it’s safe to say that it’s a good idea to keep yourself strong.
Music was usually a part of my workout. Many people use it to push themselves and stay inspired in the gym. Joe Frazier trained for Ali by listening to James Brown, and when you see the way Frazier moved in the ring against Ali, constantly sticking and moving, you can see it in his motion. I was always looking for ways to make my workouts more personal, and keenly interested in making my workout enhance my profession. I knew I could find a correlation between jumping rope and playing the drums, since it’s all rhythm and timing.
Ultimately I wanted to combine jumping rope with music. I tried many, many different albums, but could never find the right one because the beat would rarely line up the way I wanted it to. I used Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew album and Pat Metheny’s Secret Story to jump rope with, and they worked ok, but I wanted to beat to be inside the DNA of the jumping rhythm. I usually felt as if I were jumping against the rhythm of the songs, rather than INSIDE the rhythm.
I wanted to get further inside the actual rhythm of jump rope. I had always noticed that there is certain rhythm that is created by the sound of the rope slapping the floor and the feet landing. It’s something of a shuffle beat, or in musicians terms, a triplet rhythm, which is found in the rhythms of African music. The triplet rhythm has a rounded feeling to it, as opposed to evenly divided beats which can sometimes have a ‘stiff’ feeling.
I began recording African beats at different tempos to jump with, created playlists in iTunes, transferred them onto my iPod and found the answer I had been looking for. Jumping rope this way has become irreplaceable. With these rhythms to jump with and monitor tempos and lengths, it’s a whole new personalized way to work out. I don’t have to work out at the tempos of somebody else’s music. I make my own playlists of tempos so that I can get great use of my time, monitor my progress, know exactly how many calories I burn and my MHR.
The rhythms also help me keep track of my breath, for years I did four counts in and four counts out, but later I found that six in and six out was more relaxing and comfortable. It’s basically a quarter note, breathing with the count, 6/4 time, multi-faceted beat, with the basic quarter note pulse.
For a drummer, I can absorb rhythms thru exercise, literally practice, while I workout. We drummers (or all musicians for that matter) have what we call an “Internal Clock”, which we use as a master timekeeper, while we subdivide the beat between our four limbs. The drum set, being the four limbed monster that it is, requires a highly developed sense of balance, in order to coordinate these limbs, or voices, all at once. Especially in jazz drumming, the “four way” coordination involved in playing musical phrases between all four limbs is incredibly difficult and time consuming to acquire. Some people may pick it up easier than others, but to be assured, nobody is born being able to play four separate parts on the drum set, because it just isn’t natural. The trick is to make it seem as if it IS natural.
I always like the sounds of the boxing gym the most, the rhythms. The speed bag, heavy bag, the jump rope, the sound of sneakers squeaking on the floor. And I can turn those rhythms into music.
I feel like we have these channels of energy in our arms, legs, torso, head, and when we engage in a satori zen physical act such as jumping rope, it’s opens those channels and lets the energy flow unhindered. At first, jumping the rope, spinning it with your arms, begins to make all the muscles reach failure, and in a sense, release and give up. Then, when you keep going, those tense muscles become open and loose.
I made beats at several tempos starting at 155 bpm, moving up in fives to 185. This is ok, but it was too square. It wasn’t a complete workout. There was no specific changes of footwork or dimension in the beat and it was very tedious sounding. I wanted to break up the music, the rhythms, the routine, the footwork and control the time better with the loops. Seven minute warm-ups, two minute sprints, one minute sprints. Vary the beats and textures, use the strataspheres of rhythm, feel it.
I jump rope to warm up my body, open the channels, loosen up my shoulders, get blood to all my muscle and fine tune my nervous system. In the winter time, I have no choice but to warm up with the rope for 20 minutes, or face a day with cold hands, never really being able to warm up completely.
For gigs, if I jump rope the day of a gig, I’m automatically going to be quicker, looser and more in the groove. Because my body has grooved that day already, and the channels are open.
The benefits of jump rope are almost more than I can name.
It unifies the body and mind.
Increases agility and can even make your reflexes quicker.
Increases your sense of rhythm, deepens it.
Burns more calories in less time.
Kids like it, keeping them off the video games and the couch.
As long as your knees are ok, you can do it. It doesn’t involve the shock that running does.
Why using rhythms has helped me:
I can track my BPM precisely.
I can control intensity and peaks.
Sync my movements and breath.
I can ingrain rhythms into my body, so that when I play them on the drums, it’s like I’ve already practiced them on a deeper level.
It’s like dance.
It makes it more fun.
It propels my body, gives me something to move with.
The African rhythms are more dance oriented.
“One of the finest exercises for the development of a sense of balance is undoubtedly not ordinary haphazard skipping, but rather the real thing.”
“Body Feel suggest a harmonious interplay of body and spirit, both inseparable.”
“A fighter should not be flatfooted but should feel the floor with the balls of the feet as thought they were strong springs, ready to accelerate or slow movements as required.” - Bruce Lee