BY ANDY DOERSCHUK
There’s a good reason why it’s called “playing drums” rather than “working drums” — drumming is one of the most fun things that most drummers can imagine doing. Like other fun activities such as skiing, surfing, and playing chess, drumming requires a certain amount of practice before you can fully enjoy its benefits. But you can minimize the pain by maximizing the results. Here are a few ideas.
1. PREPARE YOUR PRACTICE SPACE
The sound of drumming isn’t conducive to fostering good relations with your neighbors, so unless you plan on moving in the near future, it’s a good idea to do everything you can to reduce the noise level in your practice studio.
Some solutions are strikingly easy. You can invest a couple hundred bucks in a nice set of practice pads that will considerably cut the volume of your stick hits, or plunk down a couple (or few) thousand dollars on the ultimate practice pad kit — an electronic drum set, which will allow you to play while wearing headphones and listening to pristine digital drum sounds.
But let’s admit it: Practice pads don’t offer the instant gratification you get from hearing your drums, and an electronic kit is out of the question for beginners on a limited budget. So your next best bet is to be a good citizen, soundproof your space, and work with your neighbors.
The first thing to do is find a room in your house that will accomplish several goals. It needs to be big enough to accommodate your drum set and preferably somewhat removed from the rest of the house. Very often this criteria leads to the garage, although it could also be a spare bedroom or basement. Your next hurdle is to soundproof it as best as you can. Take it from me — egg cartons nailed to the wall are pretty ineffectual (although they’re probably better than nothing). A better bet is to hang heavy curtains against the walls, although the best alternative is to pick up some of the soundproofing products that are on the market today, such as Sorber acoustic tile that can be affixed to walls and acrylic Clearsonic panels that surround your kit and effectively contain the sound.
You will need a few more items to get your practice space up and running — don’t worry, though, the big expenses are behind you. The ability to play with a rock solid tempo is more important than ever in the increasingly competitive drumming field, so it’s a good idea to have a metronome and actually use it to practice your studies. Keep in mind that you don’t have to practice everything to a click, but you should work on your time every day. It’s also a good idea to invest in a music stand so that you can easily work on your lessons. And even if you don’t take drumming lessons, it’s a good idea to buy a couple basic drum method books to help you develop your vocabulary.
Now it’s time to get your nerve up and go talk to your neighbors. Tell them that you plan to practice drums a certain number of times per week at a certain time of day, so that there is some degree of predictability. Be open to negotiations in order to accommodate their needs and schedules. The idea is to communicate openly and to avoid angry confrontations at all costs.
2. SET A SCHEDULE
It doesn’t matter whether you’re practicing drums or lifting weights — your ability to show progress depends entirely on building muscle memory. And the surest way to do that is to set a practice schedule and stick to it religiously. Keep in mind that 30 minutes a day will show results more quickly than three hours once a week. An hour a day is even better, but don’t set unrealistic goals. That can be a recipe for disappointment, which can lead to a total meltdown of your practice time.
It’s best if you can practice a little every day, but we know that it can be hard to slavishly stick to a daily schedule for much of anything besides eating and sleeping, so try to put in a minimum of five good practice sessions per week.
3. PLAN AHEAD
Think of your practice sessions as stepping stones that lead to your drumming goals. Each stone represents a small step forward and should in itself accomplish a small goal. So at some point during the week, perhaps on Sunday, you need to set small goals that you want to accomplish during the week.
You know better than anyone what aspect of your drumming needs the most work, so plan to address it in your practice time. Let’s say your hands are more advanced than your feet. So create a schedule that gives greater emphasis to your feet during the upcoming week. Perhaps you can dedicate two out of five sessions to working exclusively on your feet. Or alternatively, plan to spend more time every day working on foot techniques.
Create a routine that you follow every time your sit down behind the drums — for example, five minutes of stretching and easy warm-ups (such as medium-tempo quarter-notes on the snare drum), 15 minutes of lesson practice, culminating with ten minutes of free playing where you get to do anything you feel like. This way you give your practice time a predictable shape that slowly builds up in intensity and fun. It’s also a good idea to keep a journal so that you can look back on your past practice goals, see what worked best, and plan where you want to take your future practice sessions.
4. DEVELOP YOUR EARS
Not all lessons are learned while sitting at the drums. Some of your most memorable ones will occur while watching other drummers to learn their techniques and study their styles. Go to shows by some of your favorite bands and try to snag a seat that gives you a good view of the drummer — bring binoculars if you need to.
Buy DVDs and videos by drummers you admire. There are many choices on the market, and most offer very high-quality productions brimming with valuable information. Set up a television and DVD player in your practice room and play along. If that is unfeasible, do what other drummers have done for generations, and play along to your favorite albums while wearing headphones. It’s a great way to challenge your chops while having a lot of fun.
5. LEARN FROM EVERYONE
Lessons aren’t for nerds. Plenty of world famous drummers continue to take lessons from noted teachers and peers in order to keep pushing their technique farther. So if you don’t find your current drum teacher to be inspirational, shop around for a new one that might stimulate your creativity. Seek knowledge however you can. Periodically buy new drum method books and DVDs, study different drumming styles that go beyond your primary interests, and ask the sale clerk at your local drum shop questions about gear. Never turn back. Keep moving forward. And reach for the stars.