I become puzzled with students who do not pick things up within a reasonable amount of time. The answer to me is always clear - there is a lack of work ethic. I understand that not everyone wishes to become the next great drummer of the world, nor is achievement a race. However to progress at anything, practice habits must be examined.
My philosophy is simple - if you put in disciplined work, results will come. Notice that I use not just "work", but also "discipline."
I would like to share a story that stems from my own experience. When I was in 8th grade, I tried out for the basketball team. I did so because most of my close friends were going to play. I was horrible. I made the team only because I was willing to play defense and do the "dirty work."
And while I didn't play much at all that year, I became very passionate about the game. I loved basketball. I knew that I needed to get better over the summer. Just before summer began, I met a guy named Bill Caviston. Bill was much older than I, and he was great basketball player. Upon meeting, I told him of my desire to get better. He told me "I will help you, but you're going to work"!
Every day that summer, I was at the basketball court from nearly sun up to sun down. Along with Bill, I created drills for myself. For example, before leaving each day I had to make at least 20 free throws in a row. If I got to 19 and missed, I did sprints and pushups and started over again until I got it. After working harder than I ever had before through summer and fall, there were results. When basketball season came, I not only made the starting team, but was also voted a captain.
I worked again the next summer and in 10th grade, I was the only sophomore to make the varsity team right at the start of the season.
This story is not to tell you how great I am. It is to illustrate the point that you don't need to be blessed with talent to become good. You need a good work ethic.
Thoughts on learning & practice
I believe there are three phases to progressing at one's instrument.
- Learn It - When learning a new piece of music or song, the key is to first get an overview of what is going on. It is not best to "dive right in." With an average level of experience, you can look at a piece of music or listen to a tune and conceptualize what you will be playing. For example, how is the tune going to feel (tempo)? How is it going to sound (mood, dynamics, phrasing)? Are there common patterns or beats I can learn first? What are the more challenging aspects I need to become comfortable with ('odd' sounding fills)? These questions should be answered prior to playing a single note.
- Play It - This is where we go from "conceptualizing" to "actualizing." Now that there is a concept of what is to be performed, we make the application on the instrument. In this phase, we form a relationship with the music. Mainly, we discover what we need to work on to get to Phase 3. For example, maybe the groove is good, but one of the limbs is too strong (i.e. right hand on hi-hat or the bass drum).
- Own It - This the final phase and the most often overlooked. I believe the two major differences between pros and amateurs are 1) understanding spacing between notes and 2) skipping this step of "owning it."
Perhaps this grey area stems from our time in the school system. Generally speaking, we learn the material well enough to pass the tests. But how much did we retain when the tests were over? Suppose you have to learn how to play a blues shuffle to sub on a gig, and you do just enough to get through the gig, or "pass the test". Understanding that your shuffle was not as strong as it could be, do you continue to work and refine it so you own it for the next gig? Or do you sweep it under the carpet until you have to play it again?
"Owning it" should apply to not only individuals, but also groups and ensembles. A key point of interest in this phase is transitions, or navigating the various sections of the music seemlessly. Regardless if it is cover tunes or original material, "owning it" means there are no holes in the music. When performing at higher level, the bar is raised. The more finely tuned the musician or group is, the more glaring the mistakes are. Imagine a bicycle wheel rolling smoothly down the road and suddenly a rock gets thrown into the spokes, causing a brief, yet sudden interruption in the flow. We want to strive for no rocks in the spokes.
Guide To Learning Covers
When learning songs myself or teaching them to others, I always save the drum fills for last. Go for the structure first. After learning the outline of the tune, it can be helpful to transcribe key fills or accents and place them beside the assigned section.
Sample Song Structure
- V = Verse; C = Chorus
- Intro (4 measures)
- V1 (8)
- Pre-Chorus (4)
- C1 (8)
- V2 (8)
- Pre (4)
- C2 (8)
- Bridge (8)
- C3 (16 or "double")
When playing with an ensemble, our job as drummers is to provide a steady beat and "drive the bus." Musicians and concert go-ers don't care if you botched a fill here and there. They do care whether you can make it from start to finish with a steady pulse and embellish the changes.
For years now, I have learned covers or tunes for a session without playing a single note ahead of time. I place intense emphasis on the "Learn It" phase, before moving on to "Play It." The main reason is that when we are playing, it makes it harder to listen. I want to be able to hear all that is going on in the song, and if I am banging away, I am covering a lot of sound.
Drum Lessons at Dale's Drum Shop
Due to popular demand, Jeremy will be offering lessons for students at the rate of $30 per 1/2 hour & $50 per hour. The majority of the lessons will be set up on a weekly basis. However, Jeremy will do what he can to accomodate an individual's schedule. For more information, please contact email@example.com.