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How to Practice

In your enthusiasm to improve, you probably spend time finding information, practicing from methods books, playing with recordings and jamming with other musicians. Though these are all key ingredients to becoming a good drummer, the way in which you divide your time among these things and the structure of your practice routine determines the quality and speed of your development. Following are some suggestions that may assist you in getting the most out of your practice time.

When developing your skills on the drumset, there are three main areas to consider. They are: listening, practicing and playing. This article will concentrate on the subject of practicing and playing.

It may not be convenient or desirable to practice every day. On days when you aren't practicing, spend your time doing extra listening. If you're playing or performing, you may decide not to practice that day. This is normal and all right. Remember, the three main categories of development are listening, practicing and playing; all are of equal importance. The goal of practicing is to become a better player. Practice time is good for developing ideas and skills. Playing time is where these ideas and skills can be refined and polished. Of course, listening is where you will gain many ideas to add to your musical drumming vocabulary. Ideally, spend equal amounts of time between listening, practice and playing.

To best determine what to listen to, practice and play, start by making a list of all the things you want to learn. Such things might be developing your time, bass drum technique, fills, grooves, etc. List all the things you can think of on the practice chart.

Next, list the things you want to improve. I feel it's helpful to distinguish between the things you can play that could be improved versus the things you have yet to learn. It may require some time to determine what things fit into these categories. That's OK. Take your time...it can save time in the long run.

Now name six bands or artists you would like to play with. You might like several kinds of music. The point of naming six groups is to focus in on what styles or genres you prefer. Determining the groups and/or musicians you want to play with will also help in prioritizing what things to practice.

Finally establish short and long term goals. Short term goals may be "by next month I want to...." or even shorter periods of time such as "by next week I will be able to play...." etc. Long term goals may be "by next year I want to audition to get into a rock band," etc. Setting goals can give you a sense of purpose and direction to your playing. It can be a rewarding experience, as it builds confidence when these goals are achieved.

Once you have determined what to learn and improve and who you strive to play with and when, you are now ready to organize this information into a workable practice routine.

To begin with, decide how much time you want to practice. You must be sure this amount of time is really what's possible and comfortable for you. There may be a difference in how much time you really want to practice and what amount of time you think you should practice. The amount of time is less important than the quality. Next, decide what time of day you can commit to practice on a regular basis. Reserving a certain practice time each day will insure it gets accomplished.

Now select those things from your lists that you want to work on, taking into account the amount of time you want to practice. In doing this, consider your present playing opportunities. You may benefit most by practicing those things that you can use in a playing situation. For example, you might want to work on jazz beats while you are playing in a rock band. Developing your jazz drumming skills is necessary in order to play with a jazz ensemble. However, if your rock drumming needs further development it might be to your benefit to take advantage of your practice time to improve it first, then, focus on your jazz drumming skills. If you're not playing with a group, practice the things that will help you to play with the groups you have listed.

In the process of selecting what to practice I strongly suggest choosing things that develop your technique, reading skills and coordination. Becoming a great drummer requires that you develop a high level of technical facility (rudimental capabilities), reading skills (counting and sight reading), and coordination skills, the beginning of which this book will discuss and develop.

It's very important to schedule time to be creative. This time can be spent on making up drumbeats, soloing, combining different styles of grooves, etc. In the "real world" of performing, your success depends on your interpretation of the music and your style of playing. If your practice time is spent mainly working through method books where you are following the written beats or patterns, your creative, interpretive and unique style of playing may be underdeveloped. Simply block off a portion of your practice time to experiment as well as test your recall of the beats you've been working on out of the text you're studying. When you're making up beats or soloing, etc., try to imagine that you're playing with a group(playing phrases, the form, fills, etc.). This will help you to transfer your ideas, musically to a playing situation with other musicians.

Now it's time to decide the order of things to practice. I recommend practicing starting with your least favorite and ending with your most favorite activities. Subjects that you feel are necessary to practice are not always the most fun. Simply put, save dessert for last.

Following is an example of how you might organize a one hour daily practice routine:

10-15 minutes technique followed by...
10-15 minutes reading material followed by...
10-15 minutes coordination development followed by...
10-20 minutes experimentation.

More important than the total amount of time you practice is the consistency of that practice time. The more consistent you are on your studies, the easier, more obvious and rapid will be your development.

Once you've arrived at a practice schedule, stick to it. You will find that modifying or even changing your schedule will come as you progress. In the beginning, however, commitment is the key to successful development.

You may want to change things if you're not seeing improvement as soon as you hope. You might be expecting progress too soon. I recommend calculating your progress on a weekly, not daily bases. You may struggle with something one day, then play it with ease the next. If so, you are not alone. Some days are better than others. The experienced musician realizes this and makes the best of it.

Finally, when your practice schedule is finalized and written down, place it where you can see it. This will help avoid wasting any time trying to remember what to practice, when, and for how long.

I believe if you make the effort to be efficient, determined and enthusiastic you will surely see progress. Organization is the key to success!

Click here to see the practice chart!

Article excerpted from Contemporary Drumming Essentials Volume One
by Garey Williams.
Also published in Modern Drummer, Percussion Notes and Band World.

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