How to get the most out of your lessons.
When should I practice?
Immediately after the lesson. It’s sometimes the last thing you want to do when you finish a lesson, but it’s very important to keep the concepts fresh in your mind.
Every day. It’s better to do it little bit every day than try to cram right before your lesson. Muscle memory is important, and develops much faster with regular practice. Being prepared is easier on your nerves, too!
Whenever you play, really give it all of your attention. 30 minutes of focused work is better than 2 hours of distracted slop.
As you’re learning a new concept, practice it slow enough that you can play it perfectly, even if that means playing at what I call turtle speed. At the same time, you want to push yourself a little bit, so also try playing your assignment at a tempo where it’s just starting to get a little uncomfortable (but not tense).
You assigned me a lot of stuff! Do I really need to do all this every day?
Not necessarily. When you’re struggling with a new and difficult concept, it may be better to learn a few key patterns perfectly than to do several pages poorly. As the concept becomes more familiar, you can get through more and more of the patterns. Many of the things we work on are meant to be assimilated slowly, sometimes taking years to fully assimilate. Of course, very ambitious students will want to practice everything I assign, plus a whole lot more!
How many hours?
Every student should try to play at least 30 minutes per day. Serious middle- and high- school students should practice 1-2 hours per day. For reference, most excellent professional drummers practiced a minimum of 3-5 hours (or more) every day, for a period of at least several years at some point in their lives.
Should I use a metronome?
Yes! It can be frustrating, but having solid time through a range of tempos is critical for a drummer. I personally use a metronome for 90% of my practicing, though I’ve been playing for nearly 30 years. Make sure to get a kind you can use with headphones. You can also play with playalong tracks or practice loops.
Does time spent playing in a band or in band class count?
Not completely. Playing music is very important, but is not the same as practicing. The exercises we work on in lessons are designed to condition you to handle real-life playing situations better.
What if I never practice? Am I wasting my time and money?
Not to encourage bad practice habits, but if you do nothing but show up to your lessons you will still improve much faster than you would by working on your own. But you’d be amazed at how much you can accomplish with a little regular, focused practice! Try to get the habit!
I want to practice, but don’t have the time!
Often it’s just a matter of making time. Playing the drums for the time it takes to watch a Simpsons re-run, every single day, could make a huge difference in your playing over the long term.
Try just sitting down at the drums for one minute every day… surely you have 60 seconds to spare? Just hold the sticks, maybe make a couple of non-commital buzzes on the snare drum, then get up and go do whatever else you need to do. Just get into the habit of sitting at the drums every day.
You may also find Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity secret helpful. It’s simple, but effective: get a full-year wall calendar, post it where you can see it, and mark down a big red X for every day you practice. Once you start, try not to break the chain of Xs.
If you’re actually considering a career in music (or any creative field), and are having trouble finding/making the time to practice your craft, you should consider picking up a copy of The Artist’s Way. It’s an excellent book especially those struggling to balance their creative lives with work/family obligations.
In addition to just working on your lesson assignments, you should dedicate a little time each session to free play- just sit down and play whatever you want. You can either play things you have memorized from your assignments, experiment with inventing your own beats, or just go wild and hit as many things as you can as fast as you can!
Playing in a band
It’s also very important to play with other musicians as often as you can, so you can place the materials from your lessons in their proper context.