A Guide To More Productive Practicing
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, is 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 good time.
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" of playing.
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..."