“You only get better by playing.”
Uncontroversial to people who can play, but it has generated a small amount of discussion on a drumming forum. A lot of people are allergic to categorical statements, and take them as a challenge to poke holes in them, rather than figure out what this great player is trying to tell them.
Here's the context of the quote, from an interview in the first issue of Modern Drummer in 1977:
MD - Did you practice much?
BR - Well, I never really practiced because I never had the opportunity to practice. I've been working all my life ... I've been playing drums all my life, and now, I'm too lazy to bother with it. I have other things that I have to do - practice my martial arts ... take care of my cars. I don't put too much emphasis on practice anyhow.
MD - Would you mind elaborating on that a bit.
BR - I think it's a fallacy that the harder you practice the better you get. You only get better by playing. You could sit around in a room, in a basement with a set of drums all day long and practice rudiments, and try to develop speed, but until you start playing with a band, you can't learn technique, you can't learn taste, you can't learn how to play with a band and for a band until you actually play. So, practice, particularly after you've attained a job, any kind of job, like playing with a four piece band, that's . . . on opportunity to develop. And practice, besides that, is boring. You know, I know teachers who tell their students to practice four hours a day, eight hours a day. If you can't accomplish what you want in an hour, you're not gonna get it in four days.
Important to point out that Buddy was a) exceptionally talented, b) onstage performing music since he was literally a toddler, c) coming up in a time and in a scene where people would be performing many hours every day. Today we do have to try to make up for having fewer playing opportunities by hitting the practice room harder. It's not an ideal situation.
The underlying assumption, anyhow, is that being a musician is the goal, that what you do when playing music is the only meaningful standard of your abilities as a drummer— and of the value of the things you practice. There are an array of skills needed to do that, which cannot be practiced in isolation: the ability to play appropriately for the music, unrehearsed, with a good sound and at the right volume for the setting, while generating some energy, making the other players feel and sound good, and maybe making a personal creative statement as well.