Some drummers hate practice pads; others are never without them. Some teachers recommend practice pads; others say that you should practice on the drums. Some drummers feel that the practice pad helps to develop technique; others feel that the pad is unrealistic, because it bounces too much. Some drummers consider them a necessary evil, and some would rather warm up on their knees.
My own experience indicates that a practice pad can be a real help at times. For example, when you are traveling, it is difficult to find time to practice or to warm up. Twenty minutes or so on a practice pad in the hotel room can be a real lifesaver when you are short on time.
Practice pads are also quiet. After all, you can’t set your drums up in a motel room without being asked to leave the motel. Even at home, if it is late at night or early in the morning, the use of the practice pad will prevent angry phone calls from the neighbors. The pad makes it possible to practice at any hour in most situations.
I have always used a Gladstone-slyle pad one that looks sort of like a rubber pizza. It takes up very little room in the suitcase, is lightweight, and can be placed on a table or a pillow with equally good results.
When I teach, I use both the practice pad and the drumset. It helps to save the ears of both teacher and student. If a teacher is giving several lessons in a row, the use of a pad can greatly reduce the fatigue associated with teaching.
I use the pad for warming up, for technical exercises, and in some instances, for snare drum reading. Rhythms, coordination, fills, , solos, and grooves are all done on the drumset. Since the practice pad has very little sound, it is good for developing control and even strokes. The sound of the pad is also shorter than the sound of a drum. This enables the student to hear the spacing between the beats more accurately. There are no distracting sounds from the pad, no snares to rattle or adjust, no head to tighten or loosen just the sound of the individual strokes.
The pad does bounce more than a snare drum. I find that this extra rebound can help a student become more sensitive to the way the drumstick moves and responds. The pad can also be a real help if you are practicing with fingers, or working on rebounds, open rolls, or accented patterns. The extra bounce can be a real aid if used properly. I have never liked the idea of practicing on something that has no bounce, such as a pillow. This tends to tighten up muscles and does nothing for the development of a “touch.” I know that some drummers say that practicing on a pillow is helpful. I much prefer a good practice pad.
It is true that the drums feel different, and this is as it should be. The tension of the heads tight or loose will determine to a great degree how the drums respond. It will take more strength to play the drums as opposed to the pad. This is especially true if the drums are tuned loosely. Developing good movement on the drumset can only be done on a drumset.
Practice pad drumsets have always left me a little cold. The sizes, distances between the pads, and the feel of the pads are no substitute for a drumset. On the other hand, they are better than nothing. If you live in an apartment complex, a practice pad drumset may be your only alternative. Some music stores use the practice sets in their teaching studios because they are quiet.
There are practice products on the market that are placed on the drums to quiet them. Rubber discs can be mounted on the drumheads to reduce volume. A product called Drum Mutes was designed to be placed on the individual drums. The Gladstone- style pad I mentioned earlier can also be placed directly on the snare drum for practice. Although these products may not feel exactly like your natural drumset, they can be of great help if your practice situation is a difficult one due to volume.
If you are considering purchasing a practice pad, buy a good one. Avoid those tiny wooden pads that have a piece of cheap rubber about the consistency of a hockey puck nailed to the surface. Nothing can be learned on a pad with virtually no rebound or response. The rubber should be thick enough and soft enough to approximate the feel of a snare drum. If the pad is hard or flimsy, look for another one. Buy a good one, and it will give years of service.
I have seen drummers who have gotten “hooked” on practice pads. They sit for hour after hour working on their’ ‘chops.” If you overdo the practice pad-type of practicing, you tend to play fast all the time. Since the pad has no sound to speak of, you can’t really play loudly on one. Consequently, you end up playing very fast at a moderate volume level. The problem with this approach is that you can wind up as a fast snare drummer with no feet who cannot play a fill around the tom toms. Obviously, you can overdo anything.
If you have been playing for a while, the thought of working out on a practice pad may be less than thrilling. Practice with music! Put on some of your favorite records and have fun on the pad. If it is late at night, put on the headphones and go to it. You can’t get much quieter than that.
A practice pad is a tool. It can be good or bad, depending upon how it is used. As part of an overall practice approach, it can be valuable. It is a good travel companion. It is always quiet and very portable. It is great for warming up when no drums are around. Used wisely, the practice pad can be a real friend.