It’s all too easy to get bogged down in music theory and lesson material when you’re doing your grades.
And when you’ve managed to somehow successfully make it through one grade, you start work on the next one only to find it all gets even harder, more complex and in time signatures you never knew were possible.
At times you wonder how you’re ever going to fit all this new information in your head, and when your limbs will be able to naturally jump into action to play these complex rhythms without having to “think about it” for ten minutes.
Every drummer has their own way of learning. Some like to be very rigid with their practice sessions, some are determine to play the same rudiment over and over for an hour until it becomes muscle memory, and others find short bursts of multiple exercises work best.
Whatever way you prefer, I’m sure you’ve had a moment here are there where you’ve hit a wall and felt like you’ll never be able to play the piece of music sitting in front of you well enough to pass your grade.
I’ve had it plenty of times, and I’ve come to accept that I probably always will. But I’ve recently found that the best way I can help myself get past that barrier is to take a little time out to just have fun.
You’re playing the drums because you want to. You decided to have lessons because you enjoy playing the instrument – that's what I remind myself of.
There are many moments I can think back to where I sat down at a kit and just had an amazing time playing. But sometimes, when you’re too focused on learning, you forget to spend time just enjoying the act of drumming.
It sounds incredibly obvious, but in between work, home life and your lessons, it can sometimes be far too easy to slip into the habit of only finding time for drumming when you’re practicing for your grades or your next lesson.
Personally, I stick on a couple of my favourite tracks from when I first started playing the drums and pretend I’m 17 again!
Laura Barnes - Planet drum student
Drum tips for beginner drummers
Always go into a practice session with a plan
Practicing is the key to improving your drum skills, but it is important to pre-plan what you are going to practice. Making time to practice is hard enough in everybody's busy day-to-day lives. Pre-thinking about what you will recap and study will help to maximize and get the most out of your practice session, even if it is only 10 or 15 minutes!
Practice with a metronome
There is a common misconception that having a steady pulse and solid sense of time is something that’s innate and can’t be taught. This is of course absolutely not true, and while some people do have a more natural sense of pulse than others, time is something that everybody should devote a large portion of time to practicing, no matter how natural a player they might be.
Go back to basics
Drummers often try to run before they can walk, which can lead to bad habits and gaps appearing in ability. Mastering the drumming basics is the best way to build a solid foundation upon which to develop your playing. We recommend focussing at least some of your practice time on improving single and double strokes, and polishing key rudiments like the paradiddle and five-stroke roll. Once you can execute these drumming fundamentals with consistency, dynamics and solid time, you will be fully prepared to take your playing to the next level.
Play with Other People
Despite the fact that there are tons of videos of drummers alone in their practice rooms on the internet, you should go find some like-minded people to play music with. Music is a team sport for the most part, and you’ll learn a lot by getting yourself into bands early on in your development. Don’t skip this step; it’s crucial.
Look for role models
They will shape your playing, as their drumming style and ability level helps you to measure progress in your own performance. If you need some inspiration, you can check out our Legendary Drummers playlist on YouTube.
Don’t Hold Your Drum Sticks Too Tight
The most common and grip technique is called ‘matched grip,’ and this is what I teach to my students. You will use your left and right hands to hold the drum sticks in the same way. The main area of grip is between the thumb and the second knuckle of the index finger, and the remaining fingers wrap around the stick.It’s key that you don’t hold the drum sticks too tight. The drum sticks should be allowed to bounce after striking a drum head, and this rebound will help you out significantly to achieve fast speeds. This rebound is a pivotal part of drumming and becomes a large part of your ‘playing feel’ as you develop as a drummer. You will naturally learn to feel when to begin the motion of striking a drum head and anticipate the rebound.
Realize that skill takes a long time to build. Becoming a great musician can take years. Be patient, do the work and you’ll become good. Focused practice under good guidance will take you there.
At Planet Drum, we always like to encourage our students
to play with other people as much as possible. That’s why we have been doing our band workshops for several years now and those sessions are enjoyed by our students and our teachers alike. There is something special about different people gathering in a room and creating music together, it’s like giving birth to a new spirit or new being that otherwise wouldn’t be possible to create.
In order to enjoy playing with other people at any occasion and to benefit most from it, there are some things we can do and pay attention to, in order to make it smoother, more musical and enjoyable for ourselves and everyone else.
the most important thing whether you play music on your own or with other people. Music is a language and you communicate with other musicians by listening to them. So many times great sessions are ruined by a musician focusing on his own instrument and not listening to what’s going on in the band. Remember, everyone in the band is there for the music and not for their own individual’s sake. So, if you feel there should be more dynamics involved, or you should play quieter, louder, or maybe even stop playing at all at some point, always be aware of what’s going on in the song. If you are not sure what you need to do, keep your eyes open as well as ears. By watching other band members, you’ll be safe and aware when to change gears during a song.
2. Respecting the soloist
Let’s say you play in a rhythm section (drums, bass, guitar, piano…) and someone is soloing. Don’t ever force them into your own rhythmic/harmonic/dynamic variations - listen to them instead and just follow what they do - it’s their role to lead you and not vice versa.
3. Respecting the style
If you happen to play a song in a blues/jazz style, don’t try to play your heavy metal licks or double kick rolls over the song. It just doesn’t fit there. If you are not familiar with the style, just be as simplistic as possible and it will all be ok!
4. Don't overplay
Less is more, most of the time. Especially if you are a drummer. Nobody cares about drum fills every 2 bars, or every 4 bars, or sometimes even 32 bars. Same for guitarists, if there is a space for your solo in the song, that’s fantastic. Otherwise, the less, the better. Again, it’s all based on listening, being familiar with the style and the song.
5. Don't be afraid or ashamed if you are a beginner
Nobody will judge you, we are all here to learn and communicate through music. As already said above, even if you know only one rhythm or a couple of notes on the bass guitar, good musicians will know how to make the best use of your skills.
6. Don't be crushed by your own mistakes
If you make a mistake, make a mental note and just continue playing, but remember it and work on it later. Again nobody will judge you. The worst thing you can do is stop because you made a mistake. It’s not a big deal, it’s human!
There is always something to learn at any band session because it’s not just music, it’s the exchange of people’s energies when we play together. Even one song can sound different every time. That’s why we are keeping the band music alive at Planet Drum. We can’t wait to go back to our regular sessions hopefully once the lockdown is over. In the meantime, keep practicing your instruments!
Planet drum guitar teacher, Vladimir
“Improvisation is too good to leave to chance” - Paul Simon
To say “I’m practicing improvisation” sounds like an oxymoron, but in fact a lot of preparation is required in order to improvise well. And by preparation, I don’t mean memorising a bank of perfectly formed riffs and fills that can be retrieved at random whenever someone points and shouts “drum solo!” - I mean getting comprehensively familiar with patterns, variations on those patterns and variations on ways in which those patterns and their variations can be applied to the kit and to the music.
When I started playing the drums, almost two years ago, I thought that I always needed a kit to be able to do meaningful practice, but recently - and following the wisdom of my tutors - I’ve realised that a lot of what I’m doing is actually just learning how to count, but using my whole body.
I’ve realised that it’s entirely possible to develop independence, coordination and the ability to count with each of my limbs (and my voice), using nothing but my body. And, I’m not for one moment discounting the importance of practicing stick and leg technique, for which you obviously DO need some sort of physical resistance from a practice pad, or pedals.
I’m just talking about the daily brain workout that (will hopefully) lead to becoming a thoughtful and creative improviser. I’m not there yet and I’m sure I’m not the only drummer who can say that I know how I want to sound, but the reality of what comes out of my sticks doesn’t quite live up to the dream…. Yet.
My current practice regime
involves sitting with a metronome, Ted Reed’s syncopation book and a whole load of patience, to go through each of the patterns, page by page, playing each pattern on different limbs, with the metronome on different beats, using different ostinato patterns, playing it straight, playing it swung etc…
Essentially playing the same thing in as many different ways as possible, until my brain becomes comfortable enough to enable each of my limbs to count their own way through the piece, with my voice keeping track of the base pulse and time signature.
Though, this alone isn’t going to make me a great improviser. I’m not practicing this stuff absent mindedly - I’m also trying to use these exercises to develop ideas, which I can only try out on a kit and with a band, in the moment.
The development of ideas and the application of these ideas to create something musical and interesting, is the real goal here - not the mental endurance test that I set myself (most days) with Ted Reed and the metronome. I’ve not been playing for long enough to know whether this is all going to pay off, but my tutors reassure me that it will and I trust them...
So to reiterate; the future is uncertain and no one is totally in control of the type of drummer that they will become, but it seems that it is possible to increase the chances of becoming an inventive improviser through… PRACTICE.
Planet drum student
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