#1 – USE A METRONONE!
I cannot stress this one enough, which is why it’s the first habit we discuss. If you don’t play with a metronome, stop right now and go order one. More than any other instrument, keeping time is of vital importance to being a great drummer. In fact, it’s everything! When you record in a studio you will almost always have a click going on in your headphones when you play to a song, and you must be able to comfortably follow that click tempo. Also, you will notice that other people in the band you play with or other non-drummers aren’t on top of the time, which is another reason you need to be. They will slow down and speed up and it’s up to you to have a steady pulse.
There shouldn’t be an excuse not to use a metronome when you practice. They can be small so you can carry them around with you. You can even buy a metronome app for very cheap and always have a metronome on your phone, which will really give you no excuse not to use one!
If you have the money, I suggest purchasing a “Tama Rhythm Watch”. This metronome is in my opinion the best and allows you to easily switch tempos and play around with the type of click you get, whether it’s a triplet pattern, sixteenth note pulse, or simply quarter notes.
The drummer is the heart of the band; the steady pulse and heartbeat that keeps the rest of the group together, you must harness this skill to become a Jedi drummer.
#2 – PLAY SLOW AND LEARN IT WELL BEFORE SPEEDING UP
I don’t really teach lessons, but sometimes I’ll teach my friends how to play something, and EVERY time, they try to play way faster than they are ready to. This habit is one that I still have trouble breaking because we want to be able to play something up to tempo, but if we don’t have the fundamentals down, we will play really sloppy and sabotage our drumming ability.
Technique is what allows you to play well, and you cannot develop technique if you have a habit of playing faster than you are ready for. How do you know if you’re playing too fast? Ask yourself, does this beat sound as smooth as when the pros play it? Is it in sync with the metronome? Am I relaxed when playing or am I tensing up to be able to speed up? You want to be able to answer “Yes” to those questions before moving up in tempo. If you can play it slow, you can play it fast, but you can’t always play something slow if you can play it fast.Try it, it’s true.
So bottom line, make sure your grip is relaxed and your technique is correct at a slow tempo, and slowly speed it up while maintaining those attributes. Breaking the playing too fast habit will really make your drumming sound MUCH better and cleaner.
#3 – DO NOT PLAY THINGS YOU ARE NOT READY FOR
Similar to bad habit #2, do not attempt things on the drums that you are not ready for. I am talking about things like stick tricks, fills, double bass, brushes, and more, in addition to the speed factor. Here’s an example: we know that to make a successful YouTube video you have to be entertaining and engaging. In drum videos this translates to smashing into your drums with passion while doing crazy stick tricks.
This bad habit really bugs me because it’s so frustrating to see someone be able to do an awesome stick trick in a video but barely be able to keep time and play the drums properly. Get your priorities in check! You must learn to play the song well on the drums before adding the flare and entertainment aspects into your drumming!
Going back to other aspects of drumming, such as double bass, make sure you can play with one foot well before you add the other. If you jump in the water with a double bass drum pedal, chances are that you will never develop your single foot abilities and that will really come back to hurt you in your drumming career. Brushes are lower on this scale, but don’t buy a pair of brushes and smother them all over your drums causing bent wires and other bad stuff. Learn how to use them properly by watching tutorials online, or learning from your teacher or a friend. These tools are precious and you don’t want to get into the habit of buying something, not knowing how to use it, destroying it, and then figure out you were using it incorrectly only to need a new tool because you ruined your old one.
Again, DO NOT play something faster than you can really play it! Learn how to play something slow and in time. Then, SLOWLY increase the tempo by 5 bpm at a time until you get to your target tempo. Watch out for fills in particular, we all tend to play these too fast and speed up when we play fills. BOTTOM LINE: take it easy and learn how to do something right before doing it, and start slow.
#4 – USE YOUR PRACTICE TIME EFFECTIVELY AND EFFICIENTLY
We’re now at bad habit #4, and that is breaking the habit of not using practice time efficiently and effectively.
Let’s look at examples of efficient use of time vs. waste of time.
Efficient Use of Practice Time:
- Using a metronome
- Going through rudiments in a book that you’ve been working through
- Learning a new fill, groove, or beat
- Working on speed
- Strengthening fundamentals (i.e. double stroke roll, buzz rolls, single stroke roll)
- Active listening
Waste of time:
- Playing your favorite beat that you always play over and over again.
- Playing to a songs you already know really well and have played many times already
- Just jamming around
- Playing things you already know how to play well
Using practice time in an effective manner will do wonders for you as a musician and drummer. This is a really bad habit that SOOO many musicians have and want to break, but they get lazy or just don’t change for some reason. Learning one new thing a day is a great way to improve.
I get it though; sometimes it’s fun to play your favorite beat or song over again for some confidence boosting. Jamming is also something that’s really fun to do! I love sitting behind the kit and just playing around, and don’t get me wrong, it’s good to do these things if you feel like it because it’s important to have fun playing drums. Just don’t do it all the time. Whether you’re playing as a professional or just for fun as a hobby, a strict practice regiment is still important for you to grow and not get bored or stuck with where you are musically.
ONE MORE THING! Note that you won’t always get a chance to sit behind a drum set. Sometimes it’s late or we don’t have our drums with us etc. Thus, learning to practice away from the drums is very important! You can do this by playing on a practice pad, on a pillow, using your hands and feet and patting your knees while stomping on the floor, or just actively listening to drum parts on songs!
If you need a good book to start going through check out my blog post on 5 BEST BOOKS FOR DRUMMING and you can pick one of those to start incorporating into your practice sessions. Using your time well means that you can get more done in less time, leaving you more time to do whatever you want on the drums when you’re finished practicing!
#5 – STAY POSITIVE AND PATIENT
Last one! Keeping a positive Attitude will go a long way in music and in life. If you’re like me, sometimes watching videos of drummers like Mike Mangini, Thomas Pridgen, Thomas Lang, Anika Niles, Hannah Ford Welton, Travis Barker, Matt Garstka, Mike Johnson, and other pros can be cool, but also discouraging because they are just SO GOOD! You wonder if you can ever reach that level…but don’t let that discourage you my fellow drummers! Let them inspire you and teach you new things. Drummers need to work as part of a community and not as competitors!
Especially when you first start off, playing drums can be SO frustrating! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve throw my stick across the room or smashed it into my snare drum because I was mad I kept playing something wrong. But hang in there, be patient, and take it slow. I promise you will get to where you want to be if you stay patient and work hard, and efficiently
Use the tools around you to constantly learn new things and to challenge yourself. We are lucky to live in a time where the Internet offers everything we could need at our fingertips! Go on YouTube and watch other drummers. Check out blogs like this and read more about drumming and the drumming greats. Listen to all genres of music and learn to play drums to all of them even though you may not like certain types of music as much as others. Being open minded as a drummer is part of having a great attitude, which you need to succeed in life and as a drummer.