It seems to me that a question every drummer is afraid to ask is “What do I practice that will help me get work?” Let’s start with some of what I have found is required for the studio.
I’m not in college anymore. My time is limited and I need work. So if you are like me, ask yourself, “Should I really spend the next hour of practice developing the fastest flam paradiddle known to man?”
I have found that most artists, producers, and engineers look for a drummer with a great feel, consistent time, great touch and tone, a selfless attitude, confidence, and punctuality. Not blazing chops.
At a session, drum tracking is usually the first order of business. Drums are the foundation that everything else is built on. Money is being spent on studio time and there is a need to keep the creative momentum flowing, so the drums need to be done quickly and accurately.
Sadly, it seems recording has become a visual medium. I’ve witnessed many a great feeling take get “massaged,” “corrected,” or even thrown out because the waveforms were not perfectly lined up to the grid. Engineers can’t waste time correcting a sped-up fill or the drummer getting way ahead of the click on the chorus. Yet it still needs to sound like a living, breathing, sweating human being on the playback. Work on your time to save your employer time and money.
To achieve consistent time, a great feel, and good musical decisions, devote more practice time to playing along with your favorite recordings, and the touchstone albums everyone refers to. Listen closely and carefully to the feel and all the nuance and subtleties that make that drummer unique. Don’t just listen to what the drummer plays; listen for the reasons why.
Practicing slowly is the solution to the time, feel, and tone problems that face us all. I tell all of my students, “If I can recognize anything you are practicing, you are playing it too fast.” Work on playing confidently and comfortably to a metronome or click track at a slow 30—50 bpm and record yourself. Strive for a solid, relaxed feel and good tone. Sing everything you play so that your body and mind fully commit to every note.
Pay extra attention to the space between the notes; they are actually more important than the notes you play. I believe that even within the constraints of the grid, we can still have an ebb and flow. By practicing slowly, you will have a heightened awareness of a note’s value and will be able to push and pull with out losing the solid feel.
The studio can be a pressure cooker. But amidst all of this practice for perfection, try to let yourself make mistakes and pay attention to them. Your mistakes are truly original and will help you develop a distinctive voice, which is also in very high demand.