In my experience as a teacher, I have encountered great confusion from students about how exactly to practice their musical instrument.
In this guide we will discuss and clarify:
- what is practice and what is not
- why we practice
- how to get the most from your practice sessions
- how to approach your instrument with the right mindset
- the cycle of progress, how to keep going when it feels like you’re not getting anywhere
- how to track your progress
What is Practice?
Practice is the deliberate repetition of individual movements or patterns to build competency and awareness. Perhaps the clearest way to imagine learning a musical instrument is to liken it to learning a language. First, the student learns the alphabet, then they combine letters together to create words and finally words are combined together to create sentences and paragraphs.
The language of drumming is formed from a series of exercises called the rudiments. These evolved from marching drumming patterns on a snare drum. In addition to the rudiments, there are patterns, grooves, fills and techniques that drummers practice individually so that they can speak clearly on the instrument.
As drumming is a physical skill, the body must be trained to perform patterns fluidly. When we are young, we practice speaking so that we can get better at expressing ourselves. For most, learning one’s native language happens automatically by being surrounded with others using that language. We are given infinite opportunities to practice using the language each day
The single most important thing when learning the drums is to build yourself a regular practice that you enjoy.
Lessons are very useful to keep you on track. Whether you are watching videos on YouTube or having lessons with a real person. Inspiration and new material are essential to making progress and staying focussed.
However, the time spent observing new material should only amount to between 20-50% of the time you spend on the drums. Progress is made through repetition.
If you have an hour lesson each week, you should spend a minimum of one hour a week playing and practicing what you have learned. Ideally, this time is spread out over several sessions throughout the week, rather than being just one session. You will make more progress by revisiting the material more often.
It is assumed that if you are taking lessons then you are serious about learning. Of course, there are not always four hours spare in a week for musical practice. Four hours would be the optimum. But we all learn for different reasons and at different speeds.