Do you know the feeling of hitting that brick wall in the practice room? It's entirely possible that your practice room may be made out of literal brick wall, and it may be possible that you've hit those physically. However, the wall I'm talking about isn't an actual wall; it's a mental wall. What happens when you get to that point?
Frustration, that's what happens. If you're ever tried to master a new concept in music, you've definitely been there. The more attempts you make, the harder it seems and success seems to drift farther and farther away. All that's left is more mistakes, confusion, wasted time, and rage. What's the problem?!
The problem may be less musical than you think. In drumming, our hands (and feet) do all the work. They can be trained, or "programmed," if you will, for different patterns of movement. The programming is done by the brain, which tells our limbs and muscles what to do. This process can take some time; I like to say that our muscles are a lot dumber than our mind. But there are some efficient ways to get our hands under control and master some new abilities.
Consult your Doctor
I don't mean an actual physician, but rather your friendly neighbor Dr. Beat, or any trusted metronome. The use of a metronome is paramount in making sure there are no rushing or dragging tendencies. Remember: Use your metronome as a tool, but not a crutch! Allow your internal sense of pulse to line up with it, and stick to that internal pulse.
Slow it Down
Using the metronome for this step, slow the passage down to a tempo so slow it actually feels more difficult. This difficulty will be brought on by how deliberate each stroke feels. Be intentional with every stroke until you have mastered the passage at this slow speed. If you can't play it slowly, chances are very high that a faster tempo will be even harder.
You are your own boss in the practice room. This step seems simple, but is actually a big challenge to any player. Practicing must come out of established goals. You will notice an immense difference in your practice if you switch from saying "I'm going to practice for 30 minutes", to "I have 30 minutes to master paradiddles at this set tempo."
In addition to setting these goals, you have to maintain a pacing that your hands will accept information with. What I mean by that is not hurrying through progress. This is the most important part of the process. When using a metronome, working slowly, only move on when you have been able to play the section consistently without errors at that tempo. Then, and only then, move the tempo up marginally. I recommend 4-8 bpm each time. By doing this, you will slowly ease your hands into the desired tempo while making the transition comfortably.
Use your metronome as a tool, but not a crutch!
These are only some of the tips that can help your practice time become more efficient, but some of the tips I’d consider more important concepts. Many hours of frustration can be replaced by some clear goals, methodical approach, and some self-discipline building that can be applied to any problem-solving situation. Who knew music would teach us so much about other aspects of life?
I hope these ideas provide you with the encouragement to make some positive changes in the practice room. Feel free to contact me with feedback or stories, and remember that consistent practice is the key to consistent gigs!
- BJ Dyer