by Mike Johnston
When I sit back and think about the thousands of questions I’ve been asked by students in my eighteen-year career as a drum teacher and clinician, I would have to say that at least 80 percent of them have to do with practicing. It’s a scary thing to think about sitting down at the kit and dedicating yourself to improving, just to find out that you were practicing incorrectly or focusing on the wrong subject. Having a road map like the one we have here, the 45-Minute Practice Routine, will help you feel more confident on your journey.
Before we get into the specifics of the practice routine, it’s important that we define the difference between playing and practicing. Playing is when you jam on the drums without any direct focus. This would include grooving to your favorite songs or self-medicating with chops that make you feel better about your abilities. Don’t get me wrong, spending some time to just play the drums is extremely important, and I even carve out time for it in the routine. It reminds us why we fell in love with this instrument in the first place.
Practicing, on the other hand, is when you work on something that you desire to improve, with precise focus and attention paid to every detail, including touch, groove, feel, technique, and timing. The great jazz drummer Ralph Peterson once told me, “If you get up from your kit hoping that a bunch of people heard what you just did, you were just playing. But if you get up from your kit hoping that no one in the world heard what you just did, you were practicing.”
The 45-Minute Practice Routine is something that should be filled out before you even get to the kit. I fill mine out every night before I go to bed. Imagine walking into a grocery store without a list or a budget. What happens? You end up buying a ton of stuff that you don’t need, and you spend way too much money in the process. What happens when you go into that same store with a detailed list and an exact budget? You get exactly what you need, and you generally have a little money left over. Sitting down at the kit without a plan is like going to the store without a list. When it comes to filling out your practice routine, you should spend some time thinking about your “grocery list.” What do you want to improve? What is it that you see in other drummers that you wish you were better at? What weakness of yours do you wish was a strength? Answering these questions will help you fill out your practice routine.
You can always extend the time of each section to fit your schedule. On days where I have multiple hours set aside to practice, I’ll do my routine several times. I find that forty-five minutes is about the extent of my attention span. After I’ve completed one cycle, I get up from the kit, get a bite to eat, watch some highlights on SportsCenter, and then do it all over again.
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Mike Johnston runs the educational website mikeslessons.com, where he offers prerecorded videos as well as real-time online lessons. He also hosts weeklong drum camps at the mikeslessons.com facility each year.