Kenny Aronoff

Modern Drummer’s March cover star lays it right out: Focus on these areas if you want to reach the top.

There are plenty of great drummers everywhere—why is it that I get asked to do so many sessions, tours, and live shows over and over again? How have I been able to stay relevant for thirty-five-plus years in one of the most difficult businesses in the world?

I reflected and thought about these questions for a long time. As I wrote my autobiography over the course of four years, I actually figured out some answers. (Hint: it’s not just about how well I play.)

Here are seven specific area that you should focus on—whether you’re a drummer or not—if you want to be and stay successful at whatever path you choose in life.

  1. Self Discipline

It all starts here—the power to discipline one’s own feelings and desires with the intention of improving oneself.

You must be disciplined in order to be great at what you do, no matter what your field of work is. As a drummer, I need to practice every day in order to be great.

On the John Fogerty tour, after I wake up I do my functional practice routine on a pad, utilizing both hands and both feet. This routine takes twenty to thirty minutes. It focuses on exactly what will make me sound great today. Before the show, I do that routine again.

After we play our show, we usually race from the stage to a van and then to our private jet, and fly to the next city. After I get checked into my hotel, I take a shower, do some business, and do that routine again. If I do it three times a day, it makes a huge difference and it helps me play five percent better than if I didn’t do it, and that five percent makes a huge difference.

  1. Hard Work Fueled by Passion and Education

Hard work helps you get better at what you do, and therefore makes you an asset to the band or team or organization that you’re a part of. Hard work on the part of each individual in an organization helps the group itself perform better. The more passion you have for what you do, the better you will perform, and the better you will serve your team.

When I was eighteen years old, I started practicing eight hours a day, seven days a week. I don’t have the time anymore to practice eight hours a day, but I never take a day off, and I’m willing to work eighteen hours a day, every day. If you’re lazy or feel entitled, you’ll get smoked by people who have self-discipline and are willing to work hard. This is a fact.

  1. Creating a Plan That You Execute

Set a goal and create the perfect plan that will help you reach that goal. Make steps every day toward your goal, and at every step you’ll learn something that will be beneficial. Practicing your skill every day is making steps toward your goal. Educate yourself about the business, ask questions, take lessons, talk to anybody who’s already successful—it will all help you reach your goal.

  1. Team Communication Skills

In a rock ’n’ roll band, it takes the sum of all the instruments (bass, drums, guitars, keyboards, vocals, etc.) to make a unique sound. Likewise, the musicians themselves must get along, communicate with each other, and work as a team to become successful. It’s the same in any profession. Communicate! Individuals don’t win Super Bowls, teams do.

  1. RPS (Repetition Is the Preparation for Success)

Repeating an action or thought over and over again is the preparation for success. I practice certain drum exercises (my functional practice routine) every day in order to perform at the best of my ability every day. For athletes, lifting weights and doing aerobic exercise helps them prepare for the next event. Each business requires certain skills that demand repetition. There are no shortcuts.

  1. A Healthy Life Is a Wealthy Life

As a drummer, I need to be super healthy to do a three-hour soundcheck and then a two-and-a-half-hour show with John Fogerty five nights a week. To become and stay successful in any field, you must also be mentally and emotionally healthy. Being healthy in all three areas makes you more positive, happier, and a better asset to the team. Here are eight ways to get there.

Lifting weights keeps your hormone levels up, which fights disease (especially the big three—cancer, diabetes, and heart disease).

Cardio work exercises the most important muscle in your body, your heart, and, like weightlifting, keeps your hormone levels up.

Stretching (yoga). Flexibility along with strength is very important.

Diet. I could write a book just on what to eat and what not to eat. Generally, though, I recommend eating as many fruits and vegetables as possible, especially berries; staing away from processed foods; cutting back on soda or avoiding it completely; and, as much as possible, eating organic meats.

Supplements. I take supplements because I travel so much that I can’t depend on getting the best-quality food at all times. If you’re on the road often, think about taking supplements.

Water. Every organ in your body depends on water. Drink at least half your body weight in ounces. So, for instance, if you weigh 200 lbs., drink 100 ounces of water per day.

Sleep. This is where your body repairs itself. Seven to eight hours is ideal. I wake up after three and a half or four hours and try to get another three. I feel better if I get more. I take a twenty-minute nap before I play, and it makes a difference.

Meditation. Stress will kill you. Meditation reduces stress.

Staying focused and relevant. It’s imperative to stay focused and relevant in any business to stay successful. The music business is one of the most difficult businesses in the world. It’s constantly changing. I’ve been successful by staying focused, making adjustments, and being flexible.

For much more with Kenny Aronoff, check out the March 2017 issue of Modern Drummer magazine.

Photo by Alex Solca.