New Year’s Practice Resolutions

Philip Page Drum Syllabus, News, Teaching 0 Comments

With the new year beckoning (hopefully) lots of students will be resolving to practice more. Whilst of course more practice is always a good thing, it can often be wasted if not done effectively. Below is a short extract from The Drum Syllabus Series outlining how to maximise your practice time.

‘Practice makes perfect’ we’ve all heard the saying, it has been told by countless well meaning   teachers and parents alike for years. Well I am afraid to say it but it simply isn’t true! Practice makes perfect implies that if we just simply repeat something for long enough we will become better, good and then eventually perfect at it. Well this in itself is not that far from the truth. However if we were to practice an exercise from a book (for example this book) but part of what we were practicing was incorrect all we would achieve is to become perfect at a flawed exercise. With this in mind then perhaps the age old phrase should be changed to ‘perfect practice makes perfect’. Many top drummers including Benny Greb have echoed this very statement.

The human brain does learn through repetition. This is true on both a mental and physical level. You didn’t re-learn to walk today did you? No, your muscles have learnt and stored that information in the same way as our brains do. In his recent book ‘Practical Drum Practice‘ Jason Horsler rewords practice makes perfect to ‘practice makes permanent’. He too has realised that we learn things (be they correct or not) through repetition. With this knowledge we can make our drum practice and  performance much more productive and dare I say it… enjoyable?!

When practicing the exercises from this book I recommend you follow this ‘perfect practice’ routine:

1. Identify the problem(s)
2. Fix the problem(s)
3. Cancel out problem(s) 5:1
4. Put the problem(s) in context

1. Identify the problem(s)

When playing anything new be it an exercise, groove, fill, exam piece etc you are bound to have at least one problem the first time you attempt it. The most important thing you can do when it comes to fixing a problem is to be able to identify it. Make a list of any problems you encounter the first time you attempt anything new.

2. Fix the problem(s)

Ok so you have identified the problem(s), so how do you fix it / them? I suggest that the most important thing you can do is to SLOW DOWN! If this does not work then slow down some more! We are not designed to learn things at high speed. It is  important for anyone when learning something new on any instrument to banish the notion that fast = good. To play anything fast it must first be correct. The brain and muscles both have memories (although not literally. Muscle memory is   ultimately controlled by the brain). We simply CAN NOT play anything quickly unless it has been ‘stored’ in our muscle memory. To store new information it must be programmed in slowly. Think about how long it took you to learn to walk, did it take you that long to then learn to run? No! Running is effectively walking at top speed. Once your muscles learnt the movement speeding it up was simple.

The next stage is to break up more difficult sections into smaller sub-divisions or to put it more simply smaller ‘bits’. Let’s take a new groove for example. If the problem is in the second half of the bar there is no point practicing the first half of the bar only to then keep making mistakes in the second half and thus never completing the bar. Once you have identified a problem it is important to isolate it and focus on just that area at a slow speed.

3. Cancel out problem(s) 5:1

As I have already mentioned we learn by repetition. If the mistakes we make outnumber the amount of times we get something right then we are more likely to learn our mistakes than we are to learn from them. For every incorrect attempt at any exercise I recommend playing the exercise five times correctly. This method is almost completely dependent on steps 1 and 2 being done correctly.

4. Put the problem(s) in context

What does it mean to put a problem(s) in context? In my experience it is often the transition into or out of a given area which is  largely the source of the problem. To put it more simply putting a problem in context is to play the section leading up to that problem and the section immediately   after it. Once a problem has been identified, isolated and then fixed it is important to then put it in context. This is especially true when practicing a set piece of music considering all problems pertaining to this (excluding the first and last bars) will need to be played seamlessly, together as one complete piece of music.

Ironically practicing in this ‘perfect’ manner takes time and practice! We can all practice practicing. It is, I believe one of the most important lessons that any student can learn. Ultimately why don’t we practice enough? Is it because we simply don’t want to? Or is there another reason? I believe that for the most part, students of any instrument do want to practice, it is just the process of practicing that is unpleasant. This is largely I  believe due to one very simple reason. We take up an instrument for a number of reasons but the primary and arguably the most significant of these is to better ourselves on that instrument. If our practice is ‘flawed’ or ‘imperfect’ then progress is significantly slowed and in some cases halted altogether. It is often for this reason that students don’t practice and in some cases give up on the instrument they have chosen altogether.

Ultimately enjoyment and personal fulfillment are the goals that any student should aspire towards. Progress and a steady improvement at whatever instrument a student has chosen is, in my opinion the key to reaching these goals. It is my firm belief that all of this is achievable with a practice routine that is as close to ‘perfect’ as possible.

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