Maximize Your Practicing
Get the Most From Whatever Time You Have
by Jeremy Hummel
It seems that now more than ever we live in a world where it’s a challenge to find the time to do anything outside our daily responsibilities. Whether we’re a student, a parent, a businessperson, or even a professional musician, our fast-paced lives make it more and more challenging to improve at the craft of drumming. In this article, I’d like to address how to maximize practice time.
The first step in figuring out how to make the most of your practice time is to ask yourself, “What am I trying to get better at”? Take a close look at where you are as a drummer and which concepts interest you the most. Playing the drums is supposed to be fun, yet I maintain that there’s a definite difference between freestyling and practicing. Let’s take a look at each.
Freestyling Versus Practicing
Freestyling is when you sit behind the drums and play whatever happens to come into your mind. This can be therapeutic and perhaps give you a sense of well-being, because for the most part the ideas you play are within your comfort zone. Most people, however, tend to spend too much time freestyling.
Practicing, on the other hand, is spending time working on the things that you cannot do well or that need more refinement. People sometimes avoid practicing because they don’t want to risk not sounding good to themselves or others. Without any real discipline or organization to your practice routine, though, advancement will be limited.
Here’s a common scenario. You’re working on a page from a book in a slow, methodical manner. There’s one particular spot you can’t seem to get past. When frustration sets in, the next thing you do is usually one of three things: You maintain focus and continue practicing in the same manner (the least common), you try to play the phrase faster, or you start to freestyle. The point is that often freestyle playing results from impatience. Many people in our society have a seriously short attention span. When I discuss practicing in clinics, people often say, “My intentions are good, but after the first ten minutes I get frustrated and play something different or start thinking about something else.”
There are a number of books available that deal with staying focused. Two that I really like are The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and The Art of Practicing by Madeline Bruser. The best mantra to keep in mind is “be here now.”
Focus and Simplify
Once you decide which areas of your playing you wish to improve, it’s important to be disciplined and not stray from that. I recommend picking no more than two or three things at a time. With all the media that’s now available (Web videos, DVDs, books, and so on), it’s very easy to get sidetracked and overwhelmed. It’s wonderful to use these tools as resources for inspiration. Yet to truly get better, it’s paramount to have a clear vision of what you’re trying to achieve.
Consider the phenomenon where one Web video leads to another. It’s like going on a cruise with multiple stops. Each place you visit is great and has inspiring qualities, but you never really get to know any of them because the experiences are short-lived. Sporadic practice routines have the same effect.
If you have an abundance of practice time and many things to explore, try setting goals to get through more material. We all want instant gratification, but the reality is that the things we cherish most in life require much attention and work. Remember, practice time is a privilege, not a chore.
A technique I find helpful in my own practicing is to remove all distractions. I value the time I have to work on my craft, so I turn off my computer, cell phone, and anything else that could steal my focus. If there are other people in your house when you want to practice, ask them if you can remain uninterrupted for that time period. You could simply say, “Please give me this time, and I’m all yours when I’m finished.”
To reiterate some of the ideas from this article, we would like to sharing a video clip called “The Gift” from jazz drummer/educator John Riley’s DVD The Master Drummer. John eloquently explains how the gifted are not those blessed with natural ability, but rather the ones who’ve found their passion.