Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Practice tips for drummers with limited time

Get it, use it.
Here are some suggestions for people learning to play the drums, but who have limited time to do it... 1-2 hours a day to practice. That's most people, actually. As you'll see, even on a scaled-back program, there's still plenty to work on, which makes it all the more important that you economize your time.

These are geared to people mostly playing normal, backbeat oriented music, but they apply to everybody. Soon I'll do another post with specific recommendations for jazz students.

Practice like you play
Do everything on the drumset, think about the tempo before you start, and then maintain it; play in two, four, or eight bar phrases; move from your hihat to your ride cymbal occasionally, and add crashes on the occasional 1. Improvise variations on the thing you're practicing, and fill occasionally. Don't stop between exercises. Keep playing while you figure the next thing out— keep vamping on the thing you were just playing, or play a simple rhythm on the hihat. When you do stop, make it a real stop on 1, don't just peter out. Try to do what you do when you're playing for real.

Learn a lot of easy things
Once you know a lot of easy things, you may find you need very little else. There is a lot of very useful drumming vocabulary out there just waiting for you to pluck it from the trees.

Be simplicity oriented
You're not going to become Mike Mangini on one hour of practice a day, and thank God for that. Learn to be very creative with 8th notes. Be non-technical, and generally limit your playing to singles and doubles. Listen to people who sound great while playing simply.

Forget about most rudiments
What are you trying to accomplish with a ratamacue? Seriously.

You can work on: singles, doubles, short open rolls, all non-flammed versions of paradiddles, alternating flams. Those are all easy to become fluent with, and you can do a lot with them. Get my e-book of essential stickings.

Get into Syncopation
That's Progressive Steps to Syncopation by Ted Reed. Read my post on why Syncopation Is So Great. It's the easiest way to cover a lot of practical material in a professional format, reading and playing the way professionals do. Orchestrating single rhythms you hear, think of, or read, is much of your job in playing the drums creatively, and that's what you learn to do by using this book.

These practice methods would be good places to start with it:
EZ rock beat method
EZ quarter note rock method
Todd's funk drill
Right handed triplet solo method

Learn Three Camps and its variations
Three Camps is a snare drum piece based on triplet rolls, which can be adapted for working on numerous other things, and it makes an excellent chops builder. I think the most useful versions are:

Accented triplets
Triplet rolls (same as above, just play all the unaccented notes as doubles)
First inversion paradiddles
Six stroke rolls

Always be listening. To real music. Make sure a large part of it is music you could actually play. Limit your intake of amazing drummer bullcrap. Love of music is what keeps you interested and inspired to continue this for the years it takes to learn to do it.

Don't be mindless
Mindless repetition of random stuff is not going to cut it. Think about what you're actually trying to do, and pay attention while you're doing it. Quit waiting/hoping for “muscle memory” to do your creating for you, and start thinking in terms of musical ideas— things you hear on records, and the rhythms you play in Syncopation, and the ways you play them.

If you feel you must do some repetitive, mindless, Stick Control-type practicing, carve some extra time out of your day to do it. Get a silent pad and do it in front of the TV before bed. You could play all of those versions of Three Camps twice in about 10-15 minutes.

Don't do what amateurs do
Things like learning “parts” to songs, getting involved in internet flavor of the nanosecond concerns, spending all your time thinking about gear, techniques, fiddling with your set up, wasting time with fringe techniques. None of that counts towards your real improvement as a player.

Books to use:

Progressive Steps to Syncopation by Ted Reed - Seriously, do it. You can do virtually everything you really need with this book. Plus my book Syncopation in 3/4.

Mini Monster Rock Book by Joel Rothman
- Best practical volume of rock materials I've seen. Nothing in it is truly a waste of time. Will still be adequately challenging for most people.

Chop Busters by Ron Fink
- Just a collection of 1-4 measure technique studies many of which also happen to be usable vocabulary. You'd be fine practicing only the simplest things in it.

Odd Time Stickings by Gary Chaffee
- After you're done with my Essential Stickings book. These are designed to be easy to play, and easy to play fast. And they're not just for odd meters; you can play them in 4/4 by starting them in the middle of the measure. You can also change the rhythm to triplets.

Books to throw away:

Four Way Coordination by Dahlgren & Fine - For most players this is very deep background. It demands a lot of time, and a lot of insight to figure out what it means musically.

Stick Control by George L. Stone - People overdo it with this book. It's possible to use it in a musical way, but the musical content is really buried under the endless 8th notes and Rs and Ls.

The New Breed by Gary Chester - This is a book for people with a lot of time to burn, and it contains too much fringy stuff.

Anything remotely “extreme” or fringy
You know what I'm talking about. It takes a fantastic amount of time to get that stuff performance ready, and even then nobody wants to hear it.

This is mostly not that different from our normal site content, because I'm already always thinking in terms of economizing time, and going for the maximum practical value for everything I do, and the way I do it. Recommendations for jazz drummers coming soon.


David Hurd said...

This is great, and 'looking forward to the companion piece on jazz drumming!

keith haldane said...

Wise words...especially re the Chester book. And Sy
ncopation is absolutely the best!!

Anonymous said...

Hey, love your blog. Thanks a lot for this post. I’ve been checking out Essential Stickings and I love it! The anti information overload-style is very helpful for me. I’ll definitely practice more from it and use it with my students. Just wanted to ask about essential stickings book 2 and/or study guide you mentioned in the book and on the blog. Will they be released at some point? :)

Ben Mills said...

Thanks Todd. Your advice and guidance can only improve my skills and attitude.

Sammy said...

Thanks Todd!!! This apply to a percussionist who wants become a drummer too?