BY ANDY ZIKER | FROM THE FALL 2019 ISSUE OF DRUM!
As a drummer, you might have more in common with basketball great Steph Curry than you realize. It takes a lot of practice to hit that clutch 3-pointer in the NBA Finals, and Curry reportedly makes—makes—500 shots per day in the offseason. For pro drummers who can dedicate all their days to playing 500 ratamacues or double-bass paradiddles, that might not be such a tall task.
But what about the rest of us? How do closet drummers, weekend warriors, and freelancers clear away daily distractions to maintain a productive routine? Here are some tips on how to drum practice with an already full schedule.
BEFORE YOU START – DRUM PRACTICE
It’s important to consider the environment you’ll be playing in. Find a comfortable room with enough space to not feel claustrophobic. People often make the mistake of loading their walls with posters, cluttering shelves with knickknacks, and adding TVs and small fridges. You’ll be able to concentrate better if you clear away these distractions. Bright light can also stimulate learning.
Natural lighting is probably the best, while fluorescents are considered to be the worst. A temperature of around 70 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal, but if this is out of your control, a sweatshirt or fan will prove helpful.
Besides the obvious need for a drum set or other percussion instruments, it’s important to have the right tools to make the most of your precious practice time. There are so many educational products now available on the internet, including metronome apps and educational websites. Having an internet-connected device like a smartphone, tablet, or laptop at your disposal is now a must.
There’s just something charmingly comfortable about looking at books or sheet music on a music stand. If you want to combine the old with the new, Manhasset makes an iPad holder that secures your tablet to the music stand.
Whether placed on your snare drum or a stand, practice pads help you hone in on technique. If you need a challenge—and an extremely small playing surface—check out the Ahead Wicked Chops pad.
Since you’re going to spend almost all of your time sitting down, a comfortable throne is a necessity. A quality pair of headphones is important when analyzing or playing along with music, and blank staff paper is useful to jot down ideas or transcribe licks from your favorite drummers. (You can also use notation software such as Finale or Sibelius for the same purpose.)
Playing loud can be fun, but it can also cause conflicts with housemates and neighbors. Soundproofing keeps decibels from traveling through the walls, but it’s an expensive solution involving building a room within a room. Sound absorption, like putting foam or other absorbent materials on the walls, ceiling, or floor, deadens the sound in the room, which can inspire you to practice for longer periods of time—but it doesn’t keep sound from escaping through the walls, windows, and doors.
With the advent of products that create a quiet playing surface (such as the Remo Silentstroke or Aquarian Super-Pads) and quiet cymbals (such as the Zildjian L80 or the Sabian Quiet Tone), we can appease our neighbors while getting a satisfying amount of tone out of the instrument. As long as you use headphones or in-ear monitors, e-kits offer great sound options with only the soft thud of stick on rubber and mesh heads heard in the room.
However, be careful if you live on the second floor or above—sound waves from striking the bass drum pad resonate through the floor and create a not-so-pleasant experience for your neighbors below (Roland’s Noise Eater line claims to abate this problem).
If you’re fortunate enough to play in a soundproof room or far away from the populace, you can play as loudly as you want. However, make sure to use hearing protection like earplugs or earmuffs. Protect the rest of your body as well by paying attention to ergonomics and setting up your kit in an efficient way for long-lasting practice.
While it’s best to keep your studio as uncluttered as possible, try placing rudiment posters, drumming magazines, sticks, and practice pads around the house for encouragement to get off the couch and practice.
If you’re struggling to find the time, start with small increments and gradually build up. Five minutes amounts to no practice at all, so start with 10 and add from there. On the flip side, research shows that an average adult can only concentrate a maximum of 45 consecutive minutes.
Take breaks to exercise, do chores, run errands, etc. It’s amazing how efficiently you can use your time if you plan ahead.
Attempting to master a long list of items in one session can be overwhelming and counterproductive. It’s advisable to focus on a single exercise, playing it at a variety of tempos before moving on. Consistency is key, so find a consistent/productive time of the day to practice (such as after your morning coffee).
This may seem a little controversial, but to make real gains in drumming, you’ll need to compromise and prioritize practice over other parts of your life. Speak with your family to gain their understanding. Convey to them that the benefits, such as increased recognition, confidence, and self-efficacy, outweigh the negatives. You may even become a role model for young family members.
Getting in the habit of playing every day can be a catalyst for effective practice. Books like Drum Aerobics and Daily Drum Warm-Ups from Hal Leonard and 30-Day Drum Workout from Alfred help you forge a routine. Also, calendar reminders exist on your smartphone, so why not use them to remind yourself to practice?
The gym is full of people motivated to get better. Try applying gym techniques, such as keeping a practice log, changing your routine up from time to time, and attending to specific body parts like hands, feet, fingers, arms, etc. If using a drum book, write the date on the top of the page and cross it out or give yourself a gold star or smiley face when you’ve mastered it.
Messing around on the drums—in place of structured practice—is extremely tempting and can unfortunately make your sessions much less worthwhile. On the other hand, capturing ideas off of a flow, and then assimilating these seeds into your playing is a great use of your time. Don’t eliminate it entirely, but try to limit your noodling to stay on task.
MAKE A ROUTINE
Clear your mind and strive for a relaxed mental state before practicing. This could involve visualization, yoga, Tai Chi, deep breathing, meditation, etc. Try to maintain a positive mindset all the way through each session. If you begin to feel frustrated, take a break or move onto something else. You can always circle back to the more challenging material.
Without even being aware of it, volume can have an effect on learning. Playing at a low to moderate level can help your body relax just enough to learn something new.
There are many benefits to starting with a warm-up, including decreased risk of injury, focusing your mind, and honing technical skills.
Get in the habit of learning material first at slow tempos and you’ll save a lot of time (and headaches) in the long run. Metronome apps such as Tempo can help you find the optimal working tempo by using the tap function, and liveBPM Beat Detector calculates what tempo you’re playing. To help with playing along with or analyzing music, the Amazing Slow Downer not only slows it down without changing the pitch but offers EQ and looping controls.
Focusing on technique will make you feel more comfortable when you practice. This can be as simple as watching a video of someone with amazing technique, such as Steve Smith, Dave Weckl, or Jojo Mayer, and trying to emulate what they do. Also, check out HingeStix, a great tool to develop your hands.
Say it before you play it. In Indian culture, vocal percussion directly connects to playing the tabla. In the same way, you can sing or count rhythms out loud to develop your rhythmic concept. A greater understanding of rhythm leads to playing with more conviction.
Have you ever noticed how review is stressed in math textbooks? Is this done to torture unsuspecting young people? No, the truth is that repetition allows skills and concepts to better seep into our consciousness. Plan to play an exercise multiple times before moving on.
Don’t make excuses. The Terminator (and Kindergarten Cop) himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, said it best: “You can have results or excuses, but not both.”
FIGHT DRUMMER’S BLOCK
Even the most motivated player sometimes suffers from drummer’s block. There are ways to fight this inevitability. For one, be aware of the four modalities—kinesthetic (moving), visual (seeing), auditory (hearing), and tactile (touching)—and which best stimulate your learning.
Play what you know. Studying the grooves and fills of your favorite drummers is a valuable pursuit, especially if you consider the context in which these ideas were played. Try switching hands and playing what you’re already familiar with using your opposite hand or opposite hand lead.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the technique and independence of drumming that we sometimes forget about playing with good time and the right feel. For instance, listen to “Tush” by ZZ Top and try to capture the groove of Frank Beard’s infectious Texas shuffle.
Learning other percussion instruments, like congas, can enhance your playing of other styles and coax sounds out of the drum set. E-kits also allow the sound of the instrument to drive what you play. The same can be done by tuning your drums differently or adding accessories like tambourines, rivets, and jingles to your heads or cymbals. Brushes, shakers, cowbells, and woodblocks can serve the same function.
Do you find yourself listening repeatedly to one style of music? This is perfectly normal, but if you can nudge yourself into discovering new genres, your practice time will feel fresher and more exciting.
Recording yourself on video or just audio might be the purest and most reliable—and sometimes most painful—form of evaluating yourself. It also provides instant feedback. Rhythm trainers such as the Korg Beatlab mini detect discrepancies between the metronome and what you play.
Though it can be imposing at times, challenge yourself with independence, polyrhythms, displacements, rudiments, accenting, weak-hand builders, and more. As you make gains in these areas, it’ll provide you with a huge boost in confidence to your overall playing.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
It’s not rocket science: the more you know, the more you have to draw from when you play. Follow your favorite drum educators on social media and you’ll have immediate access to free short video clips with tons of interesting licks and information on drum clinics in your area.
You don’t have to look too far to sign up for drum camps put on by master educators and incredible players—Thomas Lang, Jim Riley, Stanton Moore, Mike Johnston, Rich Redmond, and all sponsor camps, which are sure to spark your desire to practice at home. Save up your money and go for it!
Having a private teacher on your side is a remarkable advantage. Just about every medium- to large-sized city has one or more qualified drum teachers, so pick up the phone (or send a DM) and contact them. If teachers aren’t available in your area, Skype lessons are another great option if you’ve got a fast internet connection.
Check out online forums such as those on drummerworld.com and mikedolbear.com—as well as Facebook discussion groups like “The Art of Drumming”—to connect with well-known experts who are ready to answer your questions.
Drumming books, DVDs, and now, video streams cover just about any topic you can imagine. Educational websites are also a major player. Check out Drumeo, Drum Channel, Drum Workout, Mike’s Lessons, The Dave Weckl Online School, Stanton Moore Drum Academy, and many more. [Ed. note: including DrumMagazine.com, which is free.]
Find drum set transcriptions. The website onlinedrummer.com offers extremely accurate transcriptions of your favorite songs at a reasonable price. Their e-book offerings cover a number of topics off the beaten path to pique your creativity.
GET INSPIRED – DRUM PRACTICE
There are plenty of things you can do to keep yourself inspired, whether you’re practicing or not. For one, be sure to set goals for yourself. Experts such as Anders Ericsson (and later, Malcolm Gladwell) have said that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, so make sure to break it down between short-term and long-term goals. Make outlines to stay organized and on task.
Focus on your weaknesses. If you always practice areas of strength, your capacity to improve will be extremely limited. Be honest with yourself and hone in on the gaps in your game.
Go see live music. Check out the best local bands and emulate what the drummers do. This far surpasses watching performances on YouTube and it will fire you up to sprint back to the practice room. And there’s nothing that will inspire you more than joining a band. Peer pressure is an incredibly motivating force.
Pass on your knowledge. When you teach someone else, it’s not only a noble pursuit but also makes it crystal clear what you have to work on yourself.
It’s imperative that you incorporate fun games and creative exercises into your practice regime. After all, isn’t having fun why we decided to play drums in the first place?