Every once in a while when I sit down to practice, I have a great, productive time and wonder why I don’t do this more often.
Every other time, I sit down to practice and want to set my drum kit on fire because drums are hard and rudimental studies are boring.
A realistic aim you can set for yourself is to exist somewhere between these two extremes. With this article, I hope I can supply you with a few ways you can achieve that level-headed goal.
Set Trackable Goals
It’s quite easy to think “I want to be as good as Dave Weckl,” but how are you going to monitor that?
Amidst some loftier, less straight-forward goals you might set for yourself, like “Be inducted into the Modern Drummer hall of fame,” and “Have line of signature sticks that leave unsightly marks on cymbals,” you could also set yourself easy-to-monitor goals.
For example, speed-improvement is an easy area to track your progress.
If you wanted to be able to play semi-quaver double-kicks at 220BPM (you’re mad), make a note of what BPM you can reach now, then work on improving that, making a note of your upper limit after every session.
Being able to physically see your improvement will do your self-esteem wonders, which is the same rewards system Weight Watchers use and they’ve been going for decades.
Set Achievable Goals
In the last drum exam I took, there was a particularly challenging rudimental study that I had a lot of trouble with. It was the kind of piece that you sit down with for the first time and just think “…really?”
It was easy to get lost down that rabbit-hole and never get past the title, because the piece as whole looked so overwhelming.
I ended up getting a distinction on that exam (not trying to brag) and my method is almost insultingly simple: take things one at a time. Instead of writing “master insanely difficult rudimental study” on your to do list, write “learn foot paradiddle triplets,” or whatever the smaller task is.
It feels good to cross things off a to do list – that rush of pride will propel you right through the next task.
Try Grade Books
It sounds obvious, but grades are literally for monitoring how good you are. It feels pretty good get a piece of paper that says “you are this good.”
You might not be the kind of drummer who takes exams and quests for certificates and that’s totally fine.
However, you can still track your abilities by playing through things like Trinity London graded exam books.
Even if you’ve already technically achieved a certain grade, it’s no secret that some teachers will guide you through the bare-minimum to pass, because it looks good for them too.
Say you passed your exam with pieces A, B and a particularly fiendish rudimental study – have you ever even looked at pieces C, D, E, F and G? Grade books are full of styles that you would never come across in your drumming life and in that way, they’re full of fresh challenges.
Allow Yourself Time to Blow Off Steam
You know what’s fun? Hitting things. It’s okay to wander off the path of enlightenment from time to time in order to let out some anger.
When I was at music college, I had to learn System of a Down’s Question for a performance. That’s not a genre I’m particularly interested in, but I now know how to play that song and it’s a boatload of fun, because you get to hit things really hard and fast.
If a devilishly difficult rudimental study is getting you down, there’s a lot to be said for the calming comfort of going hell for leather on your Remo Pinstripes.
Play For Fun
In a similar vein to the last tip, you should take some time to have fun every now and then. If every time you sit down at the drums, you’re faced with the despair of failing to work out a tricky rudimental study (noticing a theme here?), before long you’ll be looking for reasons not to practice.
A few times a session, try to jam along to something you actually enjoy playing. You can do something challenging, like Dave Matthews Band’s Rapunzel, or something easy and silly, like throwing Neil Peart fills into Ramones songs. Just try to remind yourself how fun it is to play the drums.
This one seems counter-productive, but if you’re deep into your 3rd hour of banging your head against a wall because a wretchedly tricky rudimental study, consider walking away and coming back with fresh eyes tomorrow.
You’d be surprised how many times something just clicks in the back of your mind while you’re washing dishes or doing some other busy work. You’ll sit down the next day and think, “Oh man, I can’t believe I found this so difficult. Now, onto bar number 2…”