Practice can be an elusive thing. Taking an instrument seriously means that we can’t avoid it. Even if you want to play for a hobby, then it’s needed. Simply just to get better. The difficulty is that people have decided somewhere along the line that it is a chore. Practice CAN be difficult, but it doesn’t HAVE to be difficult.
There are simple things that can be done to help you along the way.
Firstly, have a plan. It makes life a whole bunch easier. Now your plan doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be something as simple as ‘learn X new groove’ or ‘work on opening hi hats etc etc. Or it can be a little more elaborate, such as:
10 mins – doubles through table of time at 80bpm
10 mins – Songo bass drum variations
20 mins – Linear 4s through triplets and 16ths
15 mins – Comping figures in 5.
5/10 mins break.
This kind of idea can be aligned with something like a pro practice schedule. The timings and content can change depending on the needs of he student but the idea remains constant. But these ideas are not the only important factors in practice. Dave Weckl presented Rhythm Magazine with his 5 tips on getting the most out of your practice:
1. HIT THE PAD
“If you’re plagued by sound or volume limitations, you can get a lot of work done on just a pad. I suggest doing most of your rudiment and chop practising on a pad, so you can save the ‘noise making’ for application of those on the kit.”
2. SIT COMFORTABLY
“Set up your kit to make sense with your natural body movements and hand positions. Sit at your kit, close your eyes, let the sticks hang down at your sides. Bring up your right hand in a Moeller motion, whipping the stick down as to hit the snare. Don’t try and hit it, stop at the ‘crack of the whip’. If you didn’t hit your snare, you should have a rim shot. Do the same with all the drums. Then move them to your body, not the other way around.”
3. GET A GRIP
“Let the sticks do as much of the work as possible. This works only if the grip point is primarily at the thumb and middle finger, so the stick is balanced from the centre of the hand. All fingers are in contact with the stick as much as possible, while the feeling of ‘bouncing a ball’ is maintained while throwing the stick down to the head using the wrist – thumb sideways, palm down.”
4. GET THE FEEL
“I highly recommend Gary Chester’s book The New Breed. These exercises will tear you apart, and create the ability to analyse at a microscopic level the internals of your playing and grooves, necessary to identify feel problems. It’ll also increase your consistency level, one of the hardest things to achieve in anything we do.”
5. TRY THE ‘SING TEST’
“Record yourself playing grooves and fills. Play it back and see if you can sing what you just played. Would you sing it? Is it really what you want to say? Practise singing drum grooves and fills, concentrating on making it sound and feel like you want it to. The idea is to intend everything you play from a musical perspective. You’ll probably find you’ll play more simple, effective grooves and fills with this idea in mind.”
The hard part of practice is that is that it should be a daily thing and due to the nature of modern life, that can be difficult to maintain. Tiredness, family life, running a household, work (if you’re semi pro) etc. All these things can lead to a desire to not practice. I try and make it a daily routine and preferably at the same time. During a masterclass at the RCS, legendary sax player Dave Liebman suggested that he practises between 8am til noon every day. That way his practice remains consistent and he can track any bad habits or develop any new things and monitor them regularly.
1.) Practice something non creative that you can already do but wouldn’t mind being better at/faster/cleaner at etc (10 mins)
2.) Practice something creative (he makes the suggestion of left hand quarter notes whilst soloing against that) – so probably something improvisatory. (10 mins)
3.) Practice the new thing you want to work on (25 mins) This is the most important time limit – according to Johnston, neuroscience has suggested that the brain can only continue to absorb new information for 25 mins.
4.) Musical application. Johnston suggest using a music randomiser like Spotify and play 2 songs by any artist. He suggests that the key is to play these songs like you’re auditioning for that artist. Get as far inside the music as possible.
You can hear him talk about it here on the Drummers Resource podcast. You’ll find it towards the very end of the podcast but do check the whole thing out – it’s great.
The monitoring of your practice is both really important and extremely helpful. Keeping a log or recording and listening helps consistency and development. It lets you hear yourself subjectively and like an audience member would if your were playing live. You’ll probably find that your ideas enter into your playing faster than otherwise.
The site musiciansway.com has free downloads of practice schedules that can help you formulate a plan for yourself.
Also, Zoom make some great recording devices that don’t require a mixing desk, mic or computer to use. I’ve owned the H2 device for years and it’s one of the most handy devices to record your practice. Outside of that, the H4 and H6 are also pretty amazing. They can even be used to record band rehearsal too.
There will be times when you feel like you can’t do anything right and you sound terrible. It’s important to remember that this is practice. You should sound bad – especially if you’re working on something challenging. But the repetition is the key and having an objective view point – don’t take it personally, it’ll sound better faster than you think.