How to Practice

This is a repost of something I wrote last October about practice techniques, or "Practice Practices." Drummers, give it another read.

I've said in a few past blog posts that I would write a post on how to practice. It's about that time. There are a few things that I do on a regular basis that are incredibly helpful for me, and that I highly recommend. Some of these things may seem too simplistic or boring. That's practice for you. Here are eight Practice Practices that every drummer should know.


Practice //

But really, you have to practice. I know that a lot of you (Worship Drummers) don't have drum kits at home, and that's fine. Growing up, I had a kit in my room, but I could never really play it because we had a family of 5, and the noise level was an issue. Some of you live in apartments. Some of you have babies and/or little kids that nap during the day and go to bed early at night. And that's ok. But if you want to get better, you have to find a way around those obstacles. You have to find a way to practice. Maybe it means working out a deal with your worship pastor to get a key to the building and using the church kit a few nights a week. Maybe it means having a setup at a friend's house. I will say that waiting till band practice to do your practicing isn't a good idea for several reasons. A.) You don't get in-depth practice time--you're confined to the songs you're playing that Sunday. B.) You'll want to cut loose, and you won't be able to. Or you will, and your worship leader will smack you for hacking. C.) It's not long enough of a practice (usually). Set a time for at least a total of 4 hours of practice time a week, and stick to it.

Metronome // 

I've said it several times in the past: buy a metronome. Actually, if you have an iPhone, Tempo (by Frozen Ape) is an awesome metronome, and 'tis free. Get something on which you can save tempos , and something into which you can tap tempos. If you have a Mac, you can use Garage Band to make some click tracks. (The process is pretty self-explanatory, but if you need some help, just shoot me an e-mail from the Contact page, and I'll help you out.) Don't go buying anything super expensive if it's your first metronome. But get something. Don't practice without it! I'll get a little more in-depth with how to use the metronome below. But hey. Do it. Get a metronome. It's not a step you can skip and still build an awesome cake. Gotta have the metronome.

Warmup // 

Don't go trying to play Everlong at full speed as soon as you pick up the sticks. You really can hurt yourself in the long run doing stuff like that. Take 10 minutes to warm up and stretch. Das ist muy importante. (How's that for diversity?) There is a warmup exercise called 8's. If you were ever in drumline, you know what I'm talking about. If you weren't, here is a quick explanation. Here is the the musical notation in a pic. It's 8th notes, and here is the sticking pattern for them: (R for right stick, L for left stick). 

Accents make the exercise easier, which you don't want in a warmup. Play every stroke at a 9" distance from the drumhead, and keep it consistent throughout. Start out by playing this at 100bpm (beats per minute) two times through. Then move it up to 110bpm a couple times through. Then move it up to 125bpm a couple times through. Then up 140bpm a couple times through. Then 165bpm a couple times through. Keep increasing the tempo until you find your peak. You want to still be able to keep up. (Maybe you can only do 140bpm right now. That's fine. Do this warmup every day and you'll be doing some pretty break-neck speed in a matter of months.) Don't put the tempo so high that you can't keep up, but you do want to push yourself. After one round of 8s going at your peak tempo, drop the tempo down to 75bpm and play it once through. When you do this, it's going to be difficult to not push the tempo. Just relax. The application of this in a band setting is being able to go from a fast song to a really slow song without pushing the tempo of the latter, which is essential for pocket-playing. Repeat that whole process twice. It should take you between 10-20 mins. After that you'll be plenty warmed up, and maybe sweating a little bit. It seems really boring, I know, but so much is going on during this warmup that you have to pay attention to, which brings me to my next Practice Practice.

Technique // 

A lot of drummers, especially Rock drummers, will tell you that good technique isn't important at all. Well, that sounds nice in theory, and is in keeping with the Rock tradition of sticking it to the man, but I'm telling's a lie. Technique is what will give you longevity (both in a set, and throughout your life as a drummer), and tone that the other guys just won't be able to get. You'll have speed that the other guys won't have. You'll have control that the other guys won't have. You'll get more rebound off of your strokes. You'll be able to play for longer periods of time. I know several drummers post-40yrs old that can't play how they used to because their wrists and fingers are ruined due to bad technique. Carpal Tunnel, guys. You don't want it. There is so much impact going on during drumming that incorrect technique can shave years off of your drumming life. Here's a great basic video lesson on how to hold your sticks properly. Technique is something you want to pay attention to during practice, especially during warmup. Find a mirror to sit in front of and pay attention to your hands. It's ok if you think you look awesome. You do look awesome. You do.

Rudiments //

Rudiments are amazing. Here is a link to a rudiment chart that Vic-Firth put together, with links to videos on what they sound like. Using the same speed-up/slow-down technique you used in warmup with 8's, practice one of these rudiments per week for 15-20 mins of each practice time. Do not forget the metronome! I'd start with the double stroke roll (or Diddles) and then move to paradiddles. I use different rudiments all the time, especially in fills. Each one of these rudiments is applicable somewhere, and you definitely want them in your tool belt. 

Limb Independence //

This is one you can do at the dinner table, in the car (as a passenger), at work, or on the toilet. Start with a simple Kick on 1 & 3, snare on 2 & 4, hats playing 8th notes. Easy enough to tap out on your lap. Now comes the tricky part. Use your left foot instead of your right hand to play the hats' 8th notes. Use your right hand (or whichever you use for the hats) to play the Kick notes on 1 & 3. Use your right foot to play the Snare notes on 2 & 4. Simple enough? Now play Sweet Home Alabama doing the same thing. Hate that song? You'll hate it even more after doing this exercise to it. This exercise will help you develop limb independence that the majority of other guys won’t have. You'll be able to use your hats in ways you never thought you'd be able to do without ever touching them with a stick.

Learn Cover Songs //

I know in practice you'll just want to jam, but save that for the treat at the end. First, pick a song that you really like, and learn it. For example, The Killers song When You Were Young is one of my favorite songs. Sit down and listen to every detail of the drumming. Every hat raise, every fill and the proper sticking for it, every space, and learn to play the song exactly like Ronnie did in the studio. Some people think this is lame, but it's actually the best way to learn how to play in context. A fill out of that song would not sound good in a Sigur Ros song. Learning fill styles is the difference between a good drummer and a great drummer. You don't play 32nd note fills in a Ryan Adams song. You just don’t. Unless it’s on the Orion album, but that’s another animal. The song that you learn (it doesn't have to be When You Were Young) has already gone through a rigorous process. The parts have gone through the drummer's mind, through the band, and through the producer(s). It's been filtered, tested, and affirmed already. Use that to your advantage. Platinum album makers know what they're doing. Learn what they're doing, what they approved, and apply it. After you know how to play within genre without moving out of it, that's when the real creativity can come. You can push the boundaries, play outside of the norm, but still within the genre. But you'll know, "a 32nd note fill would be a total no-no in this song." You'll also know when a song needs a 32nd note fill. 

Repetition //

Repetition is key in practice. When you practice something new, you won't always get it the first time around. That's ok! No drummer gets everything the first time around. Slow the metronome down as much as you need to, and practice the song, the fill, the rudiment at that speed over and over again until you get it right. Even if you have to slow it down from 100bpm to 30bpm. It'll take time, but that's what practice is for.

If you have any questions, shoot me an email.