Wednesday, August 13, 2014

"The Low End Theory" Exercise Routine

Lately I've been doing my snare drum/practice pad work along to records rather than with a metronome.  If nothing else, it's simply more entertaining than listening to the incessant beeping or clicking of a metronome.  But the advantages of practicing this way go far beyond beating boredom.

For starters, I find that playing along to music really keeps me focused.  When playing exercises - let’s say Stick Control - to a metronome I generally either count bars, or often times use a stop watch, running the exercise for a set amount of time before moving on.  With the music on I can ignore bar counting, or clock watching and just focus on my hands.  When the song is over, new exercise.

I also feel that practicing to music adds a certain subtlety to your playing.  A metronome (which I’m not discounting, by the way) is a blank canvas.  It’s only about tempo.  How fast, or slow, can you play Exercise A?  When playing to a record you’re practically forced to find some sort of pocket.  Even if you’re just playing something as simple as paradiddles, if you’re playing them to a groove you’re going to naturally add nuance to your playing to get inside said groove whether you realize it or not.

Furthermore - and this is my favorite thing about it - practicing this way kills two birds with one stone.  I don't know about any of you out there, but I feel as though I never can listen to as much music as I’d like.  There simply aren’t enough hours in the day.  There are plenty of great old records that I haven't yet listened to, and tons of exciting new albums being released all the time.  It’s impossible to keep up with it all.  If I’m playing along to a record I’m not only practicing, but also enjoying the record that I’m playing along with.

There’s no formula to this.  You can run pretty much anything along to whatever record you like; rudiments, Stick Control, Wilcoxon, whatever.  What I often like to do, however, is write a routine to a whole album; one exercise per song.

Recently I wrote an exercise routine to A Tribe Called Quest’s, The Low End Theory.  I tried to get a little bit of everything in there, as far as rudiments go.  There are single and double strokes, diddles, ruffs, drags, flams, etc.  I also attempted to get as many specific rudiments in there as I could without simply playing each rudiment one after another.  For the most part the difficulty increases as the album goes on and the player gets warmed up, although there are a few more relaxed patterns spaced through the routine as a breather.  I didn’t overly overly concern myself with trying to conform these exercises to the grooves, although there are a few places where I tried to emphasize the backbeat, write the accents to the bass line, etc.

I’ve been playing this one for about a week now, and really enjoying it.  The tempos on the album are perfect for these types of exercises, and the album is just the right length.  Try to play the whole thing through without stopping.

And don’t forget to enjoy the record!  If you haven’t heard it before (shame on you), it’s definitely worth picking up.  I could easily write a whole post on the album alone, but let's save that for another day.  In the meantime, enjoy, and please leave me a comment letting me know how it's working for you.  Shoot me an e-mail if you'd like a PDF.

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