Sometimes it seems like meaningful progress takes forever. After starting out quickly on an instrument, many people hit a point where each small improvement takes a large investment of time, and it can be frustrating!
For drummers, this often happens when trying to master some advanced coordination, which requires as much mental practice as physical. Or it could be that you’re trying to reach a higher speed goal on a rudiment and it seems like the brakes are always on…
Here are some tips to help you break some barriers, go around other problems, and avoid frustration while practicing.
1. Break the exercise down into smaller parts.
Very often we find ourselves going over and over the same phrase without success, and getting tripped up in the same place each time. It really helps to hone in on the exact thing that’s causing the problem… even down to a single note.
Come up with a way of repeating just the small fraction of a bar that is causing the issue. Once you can repeat it comfortably, add the next beat. Then add the rest of the bar, and so on.
This is a much more focused and effective way of solving a problem rather than continuously bashing away at a long passage.
2. Practice slowly and use your metronome as a tool.
Your metronome is an essential and helpful tool in your development. First of all, think of the metronome as another musician in the room who has great time. Then you just play with the other musician, rather than trying to keep up with your metronome.
Music isn’t a race, and there is no reward for pure speed, especially at the expense of phrasing, intonation, and accuracy. Besides, practicing slowly is actually a lot harder than practicing fast! How is that possible, you ask?
For drummers, each sound you make is actually quite short, because drums have a strong attack and a quick decay. So there is a lot more space in between each note when you’re playing slower – there’s a lot more room for inaccuracy.
If you can make your exercise groove and flow at 40 bpm, you will have achieved a deeper level of understanding of the motions involved in making each note. Then you can gradually increase the speed on your metronome by 3 or 4 bpm until you reach your goal.
3. Try not to stop and start continuously.
Many of us feel the urge to stop and yell every time we make a mistake during our practice. However, this just increases the level of frustration!
It can also often prevent you from getting to the other side of the mistake, which is where the cause of the problem can often be found… and besides, when you make a mistake on one drum, there’s no reason you can’t keep your other limbs going and fix the problem the next time around.
All musicians – even the greatest in the world – make a mistake every time they play. It may not be what the rest of us would consider a mistake, but something doesn’t go the way they want it to go. What would music be like if the legends started and stopped while they were playing?
Mistakes happen. In a practicing environment, they really don’t matter. What counts is identifying and solving the problem. The ability to keep on going, maintaining your focus and presence of mind when you make a mistake, is one of the most important skills you can develop as a musician.
4. Practice efficiently.
The key is that for the most part, the page you’ve been assigned is not a set of “performance patterns” that you have to go out and duplicate in front of an audience.
Often this type of assignment will be meant to cover all the variations for a given exercise, so that you have a grasp of some of the possibilities in the material when you’re done. Each example will be teaching you the same basic idea, in a slightly different way.
Many people will start from the first exercise each day when they sit down to practice, and the material at the end of the page will never get any attention. But this is not effective, as you can see now that you know the purpose of this type of assignment.
When you practice each example, make sure you work through it completely and thoroughly, every variation and possibility. Then when you come back the next day, you don’t need to practice that one again; you can start on the next one. This will allow you to move through the whole set of material in the course of a week.
5. Move on.
It can be incredibly frustrating to practice for an hour on the same exercise and be continuously unable to get it right. You’ve tried breaking it down into smaller pieces, you’ve tried slowing it down… nothing is working.
Just move on.
You may have developed some kind of hang-up or mental block, and struggling with one particular exercise means you’ll never get to the next one. It can make progress seem impossible – but “doing them in order” is not always necessary!
Just move on to the next exercise. Once you play the new one, try again on the one that stopped you before. You may have learned something by playing the next exercise that makes your previous difficulties go away.
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