The Practice of Practice

March 20, 2014 11:24 am in Concert, Drumset, Marching by Web Team

We have all been told that practice makes perfect and to achieve perfection one must practice for hours everyday.  I am not about to say that I have a quick fix that will lessen your practice time but I do have a method that will improve your chances of achieving your goals.  I’ve seen too many players spend hours and hours on practice with little results.  Primarily their fault lay in the fact that they did not have a work schedule that they followed, rated and revised when needed. Here are some ideas that have helped me organize my practice routine and achieve much better results.

  • PLAN DAILY: – Organize your routine every day.  Decide how much time you have to practice that day and divide it up between:
a) Warm Ups
b) Rudiments – learning and application of
c) Groove & Fills
d) Learning a song

  • CLICK/SEQUENCER: – You can accomplish two things at once by using a click or a sequencer with headphones, improve your timing and protect your ears.
  • WARM UPS: – I find this is essential to help getting the body aligned correctly for maximum effectiveness.  Work slowly, there’s no need for speed at this point.  Work for speed by playing slowly and accurately.  Accuracy is the objective.
a) LISTEN: This is also a good time to listen to the way the drums sound.  Be aware of the sounds produced by stokes on different places on the drumhead.
b) EMPLOY DYNAMICS:  Is each hand producing the same volume with each attack?  The way a drummer produces a dynamic is by how far the stick is above the drumhead.  Then just drop the stick – if you pull back before the drop you have lost the height and are now in a different dynamic.  Lastly watch your hands. Check to see if your wrists are moving, they should be, not your forearms.
c) RUDIMENTS/APPLICATION OF: – Learn your rudiments.  They are the foundation of your vocabulary. Study snare drum solos, either rudimental, orchestral repertoire or a modern solo, by doing so you are applying the rudiments.  Then practice applying the rudiments to the drum set.  Tony Williams, Steve Gadd, and Steve Jordan are three greats that are known for their use of rudiments in their playing.  Paradiddles as fills, diddle grooves, flams in fills.


  • GROOVE AND FILLS: – This is the one section of my practice routine that I always find time for because this is what drummers do and we must have complete mastery of it!  As always, work with a metronome or a sequence.  Choose a groove: swing, funk, rock, etc. and play it.  I don’t mean for two minutes, play it for twenty minutes without stopping. Vary the bass drum pattern, employ ghost notes, accent some of the ghost notes, switch from hi hat to ride cymbal, use an open handed pattern, use different sound sources for the pattern, but most of all GROOVE. So, how do we know if we’re grooving if there isn’t a crowd dancing in front of us – LISTEN – we have to be able to judge that for ourselves. Even better is to record 48 bars and listen back.  Now it’s time to add a few fills to the groove. Use two groups of 16ths on beats 3 & 4.  Play the fill first on the snare and then orchestrate it.  You can orchestrate with right hand movement, left hand movement, right and left hand movement and bass drum substitutions.  When you hear one that you like, take the time to stop and write it down, then memorize it.  A good procedure for this is to count with a metronome, 1 + 2 + and then play the fill.  Do this as many times as it takes you to memorize it.  Then back to the groove and employ the fill.  I like to use play a-long tracks to accomplish this. It keeps your practice musical and challenging.
  • LEARN A SONG A DAY: – Sharpen your ability to think in song form. 4 or 8 bar phrases into a fill then into a bridge or chorus employing a different groove for 16 bars with another fill at the end of 16th bar then back into the original groove.  Use a sequence for this process.  Sing a song in your head while you play the groove.  Use play a-long tracks or play to a CD.  Once you have 8 or 10 songs put them into a play list and play straight through as if you’re performing a set.

  • CHALLENGE YOUR COORDINATION: - Do this everyday! 
a) Play a busy bass drum pattern.
b) Play one pattern w/feet and another w/hands
c) Work on grooves that you can’t play
d) Add hi hat patterns to grooves and rudiments
e) Pat your head and rub your belly… only kidding

  • USE TWO CLOCKS: – Your metronome is one and a clock with a second hand is the other.  As mentioned before – always use a metronome.  Use the clock to time how long you work on a section of your practice routine.  If you have only an hour to practice spend 5 min on warm ups, 15 min on rudiments, 20 min on Groove and Fills and 20 min learning a new song.  Save another 5 min to:

  • KEPP A RECORD OF YOUR PROGRESS: – Always keep a small notebook to write down what you did that day, date it, notate metronome markings, styles and fills you played, songs you learned and how you felt you did on each.  Then plan what you want to accomplish tomorrow.

Learning to discipline myself to stick to a practice schedule has helped keep my practicing fresh and exciting.  Consistently rating my practice and scheduling the next day’s work has kept my progress moving steadily forward.  If drumming is your job or your passion, you owe it to yourself to develop your own practice program.

Good luck and as always, enjoy the process.

- Article contributed by Matt Patuto