Almost all young drummers attempt to see how fast they can play at some point. This is a natural stage of development. It is sort of like flexing your muscles just to see how strong you are.
Technique is needed to play any instrument well. Technique means more than just speed however. It also means control, touch, accuracy and consistency. In addition it includes producing a musical sound from the instrument. Such factors as coordination, endurance and power should also be considered a part of technique. To me, technique means skill.
To play the drumset well in contemporary music does require good technique. The problem is not really with learning technique or attempting to learn to play faster. The problem is with the side effects of ineffective practice methods.
Tips on Developing Speed Naturally
- Practice with the sticks you normally play with. Avoid metal sticks or sticks that are much larger than those you normally use. If warming up with a heavier pair feels good to you, do so, but avoid extremes. A few minutes with a slightly heavier pair than normal is fine. Then practice with your regular sticks.
- It is very difficult to develop good technique if the stick is too light. A 7A is a very small stick for practicing. A good 5A stick seems to be the lightest weight for effective practicing. Again, just avoid extremes. If you are playing in a trio and using 7A’s every night, spend a few minutes each day with a pair of 5A’s just to keep loose.
- Avoid tension when practicing. This is sometimes easier said than done. We all want to do well and sometimes we try too hard. The result is tense, over-tightened muscles. When this happens, endurance, speed, sound and control are sacrificed to some degree.
Play the practice patterns at about 80% of your top speed—fast enough to work out while avoiding straining or tensing up. Play more repetitions of each pattern or exercise. In this way, you begin to develop the ability to stay moderately relaxed while playing fast.
If you continually tighten up in an effort to play faster, you are simply practicing tightening up. This amounts to learning a bad habit. By playing 20% slower, you develop the habit of playing in a relaxed manner with a musical sound and in tempo.
- Practice a variety of sticking and accent patterns. Reverse patterns or change the accents whenever you feel limited or bored. Play as many different kinds of patterns as possible.
- Practice with one hand at a time. Play around your drumset with just the left hand and then with just the right hand. Practice reaching for each part of the set with each hand. This will provide a real workout for you, especially with the left arm.
- Practice at a variety of dynamic levels. The ability to play quickly and softly is important in developing a “touch” on the instrument. It helps to develop sensitivity and control.
- Practice with a metronome, especially when practicing for speed. The metronome will keep you honest. It will make you aware of when you try too hard and rush the tempo. The metronome can also be a great aid in learning to play in time at slow tempos.
- Be aware of the sound you are creating when practicing. When you tighten up, you change the sound. As you increase the speed of an exercise, make certain that the sound changes as little as possible. If the sound changes only slightly as the exercise is played faster, then you are not tightening up. If the sound changes drastically, check the muscles in your forearm, hands and upper arms to see if you are becoming tense. If so, slow down a little and relax. Play a little easier until being relaxed physically becomes a habit.
- Use your feet! Even when practicing on a practice pad, tap one or both feet to keep the tempo secure. This also helps to develop coordination. When practicing on the drumset, devote some time each day to developing your feet. Play patterns with just the feet so you can concentrate on the sound and how your muscles feel. Make sure that your pedals are well oiled and in good working condition. Buy a practice pad set for your feet if you are limited by an apartment or sensitive neighbors.
- If your shoulders and/or arms become tense while practicing, try standing up. A practice pad on a stand that will reach the height of your belt buckle is perfect. Adjust the pad up or down until you are comfortable. Practice standing up at the pad. This allows the arms and shoulders to move more freely than when you are seated at the drumset. Again, avoid extremes! A few minutes each day when warming up should be sufficient.
One last thought—everything we think, feel and understand (or don’t understand) is projected to others in the way we sound when we play. I f you are tense, stiff or uptight because of ineffective practice methods, others will hear it. So practice in a relaxed way, listen to each sound, be patient, and you will develop speed, control and technique naturally.
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