Efficient and effective practise. This is a huge thing to consider when you play an instrument. You may be practising for hours every week, but if you are just ‘noodling’ and playing what you already know, then you aren’t going to make much progress. I’ve always said to my students, if someone can hear you practising and it sounds good most of the time, then you’re not practising the right stuff. I’ve been practising difficult independence exercises lately and I know that anyone listening from outside would assume that I was a total beginner! More on the independence stuff and what I’ve been practising in my next post.
In order to get the most out of your time in the drum room, it is important to plan out your practise material in advance and try to stick to it. Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t improvise and have free practise time; a large proportion of my practise in the past has undoubtedly been based on playing ideas that have come into my head and just following the flow of these ideas. But, this should be done in between planned exercises that have the objective of improving weaker areas of your playing.
I always found that I would make the most general progress when I would have sheet music on the music stand which I would work on, then once I became too frustrated or antsy, I would just play whatever came into my head for a few minutes. This would have a similar effect of leaving the room for a few minutes, then coming back with a clearer head better able to continue attempting the difficult exercise. I invariably found that I would be able to play the exercise better once taking my mind off of it for a while. Repeating something difficult over and over again when you are not quite getting it is not really beneficial for your playing or your mindset.
Obviously you need to be careful with not getting distracted with the ‘free playing’ for too long and try to maintain your focus on the planned exercises for a decent amount of time, as you won’t end up getting much done otherwise. On the other hand, you could stumble upon something really compelling during your ‘free playing’ that could form a part of a new song or something that you could call on regularly in the future when playing other material. If you end up playing and developing a cool beat or fill of a relatively high level of difficulty which you haven’t played before, make sure you write it out. If you can’t read or write music, learn!! Assuming you can already play the drums reasonably well, I can teach you to become competent at rhythmic theory within a matter of weeks (as long as you practise it regularly).
Another thing that I attribute a fair chunk of my improvement to is regular rehearsals with bands over the years. I confess that I have not been very disciplined when it comes to private practise in the past, but scheduling regular rehearsals means that I have it locked into my calendar and I have to do it because it’s been arranged with the other members of the band, so if I cancelled I’d be letting them down, not just myself. That accountability factor is not to be undervalued. Plus, rehearsals are usually more enjoyable than private practise as you’re actually creating music with other musicians or rehearsing songs for an upcoming show.
Then there is the act of booking a rehearsal room where I have to drive to the rehearsal studio, set up my drums then pack them up at the end of the session. Because there is such an output of time, effort and money involved, you better believe I’m going to try and get the most out of that rehearsal. There’s no way I’m going to go to all that effort to play a few songs. Whereas if you are just at home playing drums, then the incentive to continue playing and get the most out of that session is not as pronounced as the rehearsal room situation.
Still be careful not to be the drummer that commits to too many bands so that you hardly have any time left for your own practise. I have certainly been guilty of this and still am really! But with the bands I play with, all of them are challenging in different ways and allow me to maintain my skills across different genres. This is key. Learning songs by acts like (James Norbert) Ivanyi, Obsidian Aspect and Dyssidia have all been a huge challenge and forced me to play in ways that I wouldn’t have otherwise considered if I had just stuck to collaborating on new music with Voros and coming up with my own drum parts. Finding that balance between creating your own parts and learning other people’s drum parts (with the option of changing some bits) is a very important factor in becoming a well-rounded drummer.
That’s all for now – thanks for reading and please check out my next post in which I run through what I am currently working on in the practise room :)