When I started teaching drum lessons in the Philadelphia area, I wanted to provide my students with a personalized teaching approach that focuses on their interests and goals. What I’ve realized is that drum students are often taught what to do, not why they should do it. Here are some helpful tips to take into consideration:
Don’t just learn music theory. Apply it.
Music Theory is an interesting topic to most drummers. A lot of it’s contents are not directly related to drumming. It’s certainly worth understanding from a musical standpoint, but we tend to put more emphasis on the concepts within Music Theory that relate to rhythm and notation, more so than the ones that relate to melody and chord progressions. While it’s debatable as to whether or not that is actually detrimental to a drummer’s growth as a musician, at very least, it’s important that you find ways to apply those theoretical elements. Let’s take a drag… a rudimental note combination that involves a single stroke followed by dragging the stick at the end of the stroke to create two touches on the drum. This right here is the foundation of a drum roll. How can you possibly apply a drum roll to your playing without the fundamental ingredients that are used to put it together. In this case, students need spend a lot of time focusing on drags, using them in different contexts, at different speeds, and developing wrist technique to be able to put a full roll together. In general, students should devote time to understanding the theoretical components within music but then explore ways to apply them to the drum set, in the songs they play, and discover ways to use them appropriately so it’s more than just an exercise used in practice.
One of the biggest setbacks I see is self-inflicted. We have the ability to hold ourselves back so much by being afraid to make mistakes. This can cause us to avoid practicing certain things or even worse, practicing things the wrong way. I would much rather see a student stumble through a 16 bar exercise playing notes incorrectly, using improper technique, and missing accents than stopping every two measures to redo the part they messed up. There’s an old saying, “you perform how you practice,” and I promise you it will not go over well with your audience if you keep starting a song over in order to get it right. Embrace imperfection. Don’t be afraid do make mistakes. Be afraid of practicing incorrectly.
Develop a structured approach to learning
Most of us don’t just start playing Buddy Rich drum solos week 1, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be the model for you to work towards. If you look at a 12 bar solo, at first glimpse it may just seem like a complicated mess of notes with hands flying in all directions. But if you were to break it down, transcribe it, and really understand what is going on, you will most likely find it’s not as complicated as it appears. Better yet, you might take away key things about the ideas used in the solo to help your own playing. Dissect the things your favorite players do. Seek to understand their approach, any technique elements they utilize, and set goals for yourself. We don’t practice paradiddles to simply play paradiddles. But once you can play them at faster speeds, around the drums, in different patterns, they take on a whole new life. Approach everything about the drums that way. Get your hands dirty, roll up your sleeves, and work to understand the mechanics behind it all.
Capitalize on your weaknesses
We all cater to our strengths and for good reason. Those are the areas that make us satisfied with ourselves as drummers. It can be a trap though. When I take myself out of my comfort zone to try something a little less natural, it often paves the way to an entirely new skill set in the making. Take the right handed drummer that leads every fill with the right hand… that comfort you feel with your right hand; Imagine if you got that with your left hand. Or maybe you’re a rocker with zero interest in jazz. I would advise you to at least pay attention to the components of jazz drumming. You don’t necessarily have to swing like Elvin Jones but I guarantee you exploring jazz drumming will add to your overall drumming arsenal. Bottom line, don’t put things off because they are weaknesses. Improve them and you will be on your way to becoming a very well-rounded player.
Hearing is seeing
Some of us are more visual players. We need to see notes to be able to put rhythms together. Others are less about the notes but have great ears. This means you might be better at learning simply by listening to others play. There is a balance that must be achieved, as both have their value. If you fall into one category over the other, going back to the previous point, spend some time focusing on the less proficient of the two. Since we were children, we’ve been told how our senses must work together. Well drumming is a very sensory process and your limitations will decrease as your senses are leveraged to develop skills. Drummers who play by ear tend to have stronger feel, while drummers who primarily read the notes are typically more precise. Bridge the gap and develop abilities in both areas to get the most out of your playing.