Strictly Technique

Towards More Musical Practice Routines

by Rupert Kettle

Many drummers and teachers seem to feel that a mechanical exercise, repeated an ungodly number of times, is the cure-all for a particular technical problem (weak left hand, sloppy doubles, whatever.) We’ll take for granted that a hypothetical player is using his hands properly (he very often isn’t, which is the root of the problem). We’ll further assume that the enormous number of repetitions is worthwhile, if only for endurance. The points to consider are the musical properties of approaches prescribed by some prominent clinicians.

For weak left hands, RLLL, as eighths or sixteenths (left hand busier than right hand in 3:1 ratio,) and RLLLLL (left hand busier by 5:1) to be played one-thousand (1,000) times daily, presumably for the rest of one’s drumming life, is one I’ve recently come across. Why 1,000 times? If only 999 repetitions were made, would the practicing be fruitless? Might there be dire consequences if 1,003 reiterations were made? And seriously, why not something like thirty-two 4/4 measures, stopping on “I” of bar 32 (since periodic rests were also prescribed,) the whole process to be repeated eight or nine times?
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The idea could, of course, be applied to other meters and/or phrase lengths, adding both variety and discipline. The fact remains that keeping track of one’s place within a phrase or chorus is more musically relevant than being able to count to 1,000.

The 3:1 and 5:1 ratios are arbitrary, being the result of their respective rhythmic situations. Additional musical benefit may be obtained by simply reversing those situations; i.e., the 3:1 as triplets, the 5:1 as sixteenths.
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Play both against a strong quarter-note foot pulse, and within phrasing confines, as described above. A little inventiveness should lead the practicer to combining variations of the above into patterns such as:
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As mentioned, the 3:1 and 5:1 proportions are indeed arbitrary, and 4:1, 6:1, etc., may just as well be used.
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While it may be argued that 5’s and 7’s are not used enough to warrant spending much practice time on, work with them to hone your sense of pulse subdivision.

Finally, there’s a psychological factor involved here that many seem to miss. Play, and listen to these figures.
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The primary rhythmic lines in those examples are, respectively:
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The parts should be played by the right hand; the left hand is just so much fluff, not at all important to the basic musical thought.

Working with the “keep-the-left-hand-busier-than-the-right-for-a-stronger-left-hand” theory of practicing, one may unconsciously develop the right by delegating to it the really important things. It is therefore advised that any such practicing indulged in include reversals of all such figures, that is, LRRR, LRRRRR, etc.

In sum, powerhouse practicing is good, and necessary, but some added thoughtfulness will make it all the more fruitful.