by Gary Williams
Enthusiasm is your fuel to improve your drumming. You probably spend time working on grooves and fills, playing along to recordings, searching YouTube for videos, attending concerts, practicing from method books, and jamming with other musicians. These are all key ingredients to becoming a good drummer. But the way in which you divide your time among them and how you structure your practice routine determines the rate of your development. Here you’ll find some suggestions to help you get the most out of your practice time.
I recommend that you read through the article twice. Use the first time to understand how to plan a practice routine effectively. After the second read, you should fill out the practice chart. Make copies of the blank chart, so you can update it as you improve.
Listen, Practice, and Play
When developing your skills on the drumset, there are three main areas to focus on: listening, practicing, and playing.
It may not be convenient to practice on the drumset every day. On days when you can’t get to your drums, spend extra time listening to recordings of your favorite artists and studying the work of the great drummers of yesterday and today. Listening is where you gain new ideas to add to your musical vocabulary. Watching videos falls into this category as well. You will remember more of what you hear if you can see it happening at the same time.
If you’re rehearsing or performing a lot, you may not have as much time to practice. That’s normal. Ideally you want to spend equal amounts of time listening, practicing, and playing, but they don’t all have to happen equally each day.
The goal of practicing is to become a better drummer. Practice technique, reading, and coordination exercises often and in an orderly manner, but allow for some time at the end of each practice session to develop your ideas and expand your creativity. This falls into the playing category and is where new ideas and skills can be refined and polished.
Make a List
The first step in organizing better practice sessions is to make a list of new things you want to learn. Your list might include Swiss rudiments, four-limb coordination, double bass technique, linear fills, and Afro-Cuban grooves. Notate these things on the practice chart.
Next, make a list of the areas where you want to improve. It’s helpful to distinguish between the things you can play that could be improved upon and the concepts that you have yet to learn.
Now name six bands or artists that you would like to play with. The point of doing this is to help you focus on certain styles or genres of music as well as prioritizing what you need to practice the most.
Establish Short– and Long–Term Goals
You can figure out short-term goals by completing the following statement: “By next week or month, I want to be able to….” Long-term goals often take up the better part of a year or more and can be things like auditioning for an established rock band or becoming a studio drummer. Setting goals gives a sense of purpose and direction to your practicing and playing. Meeting goals is a very rewarding, confidence- building experience. Once you’ve determined what you want to learn and whom you strive to play with, you’re now ready to organize everything into a workable practice routine.
How Much Time?
To begin with, you have to decide how much time you can dedicate to your practice sessions. Be sure this number is realistic and comfortable for you. There will likely be a difference in how much time you want to practice versus the amount of time you actually have available. The amount of time is less important than the quality. Practice for results.
Next, decide what time of day you can commit to practicing on a regular basis. Reserving a certain practice time each day will help ensure that it gets accomplished.
Balance Your Diet
In the process of selecting what to practice, I strongly suggest choosing things that develop technique, reading, and coordination. Becoming a great drummer in today’s age requires a high level of technical facility (rudimental capabilities), reading skills (counting and chart interpretation), and coordination (four-way independence). The best way to prioritize what to practice is to focus on the things that relate to your current playing opportunities.
For example, developing jazz independence is necessary in order to play with a jazz ensemble. But if you’re currently gigging with a rock band, it would be best to devote the first chunk of your practice time to things that need improvement in a rock style, like fill vocabulary, backbeat placement, and memorizing song forms; you can then focus on adding to your jazz skills later. If you’re not playing with any groups, practice the concepts that will help you play with the artists you’ve listed.
Become an Artist
It’s very important to schedule time in each practice session to be creative. This can be spent making up drumbeats, soloing, combining different styles of grooves, and so on. In the real world of professional performing, your success often depends on your interpretation of the music. If your practice time is spent only working through method books, where you’re following written beats or exercises, your creativity and interpretive skills will be underdeveloped.
Block off a portion of your practice time to experiment with new ideas as well as test your recall of the things you’ve been shedding. When you’re making up beats or soloing, try to imagine that you’re playing with a group, and structure your ideas in four- or eight-bar phrases or follow a specific song form. This will help you transfer your newly developed vocabulary in ways that apply directly to playing situations with other musicians.
Outline the Routine
Now it’s time to decide the order of things to focus on. Subjects that you feel are necessary to practice aren’t always the most fun. So you may want to start with your least favorite and end with your favorite, i.e., save dessert for last.
You might organize a roughly hour-long daily practice routine as 10 to 15 minutes of technique, 10 to 15 minutes of reading, 10 to 15 minutes of coordination development, and 10 to 20 minutes of experimentation.
Practice Makes Permanent
More important than the total amount of time you practice is the consistency and efficiency of your sessions. The more consistent you are in your studies, the more rapid your development will be. Once you’ve written out a practice schedule, stick to it. I recommend calculating your progress on a weekly basis. You may struggle with something one day and then play it with ease the next. Some days are better than others, but as long as you continue to make the effort to be efficient, determined, and enthusiastic, you will see progress over time. Organization is the key to success!
Post It Publicly
When your schedule is finalized and written down, place it somewhere where you can see it easily. This will help you avoid wasting time trying to remember what to practice. Have fun!
Garey Williams is the author of the drum instructional book The Hi-Hat Foot, which is available through Wizdom Publications. For more info, visit gareywilliams.com.