5 tips to maximize your practice time
Over my years of playing, I've had periods of growth and periods of plateauing. The direction, (or lack of direction) I was moving in was always in lockstep with my practice habits. Knowing how to practice is much more vital than the sheer number of hours you practice. Even a focused 15-30 minute practice per day will greatly improve your playing over time.
Thinking through the periods of growth, I've noticed many constants that helped lead the way. I've whittled these down to 5 habits that I feel are the most beneficial, and want to share them with anyone trying to take their playing to the next level.
1. Be consistent
Every one of these kind of lists talk about consistency, because there's simply no way around it. It's no big secret that the best players make it a point to consistently and continually hone their skills. Repetition becomes your best friend once the momentum starts to grow. Schedule in your practices just like other things in your life. You can't go to the gym every once in a while and expect big changes, same with drums. Find a time of day that works for you and mark it in your calendar. There will be some hard days, but I guarantee if you make practice a regularity, it will pay off over time.
2. Have fun
One really great hack to learning is to make the subject fun. Think back to when you were a kid, everything you had fun doing, you probably got really good at. This holds true even as an adult. Find songs you love, bands you've obsessed over, drummers that make the hair on your neck stand up straight. Use that excitement as motivation. Growing up in Seattle in the 90s was such a unique experience, great music was everywhere. I couldn't wait for the new releases and hear some amazing drumming that I wanted to dissect and emulate.
3. Do the hard stuff first
This one has been key for me. It's easy to ignore tough parts and play what's comfortable. Sometimes certain coordinations can seem daunting or outright impossible. But I implore you to attack these difficulties head on, AND work on them near the beginning of your practice time. I recommend warming up a little and then immediately try and work through something you're struggling with. This doesn't have to be a long amount of time, it just needs to be focused on developing or strengthening a new ability. Don't worry if you don't get it right away. Make a mental note and next time you practice, attack it again.
4. Don't forget you're playing music
Dots and lines on a piece of paper isn't music, it's notation. Context is everything when it comes to music. It can be easy to fall into the minutia of a beat and obsess over specific parts of it, such as a single ghost note on beat 2 in measure 35, for instance. Yes, it's good to find these kinds of things but never forget the big picture. I tell all my students to really hear and feel the backbeat of the groove first and foremost, everything else are extra layers. I encourage everyone to include some component of playing along with music during practice. It doesn't have to be perfect or complex, just try and get into a flow and feel the beat.
5. Find some accountability
I saved the best for last. The drive to work through a song beginning to end substantially increases when there's someone holding you accountable. This could be a teacher, bandmate, friend, parent, whatever. Put yourself in a situation where another person will be listening on your progress and use that to light a fire under you. The amount of pressure is totally up to you. Maybe you just want to send a video to your friends, or maybe you have a performance date set up with a band. Personally, I'm very much a procrastinator, but if I'm prepping for a gig or studio time is coming up, a flip goes off in my brain because now I'm accountable and other people are relying on me. Find those people and use it to your advantage.