How to practice...effectively
How do I practice to achieve the best results? This is the age old question that everyone asks at some point. Of course there's no one way, but there are strong basic fundamentals when it comes to smart practicing. So let me share a few things that have worked for myself and what I say to my students to encourage them.
Consistency: (how often)
This isn't really rocket science, anything challenging takes time grinding away at it. With both the physical and mental aspects of drumming, you simply have to put in the hours. The more hours, the more improvement. However, the secret to truly maximize those hours is to make them consistent. I tell all my students, if you can practice at least 30 mins a day, you will see a steady increase in your skills over time. If you can do 2 hours a day even better, but the main takeaway is spend time daily and get into a habit. This doesn't have to happen overnight, maybe start with dedicating 2 hours twice a week, then try to add another day, and so on. It gets very motivating when you notice the incremental results, and becomes way more fun as any early physical struggles gradually disappear. You're playing will shift from sounding mechanical to musical. If you stick to a regular practice routine, you'll be surprised with the change that'll happen in a matter of weeks.
But simply putting in time is only half the equation...
Focus: (chop up practice into smaller pieces)
I divide my practice time like I do my lessons. Starting with a rudiment combo on the snare to loosen my hands, then moving to something I'm struggling with, and finally (and very important) playing along to songs. I recommend you try the same routine. Use this as a template and make it your own, adjusting as you like.
If you find yourself unsure of what to practice or just overwhelmed, it's a good idea to find a local teacher and get some one on one guidance at least to start. If that's not an issue, let's get into it.
Start with the warmup, get a steady back and forth going with your feet on the bass drum and hi-hat. Use this as your metronome and think of each hit as a quarter note. Now play a rudiment on the snare drum inside that pulse you've created with your feet. This isn't meant to be super challenging, almost more meditative in a way. Try switching between different rudiments on the snare while keeping the beat steady. Get creative, mess around with the sticking patterns, accent certain notes, move the rudiments around the drums. It's up to you how fast and complex you want to make it, keep it steady, keep it consistent, and get loose.
Now that you're warmed up, dive deep head first into the tough stuff. Pick something specific that you're struggling with, break it apart and put it back together if you have to, just stick to something specific. This is the the time to really slog it out, it should be strenuous. Perhaps you're learning a new beat in a song. Zoom in on the granular level, count out every single hit, be meticulous. Carve out at least 30 minutes of focused intense practice. If you're motivated, by all means spend more time. However, don't kill yourself and stop when you start to loose focus, I can't stress this enough. The window of growth for most people is fairly small, so when you start feeling like it's working against you, just put the sticks down and mentally bookmark where you're at and that'll be the starting point next time.
The last thing, which I highly endorse, is playing along to songs. Again, this is less about challenging yourself, and more about IMMERSING yourself into the music. Pick songs you love and can't wait to play. Put on headphones or if you have a PA, blast the music. Pretend you're the drummer in the band, really lock into the groove and listen carefully to all the other instruments being played. Sometimes I learn beats just as they were originally recorded and sometimes I just jam to the track making sure I'm in the pocket. Is is by far my favorite part of practice time, the dessert after the vegetables, so let loose and have fun!
- closing thought -
There's no single method to practicing, but there are tried and true strategies that I know will work. Be consistent and focused. Find times that you can carve out of your day and dedicate to practicing. Make that valuable time efficient in your growth by focusing deep on just a handful of things. It's a tricky balance between trying to do too many difficult things all at once, and getting stuck doing the same things over and over.