By Stephen Perkins, as told to Billy Lee Lewis
Before we explore his “ritual de lo habitual” for practicing, let us first take a moment to give thanks that the drummer for Jane’s Addiction has seen fit to devote his uncontainable energy to good and not evil. Our conversation with Stephen Perkins revealed not only an extraordinary passion and commitment to music and drumming, but also a sincere eagerness to share what he has learned. Calling from his home studio, where he had just finished a session with Banyan, Perkins offered his personal practice tips.
I begin with ten to 15 minutes of the standard rudiments I learned in marching band. Although, having been penned by someone else, they may not feel “creative,” there’s an important tradition and discipline to these rudiments that still very much apply to my playing today. They’re also an excellent way to develop speed, strength, and control.
For the next 15 minutes or so, I like to take off on a sort of freeform drum solo around the kit. Without the constraints of timekeeping, I can explore the surreal or eclectic side of drumming. By avoiding patterns, I can free myself and get to know my drums and cymbals in a more musical fashion, concentrating more on swells, crescendos, ritards and such. It’s more of an “expression” solo than a “chops” solo, rediscovering the various sounds each of my instruments has to offer.
3. Work On Weak Points
Next, I like to focus on things that I’m not particularly good at. For instance, if you’ve got the Bonham thing down, why not go for a Bozzio double bass thing? Move your drums around, find new ideas, and stay away from what you’re used to. Although I always keep my “core kit” intact, I’ll add, switch, and substitute different instruments to open new possibilities. Throwing in a pair of timbales or moving the order of my toms forces me to reconsider the kit; setting up a ride cymbal on my left allows me to work on playing left-handed bell grooves. This concept actually extends beyond practice. Because my various projects differ musically, I set up differently for each one. My goal is to inspire myself as well as my friends with different textures or patterns.
4. Play With Other Players
Practicing doesn’t necessarily have to be done alone. By surrounding yourself with equally good or better players, you’ll get better. Maybe invite another drummer or two over and trade ideas—you’ll often pick up things you might not have found on your own. Playing in an informal environment (without the pressure of an audience) with guitarists, keyboardists, whatever, can free all of you up to realize new discoveries.
5. Practice With A Metronome
When I’m not engaged in the free-form exercises, I work with either a standard metronome or something like Metro-Cans, which are headphones with a built-in click track. I’ve learned that all the chops in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t have a strong, confident sense of time.