Monday, July 25, 2022

Tips for Effective Practice

The all-knowing YouTube algorithm recently bestowed upon me one of the now ubiquitous TedEd videos.  I'm by no means a loyal follower of the TedEd series, but I did end up watching this one and it has some great advice that we can all apply to our drumming.

The full video is below, which starts with some of the science behind how and why these tips work, but here is a break down of the main points and how it applies to us as drummers.

Minimize distractions

This one is tough for me sometimes.  My place in London isn’t huge, so most of my physical materials are back in the States and I use a lot of PDFs.  Also, I like playing along to records and loops, all of which requires the computer and or phone.  But it really is important to try to steer clear of our devices.  It takes awhile to get into “the zone”, and each text, call, or post pulls you out of said zone, and it takes awhile to get back in.

Start out slowly

For me, this is the most important one, and the hardest to get some of my students to do.  Most of them just love to go “yeah, I got it, see?” and proceed to just blast through it.  It makes me feel like the boring old teacher to bug them about it, but it really is the best way forward.  Pushing tempos is great, but once something is under your hands, to me that is just the beginning.  It’s at that point where you slow it way down, break down every aspect of the motion, and THEN….

Gradually increase the speed of the quality repetitions

Even when I can get students to slow down they’ll often make huge jumps in tempo.  In most cases tempo bumps should be no more than 10 bpm at a time, ideally less.  There is somewhat of a historical precedent for speeding up while playing, namely the “rundown”, wherein you start a rudiment as slow as possible, gradually speed up until you reach your maximum speed, and then work your way down.  But in general, especially when working on timekeeping or grooves it’s best to play for awhile at one tempo, stop, change the metronome, and start again at the new tempo.

Frequent repetitions with breaks

Little and often is always preferable to cramming.  I tell students that practicing even just 10 minutes a day for a total of 70 minutes is better than practicing for two hours the day before a lesson.  If you can do 10/15 in the morning and 10/15 in the afternoon, then even better.  Ideally, of course, we’d all spend a lot more time practicing that that, but you’d be surprised how much you’ll improve with two 15-minute practice sessions every day.

Divide your time used for effective practice into multiple daily practice sessions of limited duration

This is a new one for me that I’m going to try out.  I tend to do fairly long practice sessions.  A good hour or so on the pad, and then another few hours on the set.  But perhaps I’ll try picking three or four areas of concentration and breaking things up a bit.

Practice in your brain in vivid detail

I’m a firm believer in this one.  They used to have us do this in my drum corps days.  Every night before bed they’d ask us to lay still for 11 minutes, close our eyes and go through the show in our heads, taking every step, playing every note, etc.  And I now use this quite often when work on new ideas, particularly on the set.  I picture the sticking, the motion, and the sound slowed down in my minds eye/ear.