Practicing drums is BORING. I’m not talking about playing along to songs; I mean incessantly and mindlessly doing paradiddles and other such rudiments over and over. BORING.
Here is a hack that I use to revolutionize my practice. I’ve heard a few drummers say not to do this. The thing is, none of the people I’ve heard talk about this give any actual data on why this is bad. They just say things like “Don’t do this; it is bad.” Well I am telling you not to listen to them— sort of…
“The human brain is built to take conscious knowledge and turn it into unconscious knowledge—learning consists of taking things that are strange and unnatural, such as algebra and reading [or new rudiments], and absorbing them so steadily that they become automatic. That frees up the conscious mind to work on new things.”-David Brooks’s The Social Animal
You’ve likely experienced this. Practicing a rudiment so much that it becomes automatic—You no longer consciously focus on it. Well that’s the goal here.
When I am practicing a new rudiment, at first, I focus solely on it. The movements, the timing, the pattern, the dynamics, I make sure to get it all correct. For me, after playing it for 5 minutes at one speed, then another 5 minutes at a faster speed, I am able to play it slowly without focusing on it. The key phrase here is slowly without focusing on it. At this point, I go to Netflix on my iPad and find something to distract me from the BOREDOM of practicing this rudiment over and over. You see, I am putting some of my conscious attention on something else in order to further thrust this rudiment into the subconscious. I use the app ProMetronome which still keeps the metronome going while watching something on Netflix (currently It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia).
There is a video on Mike Johnson’s Instagram page of him practicing a paradiddle while saying two letters of the alphabet aloud, then two in his head. This is essentially the same thing. He is consciously focusing some of his attention on something else in order to further thrust these body mechanics into his subconscious.
To sum this up, my formula when practicing a new rudiment is this:
- Play the rudiment for 5 minutes at a slow speed
- Play the rudiment for another 5 minutes a bit faster
- Pause for a moment and put on something to watch
- Resume the metronome and keep going in increments of 5 minutes while increasing the speed
I still make sure that I am playing along with the metronome accurately. This hack allows me to practice for a much longer time, and I have seen drastic improvements in my playing since doing this due to the longer amounts of time I can spend on practicing rudiments. Sometimes, if I am doing just kick drum rudiments, I will set up my laptop on my snare drum and play games. I am a big fan of the tower defense game Kingdom Rush. This can be exceptionally difficult to do at faster speeds, but if you get it down, it really helps with limb interdependence.
The point here is to get the rudiment so solid that you are able to focus some of your attention on other things, like a tv show or computer game, while still playing solidly.
I encourage anyone reading this to try this out. Leave a comment or send me a message stating whether or not this worked for you or if it was a disaster.
Below are links to the Mike Johnson’s Instagram video and the book that I mentioned.