One of my current drum instructors, Jim Rennier, introduced me to a hand strengthening exercise that has literally transformed my drumming skills and aided in alleviating my carpel tunnel issues. The Cowling exercises, formally known as the ” The Cowling System”, are used to develop finger strength and dexterity.
Developed in 1904 by Mr.E.J. Cowling, the Cowling exercises are the best kept secret among musicians and simply is the difference between mediocrity and brilliance, when the system is applied correctly.
These exercises do more for the 60 plus muscles on each hand than any traditional practice technique, such as scales, hanons, singles, doubles, paradiddles, etc. Applying the Cowling exercises on a daily basis will get your fingers to do exactly what your brain tells them to do. Cowling exercises has transformed my playing.
You will find that these exercises are great for drummers, pianists, horn and other woodwind players, guitarists, and literally any musician who uses their fingers to control and play their instrument.
At first, the Cowling exercises will prove to be challenging even for the strongest and most experienced musicians, especially if they have never done these exercises before. You will find that it uses muscle groups you never thought you had.
For me, after the first couple of times applying the system, I noticed a difference in my strength, dexterity, and stick control, especially the fingers. It has been 3 weeks since I started and my finger muscles are that much stronger, and I have so much more control than I thought I’d ever have. I feel the muscles strengthening in the back of the hands and down my forearms after each session. And I am also experiencing less fatigue and increased stamina when I practice on the pad and play the kit.
As Jim explains in the video, start off slow and don’t overdue it because you can strain the muscles. I found that I was Charlie Horse the very first day after I started doing the Cowling exercises. So, I took a one day break. If you find yourself Charlie Horse, take a break as well, otherwise you will injure yourself. I find it helpful to take a one day break every so often to allow my muscles to recover.
Ideally, you want muscle memory to kick in so that you can do the exercises without the aid of the other hand.