The drumming world is inundated with practice materials. There are resources available for every style, every technique, and every famous drummer. This cornucopia of information leads to what Barry Schwartz calls “The Paradox of Choice“. Basically, too many options can make the chooser overwhelmed with choice, cause mental anxiety, and maybe keep you from taking action at all.
The options are truly limitless, you could spend your entire life trying to conquer the drum educational market, and new materials would come out faster than you could absorb the old one. The truth is, no one person can ever practice “everything”. But if we want to get better, we do have to practice. Some things you’ll want to practice be a much larger time commitment than others. Furthermore, if you try to practice too many things each day, or flounder about week after week never sticking with any routine, you risk diluting your focus and energy. So how do you choose?
The word decision comes from the same word as incision, it means to cut away other options leaving only what you’ve chosen. It is true that decision means limiting yourself, and that is a good thing. For progression as a musician it is far better to have few options and massive action than to have mountains of options and be frozen in indecision or self-doubt. The way I simplify the choice of what to practice is by deciding what I “need” to practice, and what I “want” to practice. These categories can also be divided into “music” and “skills”.
For utmost confidence and to put out the best music that I can, I need to practice the music that I am currently playing with in any band that I am in, and I need to learn new music that I will be playing in the future. Repetition is important here, the more I know the material the more confident I will be in performance, which is why I practice my repertoire daily.
There are some fundamental skills which are necessary for every working drummer, and not developing them to a high level will hold you back from success as a musician. These are the skills that you need to develop. Examples include having great time, knowledge and facility in various styles, having command and fluency around the drumset, and injury avoidance through proper technique.
There are tons of “skills” in drumming, so you could easily burn yourself out trying to master them all. The key to determining which skills you absolutely need is to take stock of your current playing, and to identify and assess your greatest weaknesses. It won’t necessarily be enjoyable to practice this stuff, because you’re not very good at it, and that’s the point. If these skills are truly holding you back from success than it is essential that you work on them and that you develop them to the point where you are no longer being handicapped by your own lack of ability.
This category includes any songs I really love and want to learn the drum parts to, as well as drum videos, grooves and fills by my favorite drummers, and solo transcriptions. Practicing this stuff is inspiring and motivating, and is one of the main reasons why we play the drums. How do you pick out of the myriad of choices available? Whatever music is most exciting, whatever really speaks to you, you should learn it.
Here is one of my favorite things about drumming, learning cool techniques and rhythmic concepts. These can be learned from books and video programs as well as self-development. Assuming you have a fairly broad base of fundamentals, it is really exciting to challenge yourself to hone your skills with more specialty products like Jojo Mayer’s “Secret Weapons for the Modern Drummer” for advanced technical facility, or “4-Way Coordination” for some intense mental tongue twisters.
These kinds of materials cover techniques far beyond the basics, and can be intellectually stimulating as well as help to make you a more profound musician. These are skills which may not be used constantly on the bandstand, but having these abilities under your belt will increase your facility, confidence, plus learning them is just plain fun!
So choose material from each of these 4 categories, and practice! Don’t pick too much and burn yourself out, just enough to keep you stimulated and challenged. In future posts I will discuss when and how to know when its time to move on to new materials.