13 Ways to Better Drumming

Better Drumming doesn’t necessarily come easy, and it should include proper techniques and habits. After all, the more you incorporate these things into your practice, the better you will get at playing the drums. So, if you understand some foundational concepts of practice, you can improve your playing ability exponentially.

#1 Better Drumming is based on math. Music is mathematics and gaining musical ability or skill is a numbers game.

You see, music is based on mathematical order and structure. In it’s essence, it belongs to the family of “Symbolic Logic” which is a higher order math. In symbolic logic, you have certain symbols that represent various defined properties, and you also have a set of rules or laws. The symbols must follow the laws or rules in order to accomplish the expected outcome, which in this case is musical melody, harmonies, rhythms, etc.. However, in music the laws are more theory than concrete, they can be bent or slightly altered. Unlike laws that are meant to be followed to the letter. The result is that “Music Theory” guides the use and expression of the notes firmly, but it is possible, as I said, to stray a bit.

So then, music is unquestionably math and as such it contains order and structure.

The relationship between music and math is a plausible explanation for the fact that the study of music aids greatly in how kids perform in standardized tests. Studies have shown that those who study music have improved critical and analytical skills along with better spacial reasoning.

The connection of mathematics to music is even more evident when you realize that gaining drumming skills involves fine motor skills and muscle memory.

So, those two element are at the heart of practicing the drums. It is obvious that fine motor skills and muscle memory are only sharpened by one thing – repetitions. Look at just about any example in life from a person who performs clean karate kicks, to how a batter hits a baseball. It is all based on repetitions. You might say that hitting a baseball is hand eye coordination, but without the repetitions of fine motor skills and muscle memory, the batter could not develop the ability to repeatedly hit the ball. Indeed, all sports include fine motor skills and muscle memory. So, it is the repetition of practice that is the means by which drumming skills are gained – no repetitions, no gaining skills.

Let’s say it takes 1000 reps for the average person to develop a clean double paradiddle. If you practice once or twice a week performing one or two repetitions, you can realistically expect it to take quite a while to gain that skill – about 250 weeks at best, or about a year and a half! See the problem? Not enough repetitions to gain the skill. In addition, if the repetitions are not steadily consistent, you can expect to not see any results.

#2. Better Drumming Professionals make playing the drums look easy, because they practice (a lot).

When you think of some of the greatest drumming performances you’ve ever seen, do you recall the drummer struggling, being tense,  or looking scared to death that they are going to make a mistake, no. The reason is simple. Chances are they performed enough repetitions to be able to perform the task without any of those problems. Am I saying they are not nervous? Not at all, even the most seasoned player gets nervous before they perform. In fact, it’s that bit of adrenaline rush that can keep you on your toes, ensuring you don’t make mistakes. Not to mention those great drummers didn’t just pick up a pair of sticks yesterday. Many of them have spent a lifetime perfecting their craft.

Now, should you expect to reach the playing level of Steve Gadd or Neil Peart in a year or two of dedicated drumming?

It would be unlikely. However, Neil Peart is an awesome example, in my opinion, of a guy who really understands the process of drumming and practice. You may not know that Neil, arguably one of the greatest drumming icons in the world today, took drum lessons. After 30yrs. or so of an extremely successful career as the drummer for Rush and setting all kinds of drumming benchmarks, Neil decided to see if maybe their was something more he could learn. I love his example of humbly knowing there is always something more you can learn, if you are a lifetime drummer. As it turned out, he took lessons from Freddie Gruber and learned a whole different way to approach playing the drums.

#3 Better Drumming comes with the Realization that performance involves showmanship, and showmanship is an art form all it’s own.

What is sometimes lost in viewing a great drum performance is the fact that the performing drummer has probably spent thousands of hours perfecting what you are viewing in a relatively short performance. It’s an illusion to think that they got to be that good without a lot of hard work and practice. Everyone is born with a certain level of ability, some more than others. In the world of drumming, I think of legends like Dennis Chambers, who seem to have a much higher level of pure natural ability than most drummers. Yet, I am willing to bet he has worked very hard to hone and perfect his skills.

As for the rest of us, we can take the natural ability we posses, add it to some good teaching and hard work, and we can reach our dreams as drummers. When it comes down to it, you just can’t escape the repetitions, but you can understand this small portion of the drumming universe and enjoy the journey. Keep on drumming and reaching for your best.

#4 Better Drumming involves practice everyday, not for hours on just one day per week.

If you practice three hours in one day per week, you will gain skills faster than if you practice fifteen minutes everyday, right? Not so, experience has shown that the knowledge and skills you gain in a marathon practice session the day before your lesson, only yields short term memory. Whereas, practicing everyday for a much more brief period of time each day tends to yield long term memory. For example, if you study for a test in school each day you will do better than if you cram for the test. If all your efforts are not spread out evenly over time, you may pass the test, but a week later forget most of what you studied. Our minds require regular, periodic, re-enforcement to gain long term memory. The same is true for drumming skills.

#5 Better Drumming involves making workable guideline for your practice.

If you have a ton of natural ability and you are close to reaching your goals, then you might not require much more than a general re-enforcement of your drumming skills. However, you may gain skills easier than most drummers, but don’t be fooled into thinking you can go unchallenged in your practice time. Challenge is the ingredient that makes us better drummers. If you’re not bursting with natural ability, then you may need to adjust the amount of daily time that you practice accordingly.

What are your short term and long term goals as drummer?

It’s important to keep these things in mind when you are designing a practice regimen. Are you striving to be the absolute best drummer you can be or are you just wanting to get by playing the drums? Do you want to be a professional drummer or even audition for a certain group? Then you need to adjust your practice accordingly. Can you realistically determine your strengths and weaknesses?

There is a good rule of thumb concerning your practice if you are an average student taking lessons. If you are taking a half hour lesson, then it follows that you should spend a minimum of a half hour per day, six days per week dedicated to practice. If you are taking an hour lesson, then the practice time should be one hour per day six days a week. Now, if you happen to miss a day’s practice, you can always make it up in the seventh day or divide the time throughout the rest of the week.

#6. Better Drumming utilizes supplemental practice routines and methods.

Supplemental practice is quite a bit different than your regular practice, but if you utilize this type of practice it can dramatically speed up your progress. It is important to remember that supplemental practice IS NOT a substitute for your regular daily practice. So what are we talking about? Supplemental practice is an extremely effective approach to practicing that brings about measurable results. The idea is to take time when you are relaxing, let’s say watching TV for example, and break out a practice pad and start working on your rudiments, or work on your foot rudiments. While you’re mindlessly watching TV, you can be working on those repetitions which do not require the dedicated focus you would bring to the drum kit. You see, while you are relaxing, you’re actually performing repetitions.

Remember repetitions result in gaining skills!

Many times I will work on my laptop and will be doing rudiments with my feet. Try it, it works! Even if I am just doing single strokes it improves your skills. I highly recommend taking a practice pad with you when your going to be seated somewhere in your home and start re-enforcing those drumming skills. If you don’t have a practice pad, get one. I also recommend a pair of practice pedals such as the ones made by “Hansenfutz.” The main point is that you can gain extremely valuable practice time and repetitions while you are just “Chillin’.” If you work at a desk all day or are on a break, work your feet.

#7 Better Drumming demands that you “Commit & Don’t Quit.”

In order for your hard work and repetitions to pay off, you have to be committed to your goals, and then see them through. Learning any instrument involves a series of emotional hills and valleys. The cycle usually begins when you first discover your strong desire to start drumming, you may even start lessons. Let’s call this hill #1 or “the honeymoon” experience. You are psyched to be drumming and you promise yourself that you will do whatever it takes to become great. After a short period of time, you enter the first valley. It’s at this point that you realize there is work to be done here and it’s not gonna get done by itself. Usually, you get kinda bored and lack the motivation to get any serious practice done.

It’s at this point where some people give up and quit.

That’s right, at the very first test of their commitment to themselves, they loose their motivation and give up. What an awful shame it is for those individuals, because if they would have just pushed through a little bit longer, they would have reached the next mountaintop. AHHHH, from there you can see you’re beginning to get the hang of things. You actually conquered some doubts and fears and gained some skills. The mountaintop is a good place. However, the cycle begins again and you find things aren’t quite as easy as you thought they were going to be. The new challenges are more challenging, it seems. Again, some people drop off at this point also for whatever reason, the reason is never logical and always comes down to the fact that they gave up on their commitment.

There are some people who have their eyes opened a bit and they start to see that the biggest obstacle is their own thoughts.

These individuals realize that this is a cycle of hills and valleys and they can learn how to not only accept that fact, but they can learn to deal with it. You see the people who become musicians learn that the cycle is part of the journey to reaching their drumming goals. Once you accept that fact the sooner you can change your outlook at it and begin overcoming that former obstacle.

Commitment is often a dirty word now a days, and even some parents neglect to teach their children what it is to commit to something. However, if you are ever going to learn to over come obstacles in life, learning commitment and tenacity are invaluable skills. The cycle of hills and valleys in learning to play an instrument is a great learning environment.  As you commit to staying the coarse for six months to a year, you can definitely be sure that playing the drums is right for you. After all, not everyone can be a member of that elite club of skilled drummers.

#8. Better Drumming regulates your daily practice time.

One of the best ways to succeed at making some routine a part of your daily life is to perform it at the same time each day. If you can accomplish this task for at least 21 to 30 days, you will be well on your way to accomplishing your goal. Let’s face it, when you add drum lessons into your life and the practice that goes with it, the time has to come from somewhere in your schedule. For kids, it can’t come from the time they eat, sleep or do schoolwork. As for adults, it has to come from a more restricted schedule, usually due to the demands of life. In either case, it must come from free or recreational time.

If you’re an adult and you don’t have recreational time, make it.

Kid’s always have free time, time on the phone, the computer, video games, etc. Once you commit to your drum practice, the next thing to do is tie that activity to another one already established in your day, such as supper time or some other regulated part of your day. So, let’s say you eat dinner at 6pm everyday. You can tie your practice time to dinner and practice after dinner each night. So then, your daily practice will be at 6:30pm everyday, right after dinner. By tying your practice in such a manner daily, it will be easier to remember and easier to become a regular part of your life.

#9. Better Drumming means staying mentally involved in your practice.

Now, this does not pertain to supplemental practice, only regular practice. If you perform your regular drum practice each day and don’t stay mentally involved and keep challenging yourself, you will not reap the huge benefits you could if you stayed with it. To make your practice time the most productive that it can be, you must focus and keep yourself challenged. The key here is to keep taking on new challenges and enjoy the journey. Stay focused.

#10. Better Drumming means using a metronome.

The main job of any drummer is to keep steady time. If you can’t do that, others will have a hard time playing music with you, and you won’t be much of a drummer. There is no other tool on this planet that, if used properly, can make your time steady. The metronome clicks at a flawless rate of accuracy, and unlike humans it never strays from that steady beat. I have already covered this topic extensively in a previous post on drumming with a metronome.

#11 Better Drumming means you set goals.

It is very important to set goals in your journey to better drumming so that you can “benchmark” your progress, because there will be times when progress is there, but you just don’t notice it. These benchmarks will help you at those critical times to be encouraged and keep moving forward. The process involves setting short and long term goals. If you’re working on a certain technique, break it down into steps – analyze the task, and gradually gain the skills you need. If you are learning written music and you can’t seem to play it all the way through, break it down. Begin with the measure or measures that you’re stumbling over. Repeat those measures over slowly until you can feel the groove and play it relaxed.

Once you’re able to play a section of music at a slower, steady tempo, then pick it up about ten beats per measure and groove it there. Next, if you can play the trouble spot or series of measures close to tempo, place the measures back in the order of the music and try it from the top. The idea is to divide the music and conquer it. Then, when you’ve got it solid, conquer the whole piece of music.

#12. Better Drumming means you perform in front of others.

The reward comes from successfully performing your craft in front of other people.  If you’ve met your short term goals, it’s time for some gratification. Some appreciation from family and friends will go a long way in motivating you to keep working and perfecting your chops. If you can “show what you know,” then you’ve reached another benchmark on the way to drumming competence.

#13. Better drumming involves the concept of “See one, Do One, Teach one.”

One of the coolest principals of education I ever learned, I learned in the US Military. The best way to become somewhat proficient at something is a simple process of having someone teach you a task (see one). You then practice and digest the skill (do one), and then share what you’ve gained with someone else (teach one). This progression works flawlessly as you go through the steps diligently. I highly recommend this approach.

So there you have it; practice can be diverse, challenging, and rewarding. If you add these extra little elements into your life and practice routine, you will experience some great results. Remember, there is no better feeling as a musician than to be free from the doubts about your practice, and play from your heart and soul. So commit to yourself and your practice, work hard and enjoy the journey. Enjoy your practice, remember… the drums are the most powerful instrument in music! Check out our drum lessons and more!

Author: Ron Kaye

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