Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Getting your practice pad time in

Just copy every detail of
this photograph and you'll
be fine— KIDDING!!!
I see this question on line pretty often: “How do I get my snare drum chops together? Which system do I use?” I have a one-word system for that, and it goes: practice. Or maybe a two-word system: actually practice. Here are some guidelines for a) actually doing that, b) doing that effectively, c) doing that long enough and consistently enough to actually make a difference in your playing.

1. Get your set up together. You need a regular private space to work, a practice pad, a stand, some sticks, a music stand, a drum throne, a metronome, and a mirror big enough to see your hands. Maybe some headphones.

2. There's more to life than just the first page of Stick Control. Get some books. Technical books. method books, and books of etudes— actual snare drum solos. There's a list of recommended ones after the break. Take your pick to the tune of ~$50.

Of course, there's also a ton of stuff on the blog and in my books.

3. Make a habit out of it. Or at least a daily obligation— and not the kind you don't fulfill, and then hate yourself for it. Block out a regular time, and hit it every day. I do it after 9 pm on non-gig nights. You don't have to commit to a certain amount of time— at first— just set up your stuff, sit down, and start. Stop whenever you feel like it. When you've hit your stride, you'll hopefully not feel like stopping in less than 90 minutes.

4. Think about keeping a practice log. And then don't do it. I imagine I could guide my own progress better if I kept track of what I practiced, and at what tempo, but I just can't summon the interest. If you're inclined to do that, it might be helpful. At minimum, you might just make a note in your calendar that you practiced, and for how long; then at the end of the month you can judge whether you're really putting in an effort equal to your goals.

5. Eschew “routines.” People are fanatics about the idea of turning off their brain and following somebody's set routine, and becoming a total monster player because the guy who wrote the routine is so smart. They get into it with the intention of being a machine, man— and then burn out after a week because, hey, routines are F__ING BORING. I sometimes think the people who make these things up are deliberately trying to punish themselves and others for their interest in music, for unknown messed-up reasons.

Like, maybe I'd have the world's greatest technique if I did this routine for the 5-10 miserable years it would take to do it thoroughly, but I'm never going to find out because it's not worth it to me. I'd rather do 5-10 in prison.

Instead, allow yourself at least the possibility of staying interested by doing different things. Do what you want, and keep it moving.

6. Play repeating technical exercises for one minute. That's all. You could do them for 30 seconds if you want to smoke through a lot of things. If you must count repetitions, count them in sets of four. If you want to engage your musical brain, sing a tune. I don't do that when I'm doing practice pad stuff.

7. Check yourself. Watch your hands in the mirror and correct any weird or unnecessary motions. Try to make both hands look alike. Go for efficient, unpretentious-looking technique.

8. Keep your heights low— 2-6" off the drum. One of the most popular pieces of advice I see on the internet is “play full strokes” or “free strokes”— 90-degree strokes ~16" off the drum. Maybe that's great advice and I just don't get it, but in my life, the biggest positive change with my real-world hand technique happened after age 40, when I started practicing low.

9. Use a slow click. As much as possible, I try to keep my metronome set under 40bpm. This makes you think about the time, and tests you for accuracy every single measure you play. Set it to click half notes or whole notes or double whole notes as appropriate for whatever you're working on. If you're playing something in 4/4 at 120bpm, set your metronome for 30bpm.

10. Pay attention to your sound: tone production is actually the entire point of technique. It's your first purpose, so try to make a good sound. I think it's best to use pads with a head (like the ones Remo makes) it will pop when you're playing well, and make a crappy thin little plastic sound when you're not. I'm against silent pads— you need to hear yourself.

11. Get your videos going. Believe it or not, playing three hours of technical exercises on a practice pad by yourself can be rather boring. I need something to help the time keep moving, so I play videos on my computer. I am still mostly focused on my practicing— I just don't want to be aware of the clock slowing, stopping, and about to start running backwards. Just a little background thread to encourage you to not get up and do something else.

There's a list of recommended books after the break:

Here are some books I recommend for this type of practice. You can get most of them from Steve Weiss Music.

For beginning readers:
Stick Control by George L. Stone
Basic Drumming by Joel Rothman
Progressive Steps to Syncopation by Ted Reed

Stick Control, Accents And Rebounds by George L. Stone
Chop Busters by Ron Fink
Wrist Twisters by Buster Bailey (advanced)
Basic Drumming, Basic Drum Technique by Joel Rothman
Master Studies I and II by Joe Morello
Odd Time Stickings by Gary Chaffee
Accent On Accents I and II, by Marvin Dahlgren and Elliot Fine
Variations on Three Camps by Marvin Dahlgren

Drum Methods:
Haskell Harr Snare Drum Method, Book 2
Podemski Drum Method
Drum Method by Charley Wilcoxon

Solos and etudes:
Snare Drum For Beginners by Morris Goldenberg
Intermediate Snare Drum Studies, Advanced Snare Drum Studies, Odd-Time Rudimental Studies by Mitchell Peters
Musical Studies For The Intermediate Snare Drummer by Garwood Whaley
Rudimental Swing Solos, All-American Drummer by Charley Wilcoxon
12 Progressive Solos For Snare Drum by Morris Goldenberg

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