Practicing – Finding Your Own Path
“What should I be practicing?”
This is a question I get asked fairly regularly by my students, and unless I know the individual very well I’m usually at a loss to give them a definitive answer. The reason for this is that the study of your instrument is a very personal thing; the goals, aspirations and interests of each person will vary immensely.
The overall skill-set expected of a professional working drummer is huge and therefore knowing where to focus your time and energy in the practice room can sometimes be difficult. Therefore, a practice routine should be developed that takes into account the needs of the individual based on their goals, priorities, time and resources.
The following areas are the ones I suggest every serious drummer should consider when forming a well-structured practice routine. By default, some of these areas will overlap. However, it’s important that each area is monitored periodically and receives attention as needed:
1. Technique – The development of technique requires an ergonomically correct playing style in both hands and feet with a view to increasing speed, power and endurance in these areas. This includes grip, general movements (Moeller technique), positioning, posture, heel up/heel down.
2. Timing (internal clock) – developing the ability to keep good time at a variety of different tempos and dynamics. Additionally, the style being played (and its basic subdivision) should be considered in the developing timing.
3. Styles/Genres – This will include knowledge of the typical patterns, sounds (e.g. ancillary percussion for latin styles or a second snare drum in drum ‘n’ bass) and the fundamental characteristics (e.g. song form, instrumentation) of a typical song/composition, as well as being able to improvise in the genre authentically as appropriate.
4. Reading – This includes learning ‘note-specific’ notation and the interpretative/geographical aspects of a drum chart.
5. Four-Way Independence – Learning four-way independence can often overlap with learning technique, reading and styles. Exercises and patterns utilized for this purpose should be done in duple and triplet subdivision, and the downbeat should be ‘sung’.
6. Repertoire – Learning songs can have excellent benefits for several reasons. In addition to increasing your knowledge of styles (depending what songs you are learning) your chances of being able to play with a band at short notice increases dramatically, particularly when they are the ‘classics’ or standards for a particular genre.
7. Soloing – This can be done in a variety of ways: groove soloing, soloing over a song form, trading fours or eights; over an ostinato or free soloing.
8. Sound quality – the ability to create a professional sound from the instrument at a wide range of dynamics, including overall balance of the various instruments of the kit.
9. Phrasing – the ability to hear ‘rhythmic cycles’ in 3, 5, etc. for the purpose of fills, soloing and creating new patterns
10. Listening/Transcription – listening to music with focus and intent and making the attempt to notate the content.
Other Important Areas To Consider!
1. Play with other musicians – ultimately, this is the end goal as the drums are usually an accompanying instrument. Playing with others brings many variances to the music that you must continually compensate for, and it involves you having to know your own role on a deeper level.
2. Practice concentrating – ‘Think, don’t stink’ – a powerful pithy maxim that commands us (Zen-like) to focus on the one thing you are doing at that moment. We make errors when our mind wanders; what is the quality of our attention and doing at any given moment? Yoga, martial arts and meditation can be excellent ways to develop this.
3. Keep a journal – Make a note of what you have practiced and when. Set goals for yourself that are ambitious but realistic, and are measurable when possible. Be reflective and make notes of your progress and any feedback that you may be receiving from a colleague or tutor.
4. Practicing away from the instrument – ‘mental’ practicing or visualization can have tremendous benefit; you may not have the luxury to sit behind the kit, but there is much you can do to mentally work through an area of study or an upcoming performance.
Record yourself – the recording doesn’t lie; you will hear things in your playing that you weren’t aware of previously. Do this in your practice sessions and when you play gigs.
An essential guide to starting a band, writing your first song and getting on the road to rock stardom by Ian Edwards.
Becoming a good musician is a life decision for many. It takes years and years to get somewhere near good, can cost you an absolute fortune and I can pretty much guarantee it will dominate your relationships. So what is the point in all that hassle?
It’s pretty simple really, when you think about it. It’s all about passion. Learning about music and becoming a musician is a passionate affair that, given the right space, will last a lifetime. But getting good takes time, knowledge and plenty of practise. Forming a band or deciding to be a solo artist is not a decision that can be taken lightly. And as for getting out and gigging or booking out a recording studio, well it can be a minefield.
With passion and time also comes hard work. Getting good at anything is hard, and music is no exception. Don’t be fooled by those mind-blowing performances you have witnessed from your heroes. They didn’t get that good by being lazy and it wasn’t a gift from above either, the most talented musicians have a good work ethic. However, many of them are very good at making you believe it’s all too easy!
There are two other areas to consider; fun and money. If playing music is not fun then why are you doing it? Music can be the ultimate form of self-expression and humans love to show off. Music is also something that can be done in a group, and this can be even more fun. Recording or performing a piece of music that you have just written and arranged is a truly life-enhancing experience. As for making a few quid out of music, well it has been known to happen. Careers in music are many and varied, so don’t presume that it’s the Top Ten or bust. Many musicians make a good living out of their craft in a myriad of different ways.
This continual search is what this blog is all about; from giving advice on writing your first song to putting together your first national tour, this book will guarantee you the best advice in a way that’s guaranteed to get you and your band moving in the right direction. So keep 'em peeled over the next weeks and months for advice on creating your musical future.
What are you waiting for? Lets nail it!