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The age-old problem of what to practice and how long should you be practicing?

Let’s establish now that no two students are the same; there is no such thing as an ideal routine because each student’s requirements are different. Many factors enter into the equation such as rehearsal space, noise, availability of instruments and so on. And that’s before we even get to what should be practiced and how much time should be devoted to it.

What we can establish is that (a) students need discipline, should be focused and have staying power, (b) the time spent practicing should be quality time (not quantity) and (c) students should be aware of their own learning processes (‘productive’ and ‘dormant’) and act accordingly.

Set out below are some suggestions that may help students with their organization of practice.

Stage 1: general ideas

Practice regularly – everyday NOT a once-a-week feast.
Make sure your practice is quality practice, not simply quantity
Organize your practice time – be focused, set achievable goals and targets and keep a record of everything
Have patience – you cannot accelerate or force the knowledge, do not expect too much too soon.
Practice what you can’t do – don’t practice what you already can do.
Don’t get caught collecting drum patterns or licks.
Don’t get caught not playing music.
Aim for perfection – but don’t wait for it.
Carry your organized practice routines and disciplines into your professional life.
Relate all rhythms and grooves to songs and tunes.
Don’t loose your sense of humor – it’s only drumming.

Stage 2: What and how do I practice?

Be realistic with the time you set yourself.
Identify with your strengths and weaknesses – actually list them.
Sort out a timetable for your practice.
It’s not what you practice, it’s how you practice it.
Practice slowly and methodically.
Keep a detailed record of practice routines.
Don’t lose sight of what you are trying to achieve.
Divide your practice into (a) personal, (b) group and (c) performance
Overlap routines.
Sow seeds – start ideas off and return to them.
Know when and how to consolidate ideas.
Tune in – be aware when your learning process is receptive and dormant
Know when to put the books away – is the book in your head or is your head in the book?
Do not underestimate the amount of time (hours, days, months) that is required for ideas to grow from an elementary stage to that of performance.
Don’t bring practice routines into performance – forget what you have been practicing during the day and let any ideas feed into your playing by natural means.
Always relate technical exercises to musical performance, try and use as much repertoire as possible for practice material.
When practicing observe what is happening, not what you think if happening.
Practice until you can’t get it wrong, not until you’ve just got it right
Leave time for creative practice.
Make a habit of listening to music every day.

Finally, it’s worth considering one of Stanley Spector’s quotes on drumming:"The paradox in drumming is that the first elementary lesson is, at the same moment, the most advanced lesson. The beginning and end of a drummer’s career is a study of time."


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