Is it even worth practicing? 10 Tips.

ImageHave you ever asked yourself, is it worth practicing today? Well you should!  Far too many musicians spend countless hours practicing only to gain very little results (skill-based results, not prize-based results as they are totally out of your control).  If you are not practicing effectively or correctly, then there really isn’t much point in practicing at all.  When you sacrifice things such as spending time with your family, hanging with your buddies or spending time on a project at home so you can practice, then you want to make sure every minute of that practice counts.

Each week I ask my students two things. 1) How was your weekend/week and what did you get up to? 2) What did you practice and how long for each day?.

I always do it in that order.  First thing’s first – family, friends and life are the key to a happy existence.  I really think it’s important that musicians balance their commitment to their instrument with a bit of fun and enjoyment. I know too many people who invest a lot of time into their instrument, and very little into their family/friends.  And often, you can see the tension in their family/social life.  These people are often the ones not getting the results (again : skill-based results, not prize-based results) they are wanting. I think they are likely spending their “practice” time incorrectly.  

Many of you will be familiar with the 10,000 hour rule.  Statistics say that it takes a human 10,000 hours of practice to become a master of their instrument.  This is quite general, but of course this would mean that the majority of those hours would need to be used effectively and with correct practice for it to actually happen.  If someone uses the wrong side of a paint brush (the wooden end with NO bristles) and does this for 10,000 hours, will they become a master artist? I think not! The same thing applies to drumming, bagpiping or any other instrument. Correct practice is the only way to achieve results.  Of course, not everyone wants to compete for physical prizes, but surely everyone who plays an instrument would want to make the most of their personal practice time?  Plus, it’s WAY more fun when you know you are making progress and enjoying the fruits of your labour.

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Never forget to spend quality time with family and friends! Your drumming will actually benefit – the support your loved ones provide is essential for you to be the best you can be.

In my personal opinion, it’s not a race to see how quickly you can rack up 10,000 hours of personal practice. In fact, I would just throw that idea right out the window.  Learning an instrument is a journey.  You are on a journey of discovery, development and enjoyment. I think that choosing to learn an instrument is a personal decision that you want to bring music to your own ears and to others. 

10 tips for practicing effectively.

  1. To make steady progress you obviously need to commit to regular and frequent personal practice outside of band or ensemble practices.  20-30 minutes, 5 times a week isn’t too much to ask is it?  If you can commit to this then you will be on the right track. If you practice more than this then you will see greater results more quickly.
  2. Practice correctly. Learn how to hold your sticks properly. If you don’t have a tutor then jump on YouTube and check out some of the worlds best pipe band drummers. Monkey-see, Monkey-do.
  3. Have structure. Don’t just pick up your sticks randomly and play (unless you are just jamming and having fun!). Write down your short term goals, identify your weaknesses and get your hands on specific rudiments that will help you reach your goals.
  4. Journal.  Take notes during and after your practice. This is a great way to see your progress and it keeps you “on task”.
  5. Practice in an environment where you are relaxed, comfortable and free from any distractions. No Facebook nearby!!
  6. Seek advice. Ask your tutor to let you know if you are doing the right things and talk to them about your practice.
  7. Once you become tired or irritable – stop practicing!! It’s not about tallying up the minutes. It’s about effective practice, and ENJOYMENT!
  8. Record yourself regularly. You will be able to self-critique yourself and make much better progress.
  9. If your hands hurt – stop and take a break
  10. Spend time with your family and friends!

If anyone else has anything else to add – please do shout out! Thank you to the many drummers throughout the world who continually share their thoughts on my FB posts.  Cruise on over to my facebook page and say hello!

Not long until Easter – remember to kick back with some chocolate and hang with the family.  I’m looking forward to chillaxing and cracking a bottle of vino!

Speed versus Rhythm

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When practicing drumming exercises (or learning them for the first time) should a drummer start them slowly and build the tempo up gradually until they can play them quickly and smoothly? Or should the rudiment be structured in a rhythmic grid to give the drummer a more contextual sense of how the rudiment fits into the phrase of a piece of music?

A pretty easy question you would think, right?!

Well, I’m not exactly sure if we could get all pipe band drummers to agree on this one. Let’s take doubles for example.  Should they be learnt slowly and built up steadily into an open roll? Or should they be learnt in crotchets, then quavers, then semi-quavers and so on. (And of course quarter notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes etc. for all you numerical folk!)?

Personally, I was taught to start them slowly and gradually build them up in tempo.  This was fun, because as a beginner I could track my progress almost daily and then push myself to go a little faster. Although, there does comes a time where you start to make only incremental improvements as your stick position or technique physically hinders your progress.  This is where the danger comes – a student might get miffed with the rudiment side of things because they aren’t able to go any faster. So what’s the point in practicing them if they don’t see results (or at least this what a lot of students think at times perhaps?).  The other downside to this way of “mastering” rudiments is that the player gains no understanding of time or rhythm. They become a speed demon, but surely this is not a drummers key role? 

The other way of approaching it is to start with a very slow tempo on the metronome and start doubles as crotchets, quavers and so on. This is a great way of understanding the value of time and how the rudiments fits into the metric equation.  This is also a good way of learning to play to a metronome (or constant beat) and allows the student to measure their progress with a metronome BPM count.  I guess the downside to this one is that the student doesn’t get the excitement of building the rudiment up steadily into the closed roll.

Frankly, I think both ways have merit. And in fact, I use both ways with students. Some students grasp to one easier than the other. But I feel it is so important for them to be able to play both.  In my Guide to Pipe Band Drumming Volume 1 – I demonstrate both.

You can choose what works for you. Or maybe you have another method? If so, please do share!

Does the drumming practice surface REALLY matter?

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It goes without saying that the majority of pipe band snare drummers own more than one “practice” pad.  These rubber mats offer us a great practice surface to play on when we can’t play on the snare drum (usually at home, as playing on a snare drum at home would require some forgiving family members and patient neighbours!).  Over the past few decades I have personally tried over 30 rubber drum pads, some great and some horrendous.  I have also been advised by many drummers of the reasons why hard pads are best as they make you work harder, and resemble the true feel of the drum.  I have also received the opposite advice!  As a young drummer, I just believed what I was told – and therefore had a differing opinion every six months. This also meant that mum and dad forked out for a new pad every 6 months, until the next “perfect practice pad” arrived on the market!  Trust me, there is no “perfect” practice pad.

The very best pad that I own cost me Nada.  Zip. Diddly Squat.  Yep, I rocked along to a rubber factory and tried out tons of different surfaces – found the one I liked and got an off-cut.  I play on this pad about 6 hours each day (I teach pipe band drumming full time). The majority of my students want to ditch their brand new pads in place of my rough cut practice pad.  Why have I ended up settling for this piece of rubber?

Well – drumming is all about feel.  The surface you play on creates a definitive feel. This relies on a few factors : the hardness of the rubber, the thickness of the rubber, the surface it is sitting on and the sticks you are using. (I will go into the whole pipe band drum stick preference side of things on another post).

When you are playing on a piece of rubber that is hard (rubber hardness is measured in Shore – 40 shore is my preferred hardness) then you are not going to get a great feel. In fact, you will work harder to create the bounce as the rubber is not creating it for you. There will also be a higher chance of hurting yourself through RSI and impact injury.  I used a Black rubber pad from Scotland (made in N.Ireland I believe) and it totally impacted my hands in a negative way – to the point where I had to stop drumming for a month!  So that pad made it’s way to the rubbish pile pretty quickly.  Some drummers have tried to convince me that the actual drum head is “hard”.  I have to disagree.  I understand as you tighten the head that the surface will become “harder” but by no means do I feel like it ever becomes “concrete”.  And surely it doesn’t match up to a 50/60 shore hardness drum pad – madness!

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I would like you to get your drum pad collection out and try the different surfaces. See which one “feels” the nicest. Which one make you feel good?  THAT will be the one you want to play on.  Don’t play on the one that someone else tells you will “make you work harder”, or “it’s closest in hardness to the drum head”.  They are full of rubbish.

Most of all, enjoy yourself and look after your arm and hand health.

Happy Drumming.

James

Come2Drum – The internet’s premier resource for drumming lessons and products.

Are you holding your sticks properly?

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Here’s a question for all of you pipe band snare drummers – what is the grip on your right stick called? Perhaps this is something you have not even thought about and just hold it the way that you were taught. However, after travelling the world teaching drummers from all sorts of backgrounds in music – I realised that there are specific grips that are commonly used.

Those three main right stick grips are : French grip, German grip, and American grip.  Each has a different pro and and a different con but I think it is important that all pipe band drummers understand each of them and at the very least give them all a try.  Lets take a quick look at each grip :

The French Timpani Grip – this is when your right hand is more so “under” the stick with lots of movement being provided by the fingers. This is a great grip that allows lots of finesse and finger speed. You will also notice an open “space” between your pointing finger and thumb. You will notice some pipe band drummers utilising this technique.

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French Grip

The German Timpani Grip – this is when your right hand is firmly on top of the stick.  The stick is essentially “smothered” by the hand and this is a fairly aggressive style of grip.  It forces the player to use more wrist movements to propel the stick.  You will notice no “open space” between the pointing finger and thumb. This is a very common grip in the Scottish drumming world – and in fact one that I used up until the age of 20.

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German Grip.

The American Grip – this is essentially a “hybrid” of the French and German grips.  The players right hand is almost half way between French and German grip (so perhaps it should be called the Luxembourg Grip!!??).  This style leaves a nice open gap between the pointing finger and thumb. However it still allows the player to utilise the fingers for speed and finesse. It also allows the player to use the wrist and forearm for more aggressive strokes.  This is the more commonly taught method in the pipe band drumming world (in my experiences teaching, and in teaching alongside other drumming instructors).  I honestly feel that this grip is the best for your arm health as well – you end up using less force and it leads to less muscle tension.

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American Grip.

Each grip will provide different benefits.  I encourage you to try them all and stick with whichever one works best for you. There is no right or wrong way in the pipe band drumming world. I personally feel that “technique” is somewhat of a never ending journey of discovery and improvement.  I think a great musician will never be fully content with their technique and will always seek to improve themselves.

Enjoy your drumming everyone! If you have any thoughts on stick grip – please shout out!

NEWS : New Zealand Pipe Band Championships

It’s only a matter of weeks until the New Zealand Pipe Band Championships 2014 in Tauranga.  I am very excited to be attending and Im really looking forward to hearing all of the bands competing. 

You will be glad to know that I have all of the drumming essentials here in stock to ensure that you get the very best sound.  Snare Heads (for Pearl, Premier and Andante), Tenor and Bass Heads (for Pearl, Premier and Andante), Snare Wires (for Pearl, Premier and Andante), all sorts of snare drum sticks, a full selection of TyFry Tenor Mallets, tuning equipment and much more.

Also I have some GREAT prices on all of these products.  Many of our heads, sticks and accessories are the most competitively priced in the country.  Please flick me an email (james@come2drum.com) if you would like any help or to chat about bulk pricing.  Or you can pick up the phone if you want to have a chat about tuning!

Also, the brand new Jim Kilpatrick Snare Drum Carrier has just arrived in the Southern Hemisphere – we are delighted to be stocking it. It’s simply the best!

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All the very best to everyone

Regards

James

www.come2drum.com