Drumming is an art, and
so is the way you practice. Always remember that "practice
makes perfect." It doesn't matter how new
you are to drumming, or how old you are, or even whether
you're a man or a woman. How fast you develop
as a drummer depends on how well, or should I say how
effectively you practice. Everyone naturally will develop
at their own pace, the key is to maximize your practice
time and get all that you can from it.
As a teacher, over the years I've developed several
"approaches" in which to take towards practicing.
These approaches which are listed below, will help you
to develop your practicing skills. Each one is
explained in detail, and if followed correctly should
make your practice session flow a lot smoother and yield
the maximum results. Remember that practicing
should never be looked at as a chore, it should always
be thought of as FUN !!!
Slow down a bit:
This is always the first approach I teach. When you find
it difficult to play a certain rhythm or fill, slowing
it down a bit usually always helps. What happens is that
when you slow down a pattern, the brain has more time
to process and effectively communicate the information
to your limbs (hands and feet). A lot of drummers will
try to play a pattern too fast, thinking to themselves
"...I can play this, it's not that hard, actually
this sounds better if I play it faster..." Well,
that couldn't more wrong! In fact, when you're finding
something difficult to play, playing too fast usually
ends up making the pattern sound sloppy and/or it gets
played incorrectly. Also, what might happen there is that
by playing the pattern too fast...thereby not playing
it correctly, you'll end up learning it wrong as well.
That's what I call "ineffective practicing."
By slowing the pattern down to the point where you can
play it correctly, you're saving valuable practice time
thereby practicing and learning the pattern "effectively."
Breaking it down:
Breaking down the pattern is also very helpful when it
comes to working on something difficult. Your first step
is to figure out which part of the pattern is giving you
the problem. If you're reading the notes, use a technique
I call "Boxing." Using a pencil, draw a box
around the part of the pattern that is giving you trouble.
Try to focus on playing just the notes inside the box.
As you become more comfortable with these notes, start
adding the notes one by one that lead up the box. Before
you know it, you'll be back at the beginning of the pattern
playing the whole thing correctly. If you're trying to
play a pattern from memory, try boxing the problem notes
in your head. This is not as easy as reading the notes,
but it should help. Another way to break down a pattern,
to separate your limbs into groups. Try playing the pattern
using just your hands, i.e., hi hat and snare, or maybe
try just the hi hat and bass drum. By breaking up the
pattern like that, you tend to learn the parts easier.
After feeling comfortable, try combining all your limbs.
Remember if it doesn't come together at one sitting, it
may at the next. The bottom line is practice, practice,
practice...if you do then it'll eventually happen.
Building the wall:
What happens when we stress out during our practicing,
is we start to build an imaginary wall in our head. Each
brick that we lay is a grunt or a shake of the head that
forms the wall. The higher you build the wall, the harder
it is to accomplish your assigned task. When you find
yourself stressing out over a pattern, take a few moments
and try to relax. Sometimes even walking away from your
kit for a few minutes helps. The object here is to try
to break down that wall you built up earlier. If I'm giving
a lesson and I see my student building a wall, I'll usually
tell him to relax a moment and give him a breathing exercise
to do. By taking a few long and deep breaths, this will
usually allow him to relax a bit...then I'll ask him to
try the pattern again.
The ability to focus on what you're doing is another key
factor when it comes to practicing. Often times I'll find
myself telling a student to focus or concentrate more
on what he's doing rather than looking around the room
while he's working a particular pattern. A technique that
I like to use is having the student "look" at
what he is working on. For example, if you're challenged
by a complex hi hat pattern, try looking at your hi hat
while you play the pattern. By doing this, you increase
your concentration level about 50-70%. This is especially
helpful when working on rudimentary exercises where hand
or finger technique is most important.
You're right on time:
The main role of the drummer is to keep good steady time.
Some of us have a better sense of time than others, while
most need some training. The use of a metronome is very
important, as it will help to develop a good sense of
time. If for example you're trying to play an eighth note
pattern, try setting the metronome to a BPM (beats per
minute) where you'll end up having the metronome count
in eighth notes as well. Playing the eighth notes while
listening to an eighth note pulse from the metronome is
the easiest way to start out when working with one in
the beginning. After you begin to feel comfortable using
the metronome (providing you're able to stay on the beat)
try cutting the BPM in half, say from 120 BPM to 60 BPM
and then count quarter notes instead, while continuing
to play the eighth notes. This will be more challenging
for you as you'll hear half as many beeps from the metronome
as before. The trick is trying to stay on the beat without
going too fast or too slow. Remember...with time you can
play anything good, but you can't play anything without
It's time to jam:
After you've built up some basic playing skills, my best
suggestion is to start playing along with music. This
amongst other things will help your timing, and naturally
that's important. Try to place your stereo system or boom
box as close to your kit as possible. The best way to
listen to your music is through "closed ear"
head phones. These are the type that fit over your entire
ear, which when worn, will block out most of the outside
sound. This is important so that when you start playing
along with the music, you'll get a good "mix"
in your headphones. Before trying to play, always take
some time and just listen to the song a number of times
before trying to play along with it. Try to pick out the
drum track in the song, and start learning where he puts
his fills, etc. More time is wasted trying to play along
with songs by jumping right in and playing to it. I use
a great technique called "copy then sign." First
try copying his rhythms and fills just as he would play
them in the song. After you've mastered this technique,
then put what I call your "signature" on it
by applying your own rhythms and fills to the song. This
technique will help to develop your own "style"
Less is more:
The biggest mistake drummers will make when trying to
play using their own style is to "over play."
This means either playing everything too fast or more
so than none, to add way too many fills. Try to learn
how to lay back when you play. Give your rhythm a chance
to sink in before applying a fill. This way when you do
fill, it'll be noticed more and depending on what you
play, the fill might even be considered "tasty."
A phrase I like to use is "...it's not so much what
you play, but when you play it..." Remember, in a
lot of cases "less is more..."