If you’re just beginning to learn how to play the drums, then there are a number of technique and practice issues you are likely to have questions about:
“How do I work on my accents and taps?”
“How can I speed up my hands and build endurance?”
“What is the Moeller Method?”
“How can I get better with each practice session?”
“What do I do if I start to feel like I’m plateauing?”
These are questions I get in my inbox weekly, and the funny thing is that I don’t have a tried-and-true answer for most of them! Why? Because I don’t really believe in pledging allegiance to any one technique or practice regimen.
The best technique is the one that you find for yourself through trial and error and loads of practice time. For example, I never studied the Moeller Method in my youth, but at age 14 I had somebody ask me “how’d you learn the Moeller stroke?” I had no clue what they were talking about. I went and found some information on the Moeller Method and said to myself “oh yeah – I guess I do do that. <shrug> Huh.” It wasn’t a conscious decision I made, playing Moeller strokes; I just wanted to be able to play more dynamically – with accents and taps and multiple strokes – with as little effort as possible, so I found a way to do that through trial-and-error. It was a discovery I came across naturally, without having to be told to do it. Now, if it helps you to learn it from a book or video, that’s great – everyone learns in different ways. It just wasn’t that way for me, and it may not be that way for you. So I tell you that to say: don’t rely on books or videos for your entire education. Spend some time analyzing yourself and figuring out how to achieve what you want to in the most organic, natural way possible: experimentation.
Side note: my drum education didn’t come from taking lessons or reading a book or watching a YouTube video. It came from PRACTICE. I know that practice and repetition can seem like dirty words in the vocabulary of a musician, but they are honestly the only way to make strides forward in your playing. When practicing, make sure you set aside a time when you won’t be distracted by your favorite TV show or online games like partypoker – time where you can really focus on mastering a particular skill. Repetition is key here; the conventional wisdom is that you have to repeat an action up to 30 times before it becomes natural and habitual, so if you don’t make progress in a day, be patient – you’ll get there in a few days, a week or two, a month, or even a year or two for really difficult concepts.
Another key to getting the most out of practice time is to be be honest with yourself about your weaknesses and work to eliminate them. Got a slow foot? Set up a metronome and play eighth notes at quarter note = 100 for about ten minutes. Then go to 110 and do eight minutes, then 120 and do 6 minutes – and so on, increasing the tempo while keeping the amount of time manageable for you (so your calf muscles don’t seize up!). Remember to START SLOW! (If you immediately “jack the met up” before you dial things in at slower tempos, you’re cheating yourself.) If you spend time really focusing in on your weaknesses and breaking them down this way, you’ll find that they melt away and you’ll start to make noticeable progress. The issues you had before will become non-issues, and you’ll think “why did I ever struggle with that? It’s easy!”
Another key to all of this is inspiration. In this day and age of YouTube and Vimeo, there is no shortage of killer footage from drum festivals, concerts, TV shows, clinics, and more that you can feast your eyes and ears on – and therefore, no reason to be uninspired. When I was a kid learning to play drums, I didn’t have all th great media you younger guys have today. It was me, the drums, and the radio.
Both my parents worked full time, so there was nobody around when I got home from school. I would crank on the radio (or put on a tape or CD – yep, I’m that old!), and sit down and play for HOURS every day until everybody got home from work. I especially enjoyed playing to the radio, because you just had to keep going no matter what song or type of music came on. Don’t know the song? Just listen for a second to hear the basic beat, and then start trying to replicate it! (Winging it on the fills, of course!) Learning to use my ears and think on my feet like that has been such a blessing to me at this point in my life, when I am expected to lead the charge in a big band or sit in on an unfamiliar gig for another drummer at a moment’s notice.
I implore you: find new and interesting ways to challenge yourself. Be honest about your playing. Put in the practice time. And remember: there’s always somebody better than you, so there’s no reason to stop practicing and improving!