Practice The Drums Effectively - Practice Tips
These tips apply to any drum book, so keep them in mind no matter what you are studying. I might repeat some things that are already written in drum books, but I want to make sure all the important things are covered here in one place.
1. Take Your Time
When you start to learn something new, always start slow. Even if you think that you know the beat already, play it slow just to make sure that you are doing it right. Once you know that you are doing it right, then you can start to speed it up. Trying to play too fast at first will ultimately slow down your progress. It is important to learn to play things at a range of tempos anyway, so you might as well progress from slower to faster tempos than that other way around.
2. Count Out Loud
I remember when I first started playing drums, my teacher always told me to count out loud - even when I didn't feel it was necessary. Only later in my drumming career did I realize its importance when I was trying to learn more difficult beats and rhythms. Counting out loud is a great way to check and see if you are playing things right. If you are counting and your playing doesn't line up - you will know immediately that something is wrong.
3. Don’t Play when You Practice, Don't Practice When you Play
Dedicated "practice" time should be focused. You should never jam or play things you have already mastered during this time. Likewise, you should never be practicing things when you are playing with a live band or in another setting that is focused around "playing" music.
This is a mistake that we all have made. I am just as guilty of this as anyone else. It is extremely important to stay on task during any formal practice time. I have some students who don’t follow this simple principle and as a result have been working on certain beats for months. They come into lessons week after week without making any real progress.
I take a full lesson to have them work through a few beats properly, and they immediately start making progress. It isn't because I am there guiding them, but rather because they are actually focusing on getting better. Had they done this themselves, they would’ve saved a lot of time and money. Ninety-nine percent of the time their slowed progress is entirely due to unfocused practice.
4. Sit up Straight - Be Ready to Play
I don’t want to sound like your school teacher, but it is extremely important that you sit up straight during a practice or performance. Not only is this better for your body, but it also helps you stay more focused on what you are doing. You'd be surprised how much easier everything seems when you are in the "ready position" with your back straight and your arms loose and ready.
5. Don’t Give Up - Always End with an Accomplishment
If you are having a hard time on a beat or a section of beats, don’t give up! Take it as a challenge. All too often I see people get to the hard section of the beats and then give up. The whole reason you are practicing in the first place is to learn material that you don’t know. The hardest beats, when worked out and practiced hard, will probably become your favorite.
Often in practices I will set mini-goals to be sure I am accomplishing objectives. If I am having real trouble with a particular beat, I would make it my primary objective to master it. Often I will tell myself something like: "I will not stop till I can play this absolutely perfect 5 times in a row".
It's always important to end practices on a good note. Overcoming small obstacles is a great way to wrap things up and give you that added confidence to take your playing to the next level. Always remember to push yourself to catch that one beat, fill, or pattern that is giving you trouble. In drumming and in life, confidence based on accomplishment is everything.
6. Practice Does NOT Make Perfect
Practicing RIGHT makes perfect. I always stress the importance of this. If you are working on a beat and are not quite sure whether or not you are playing it right, then you need to find out. There are many ways to check your work:
When you practice it wrong then you are only getting better at doing something the WRONG way. When you finally do realize what you are doing it is going to be that much more difficult to change back to the right way. Don’t get better at doing it wrong!
7. Use a Metronome (aka - click track)
It's important to incorporate a metronome into your regular practice. Don't become reliant on it, but use it as a training tool instead. It will help you stay on beat when you are practicing at a wide range of tempos. If you don't have one - you can get one at your local music store for $20-$50.
Sometimes playing a beat extremely slow can be just as difficult as trying to play it really fast. It's important that you learn to be flexible enough to play virtually any beat in any setting. You've already learned to play through things slowly at first, but I'd recommend going back to push things even slower after you've mastered them. This will actually help you when begin to practice it faster, as your muscles will begin to memorize the pattern.
When you are ready and feel confident that you can play a beat at a range of slower tempos - use the click track to practice at faster tempos. Make sure you start at a range you can easily play, and then increase the metronome speed by 5 BPM (beats per minute) as you feel comfortable. If you reach a speed you can't play - slow it back down until you are ready to proceed.
8. Set a Practice Routine
Ideally you want to practice everyday of the week, but at very least you want to get in to any form of routine. This will help you learn at a steady pace - spending more time advancing your skills instead of re-practicing things that you've already mastered.
A professional body builder doesn’t go into the gym and lift one weight and then walk out. In the same way, you can’t practice drums hard for one day and then go back two weeks later and expect to remember everything you went over. You might still know a few of the things, but ultimately you will have lost much of what you worked on. As drummers, we are trying to build muscle memory. Practice and repetition is key to achieving this.
9. Stay relaxed and loose
This was one of the hardest lessons for me to learn as a younger drummer. It is amazing how much faster and cleaner you can play just by relaxing and staying loose. A good way to make sure you are staying relaxed is by taking deep breaths while you are practicing. This is a great way to slow down your heart rate and calm your muscles.
10. Have Fun
I have to throw in the old “Have Fun” tip. I know it might sound lame or cliché, but it’s true. Always take time to enjoy playing your kit. It's important to practice hard, but it's just as important to have fun with the skills you are working so hard to develop.
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