When I was a young drummer, practicing with records was very difficult. Headphones and stereo sets were not available. I would turn up the volume on my small record player to the point where I could hear it over the volume of my drumset. I must admit that this was not a very satisfactory way to practice. I could not play naturally and still hear the music.
I have heard the comment that “it is not good to practice with records. You should not follow the band. You should, instead, establish the time yourself.” However, Phil Upchurch, the great guitarist and bass player, has a different view. (Phil also plays drums surprisingly well.) He feels that too many young drummers play without listening to what is going on around them. Phil’s attitude is that a good drummer has to play with other musicians. Practicing with records can be an excellent way to develop and improve listening skills. It, in turn, helps you learn to play with the rest of the rhythm section.
Practicing with the same record a number of times gives you a chance to learn the song and the arrangement. As you learn a song, your “feel” for that particular groove should improve.
I’ve had students who practiced with the radio. The problem here is two-fold. First of all, you cannot go back and rehearse a particular part of the song. You only have one chance at it. Secondly, there are a lot of good songs of all styles available on records that are rarely played on most radio stations, especially AM radio.
One of the problems of practicing without records is that the skills of accompanying other musicians may be neglected. Playing fast tempos is a good example. Technical practicing will develop good overall technique, but the coordination required to play fast tempos is somewhat specialized.
When I joined Joe Bushkin’s trio some years ago, I was faced with the problem of playing fast as well as softly. I knew of Joe’s playing and I prepared myself for the audition by practicing with a number of fast records, using both sticks and brushes. At the audition, Joe and I played alone, without even a bass player. This made it tougher for me. I passed the audition and got the job. I was very glad that I was prepared and had practiced with records.
TIPS ON PRACTICING WITH RECORDS
- Studio recordings as a rule are steadier in terms of tempo than live recordings. People do get excited in front of an audience and tempos will vary. In a studio, the musicians have an opportunity to do a number of takes until everything is just right, including the time. Therefore it is best, overall, to practice with studio recordings.
- Select various tunes from a number of albums and record them on tape. This eliminates the hassle of changing records and disturbing the practice.
- If playing with the sound of another drummer disturbs you, turn the bass up and the treble down. You will hear more bass and can concentrate on really “locking in” with the bass player.
- If you have difficulty staying in time with the record, your time may not be too steady. Playing with records can improve your sense of tempo and can teach you to “keep it in the pocket.”
- Practice with a variety of styles, tempos and grooves. Don’t only practice to recordings by your favorite drummer. Don’t get stuck on only one kind of music, especially when you are on the way up. Learn to be flexible and versatile.
- Update your practice tapes every few months. Pretty soon you will have a small library of practice tapes. When you practice, alternate the tapes according to what you are working on at the time.
- Practicing with records is one way to learn and to improve. It is not a substitute for playing with other musicians. In fact, it is preparation for playing with other musicians. All forms of practicing should prepare you to play well with a group or band.
One last thought! When you practice with good recordings, you are practicing with the world’s best musicians. This has to help you.