practice

Practising Slowly

This short post is aimed at the beginner student.

Many times in my teaching studio, I come across alot of beginner students who tend to rush through their exercises to get to what they want quickly. They end up not sounding good at all because:

1) the physical control is not there
2) the co-ordination is not smooth
3) the timing is uneven
4) the inherent rhythmic nuances of whatever they are playing are often ignored as they rush through things in their practice.

It is important to understand that we had to learn how to walk first before we could run, jump, and dance, e.t.c. Taking our first baby steps were not easy, and we stumbled on the floor many times before our legs strengthened and could hold our weight whilst performing the action of walking. Over time, the legs were also better able to co-ordinate through SLOW and REPETITIVE practice.

Practising something slowly and repeating it over and over again will definitely come across as “uncool” in this day and age. We live in a world where we can order food and get it in less than 5 minutes over a counter, or we can lose weight in under 2 weeks if we follow a certain diet program or take certain pills. This type of thinking however does not translate to learning musical instruments or any other art form.

SLOW and REPETITIVE practice, done right (you should ask your teacher to help you with it if need be), brings a zen-like focus and clarity to what you are working on, and is often very therapeutic. Yes, therapeutic. It helps you to relax and remain calm under moments of pressure and frustration, which are what you will often experience when you are trying to master something. Calmness and composure are very much needed to play the drumkit. How else can you play something as complex as this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCOP7dPlDtw if you are not truly relaxed?

With SLOW and REPETITIVE practice, comes CONTROL. With CONTROL, comes speed. In other words, speed is a by-product of having practised something over and over again slowly…Counter-intuitive, yes?

SLOW and REPETITIVE practice at the beginning is like trying to eat a non-favourite vegetable or fruit (mine happens to be Bittergourd), in all honesty. Do it in small amounts with high frequency however and you will definitely begin to enjoy the process. You would want to do more. JUST GIVE IT A TRY AND SEE YOUR PROGRESS BY A MONTH’S END. There will certainly be a difference. A POSITIVE difference.

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Wise Words From Vinnie Colaiuta On Developing Practice Regimens

“GC: Do you have any thoughts on a practice regiment and is it important for every drummer at some stage to practice like crazy?

Vinnie: I think that if it’s important for every drummer to have an iron clad rule at some point in his life and to practice like crazy, if we understand what “like crazy” means, I would say no. Sometimes you can get into a neurotic obsessive thing about it just because you think you have to do it rather than wanting to do it and you worry about getting to a certain level and that’s your motivating factor. Some people may argue and say what difference is your motivating factor as long as you get results. I would argue that what you’re doing when you’re in that mind set is: you’re not relaxed, you’re worried, you’re doing it for the wrong reason and you could sit there and continually repeat the wrong things and do something the wrong way for nine hours.

I think it’s just better to know that there are certain things that are beneficial to you to have certain skills developed and that it is a process. Enjoy the process and realize that if you have good form and you’re not doing anything really physiologically twisted, the way you do something technically should service your concept. Not the other way around. It should service your concept and so you should strive to conceptually understand why you’re doing something on the instrument and have your technique develop around that . Otherwise, quantitative skills are a measurable amount of speed and flexibility to an extent after which doesn’t serve a pragmatic purpose in situations. It could be a point of diminishing returns. But concept and certain things like developing a good innate sense of time, internalizing time, having good form on the instrument, having a specific kind of touch, and doing things repetitively over a time-event oriented process, you physically become physiologically comfortable with the instrument.

I think the battle is getting as good as we can as fast as we can and comparing ourselves unfavorably for the wrong reason as opposed to knowing what it is we want to do, what it is we need to do individually, and what our objective is in the musical collective.”

(Source: http://gc.guitarcenter.com/interview/colaiuta/)

Creative Practicing With A Metronome

Hi all,

Thank you for stopping by my blog which is a window to my world of drumming: my musical activities, my drum lessons, my thoughts on various drumming and musical topics, my personal reviews on certain drum gear.

In this brief article, I would like to share about one important way of practising with a metronome and its benefits.

Let us say you are already comfortable with playing along to a 1/4 note click on your metronome in a wide enough range of tempos. As you analyze more closely your timing with the click, you would probably notice that the notes in between the clicks are uneven. This is an issue that you must address right away in order for anything you play to feel good. You may be hitting the clicks dead on but that is not good enough, because everything in between is messy and therefore the tightness you seek after in a recording situation for example will not be achieved. You must also address how well you control the subdivisions of the beat with the metronome.

The method:

Try practising with the 1/4 note click displaced.

The first step is to get comfortable hearing the click on the upbeats (the “&” each of beat). Once you get it, try singing a basic groove pattern along with it. Any basic Rock groove would be great for starters. If you able to “groove” well with your vocalizing of the beat along with displaced click, it will help accelerate the process of you nailing the time when you actually play the groove to that same displaced click.

CRUNCH TIME! Record yourself as you practice, hear it back, and take note of where you may be rushing or dragging the groove. Take note of the space you give between each note you play. That is the great thing about practising to a displaced click. You have no choice but to really zoom in on your control over the subdivisions to make sure you are grooving well with the click. Now add some fills! It will certainly feel very awkward in the beginning and you may have to deal with many times of failing to keep the click on the “&”,  and thereby hearing it back on the “1” before you finally get it. It will also feel like you have lost the security of hearing the click on the “1” which tells you if you are playing your fills in time or otherwise. It may take a week or a month but it DOES NOT MATTER. Patience, perseverance, focus, and a winning attitude are what you need to conquer this challenge.

Once you are able to play comfortably to a click displaced to the “&”s, try hearing the click on the “Es” and the “A”s of the beat. Repeat the same process as above. You can eventually work with having the click displaced on the “&” and “A” of the 8th note triplet to fine tune your slow blues grooves, shuffles, and Jazz playing (and it’s very tough!).

Whenever I work on the exercises from the legendary David Garibaldi’s classic book, “Future Sounds” I use the displaced click to zoom in on my note placement and I also develop solo material during my practice that way. All in all, I have noticed a big improvement in my time and in my feel across various styles.

Conclusion:

The above practice method with metronome will ultimately strengthen your internal clock as you have to rely on yourself to keep the “1” in the same place all the time. Moreover, as you sharpen your time with this method, you will be better able to work with computerized loops and sequences which demand total precision from you as well as record great takes in the recording studio. In today’s world of drumming, you will never know when you will be required to work with the aforementioned. It depends on the band/artist you play with and if they incorporate electronics into their music live and/or in the studio. From experience, I will say its a necessity if you want to be a successful working drummer in today’s music environment.

What’s The Best Practice Method For Me, A Hobbying Or Semi-Professional Drummer?

Hi all,

I wish to begin this article with a Thank You to all who have visited my blog and read my article titled, “Practice Simplified” (https://jasoncruzdrums.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/practice-simplified-2/). This article dealt with the topic of “what to practice” and what is the force of correct guidance we should be in touch with to yield the desired results from our practice sessions – Music. In this follow-up article, I am targeting at a particular group of drummers who are playing drums on an amateur or semi-professional level. You are still studying in school or have a day job. You are either 1) playing drums for your own enjoyment, 2) playing drums with a band on weekends, or 3) playing drums on gigs on weekends and getting paid for it. Time is understandably limited for you to enjoy some personal time flailing on the drums to your heart’s content. However, here is one suggestion that can help you overcome that problem of limited time to practise. This suggestion connects with the concept of making something a part of your everyday routine so that you do not see it as an added responsibility or chore to shoulder.

In today’s world, the 24 hours we are given are largely taken up by something that we have to do in order to survive. It is not necessarily something that we enjoy doing but we still have to do it to eke out a comfortable existence. As such, personal time, which is very important to the overall well-being of an individual is sadly sacrificed. If we think from another angle however, why do we allow this to happen? Are we not in control of our lives? If we truly are, we will find that we can actually make time for pleasurable pursuits in the midst of all the work, personal, and family-related responsibilities we go through daily.

Let us apply this to practising a musical instrument. First, you need to ask yourself these few questions:

1) Am I learning a musical instrument out of personal choice or because I am forced to do so (especially applicable to young music students)?

2) If the answer to the above question is that you are learning your chosen musical instrument out of personal choice, then are you enjoying it?

If the answer to question 2 is Yes, but you are tied down by work, study, extra-curricular/social activities, and you want to get better at your instrument, read on.

If the answer to question 2 is Yes, but you do not think it necessary to practise and improve, stop reading this article, and continue on  usual.

If the answer to question 2 is No, then stop reading this article because it will not apply to you anyway. Do something else that you enjoy doing.

The secret to productive practice for the super busy student or working professional is incorporating practice into your daily routines. You agree that you enjoy drumming right? Drumming, even just playing on a practice pad, can be therapeutic, is it not? If you agree to this, then practise the drums in between your everyday tasks. Work on anything that you feel needs sharpening SLOWLY and without anything to distract you. Go to a quiet space where you can be by yourself and enjoy practising. Most importantly, make records of your progress – record with your smartphone, portable a/v recorder, or jotting down in a notebook. This will bring focus and direction to your learning journey.

For those who can actually set aside some time away from daily tasks to sit down and practise, a good organisation of your practice routine with goal setting is the best way to yield desired results over time. Noted drumset educator, Mike Johnston, recently provided a solid guide to maximizing your time practising in his article for the January 2014 issue of Modern Drummer magazine (https://www.moderndrummer.com/site/2013/12/video-45-minute-practice-routine-get-organized-optimize-time-behind-kit-january-2014-issue/#.UykrHYV7TZU). I highly recommend that you read this article, watch the video, and download the PDF document. If you cannot do 45 minutes at a stretch as Mike suggests, shorten it to 30 minutes and do more cycles with enough rest time in between. A couple of my students have started using this method and they are reaping the benefits.

As with all successful regimens, discipline and consistency are key. Please remember that discipline is NOT a negative word. It simply is the commitment to do an activity with the same sense of conviction, enthusiasm, and passion regularly, and probably a deeper sense of all three things over time. In other words, if you still love drumming and enjoy practising, the discipline will naturally come to you. You do not have to look for it, it will come to you.

I hope this article can be of help to you. More power to you!!

“NOBODY IN THIS WORLD IS BUSY. IT IS ALL ABOUT MAKING PRIORITIES.”

The Learning Never Ends…

The Learning Never Ends...

This is a page off of Pete Magadini’s classic book, Polyrhythms. As I get older, I have gotten increasingly hip to layering counter rhythms in my playing as opposed to fast 32nd note hand/foot licks, though I also truly appreciate the ability to pull off the latter. This year, I aim to deepen my knowledge of polyrhythms and find many creative ways to express different layers of rhythms in my grooves, fills, and solos.

The inspiration for this comes from great drummers like Ginger Baker, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Tony Allen, Vinnie Colaiuta, and Stewart Copeland. Pete Magadini’s Polyrhythms is probably still the best instructional method out there to develop control over this concept. It’s also a fine tool to help you strengthen your inner clock as you learn to shift to and fro and relate all rhythms of differing meters to a common pulse. That way, I can expand my vocabulary and am able to take on more complex forms of music both with greater competence and confidence.

Practice Simplified

If you are a drumset instructor, this is a question from your students that you cannot escape from. You have to tell them the truth about practising and practising the right way. This article I am presenting is not just “another one” in a piling heap of articles already in print or on the web on the subject of practising effectively. I am not going to offer methods but instead offer ONE simple concept to think about so that you can shape, customise, and tweak your current practice method to benefit you greatly from here on. It has worked for me and given me greater security as to whether I am practising “correctly” or not. 

The concept is: Let The Music Be Your Guiding Force Always.

Drumming is a such a vast ocean of concepts, techniques, rudiments, different rhythms, time signatures, and all sorts of other hybrids. We must ask ourselves therefore, where do all these techniques and concepts come from? From drumming itself? NO. From drummers? Again, NO.It comes from………………………….MUSIC. 

Let the music be your guiding force as to what to work on. If you are a beginner for example, your main concerns would be to groove well, co-ordinate your 4 limbs properly, have solid technique, execute your fills well be those original ideas or stock ones, sound good, and get through a song smoothly. You want to emulate the drummers who have played on classic records, chart topping albums, or simply on music that has moved you emotionally and spiritually. To develop the ability to emulate their great playing effortlessly, you will need to work on all the aforementioned areas. Keep working at it, record your practise sessions, be your own most honest critic, and write down your observations of both your good points in your drumming and the stuff you can improve on. Follow up and repeat the process diligently. This will never end for as long as you play the drums. There are always areas of subtle refinements to work on. If you keep an open and alert mind, these things will be made apparent to you.

With regards to technical development, that is your hand technique, bass drum/foot hi-hat techniques, and your mastery of the rudiments, and how you combine these on the drumset, remember that all these are born out of NECESSITY. That necessity is MUSIC. Again, let the music guide you. Do not be overwhelmed or discouraged or intimidated when you see a drummer on a video or even your drummer friend pulling off stuff way beyond your current capabilities. Shrug off that insecurity that makes you want to compete to be “better” than those drummers. I am not saying that competitiveness is negative, but rather it should not be your sole reason for playing the instrument. TAKE YOUR TIME to develop your skills. Take it step by step, building one idea upon another, like constructing a building. If in doubt, consult with your teacher/mentor on how to organise your practise sessions effectively that tailor to your CURRENT NEEDS. We drumset teachers always remind our students never to rush a groove or a fill. Likewise, we should not rush when it comes to our personal development on the drumset. Everybody’s journey as a student of the drumset is different and I believe this point must be treated with utmost respect. Only that way, will we draw more and more people to the joys of making music with the drumset as our tool of choice. 

Finally, with regards to musical development which goes hand in hand with technical development, let the music be your guide. If you are into a certain type of music at the moment,  listen to lots of recordings, see live concerts, take lessons if necessary with a teacher well versed on that style of music, consult the many wonderful and relevant instructional books and DVDs, and then draw from these experiences to develop the FEEL, the SOUND, and the VOCABULARY. The best way to expedite your mastery of a certain type of music is to get together with musicians who play well in that style. Go out and find those musicians – local jam sessions for example. Network, Take yourselves out of the practise room and just play the music. Make mistakes and pick yourselves up from there. 

With this thought, I would like you to think about your relationship with Music. Not with the drums, but with Music. Are you playing the drums to make music or are you playing it to gain popularity with other drummers? Do you use music as a vehicle to uplift and empower people around you or do you use it mainly to highlight your skills on the drumset in the hope of scoring product endorsements or winning the first prize in the World’s Fastest Hands (or Feet) competition? 

Here is a list of 3 essential drumming resources that I think every drummer of every style must have at the beginning of their career:

1) Stick Control (Technique)

2) Alfred Drum Method Vol. 1 and 2 (Sight-reading, rudimental development)

3) Groove Essentials 1.0 and 2.0 by Tommy Igoe (DVD + Book)

With these 3 resources, you can then go deeper into specific types of music, styles, and techniques that you wish to develop as time goes on. 

I hope all of the above make sense to you!

Best wishes in your musical journey!

The Concept of TOTAL PRACTICE in Music

If you spend 20 hours a day just playing your musical instrument and going through all kinds of techniques, there can only be one of two of the outcomes: 1) you still end up in Square 1 in your playing because you essentially practise without a direction, or 2) you become a giant on the instrument but not a very musical one. To me, I believe in the concept of TOTAL PRACTICE: 

1) Spend a FEW hours each day actually playing your chosen musical instrument keep your technique in shape. For drummers, even on days off, at least workout on a practice pad. I have seen for myself how my technique could degenerate with one day of NO practice at all. Also, ALWAYS strive to find better ways of playing the instrument – your physical health and playing longevity is at stake. Even if you only have an hour or just 20 minutes to practise, FOCUS IMMENSELY. You can get alot out of that short practice session than 8 hours of non-directional practice.

2) Listen to lots of music – this is what directs your practice and your musical applications. Analyse. Discuss it if you are with another musician (better if that musician does not play the same instrument as you). Make either written or mental notes.

3) Research through videos and live gigs: Self explanatory. Again it gives you direction and focus in the practice room. Even this is a big part of your practice routine IF you are reflecting on what you see and hear and thinking about how you can incorporate those into your playing, or you may choose not to go with any of those ideas (you want to develop your own style). Ultimately, it is about absorbing the information provided by these stimuli with an OPEN AND AWAKE MIND.

4) If possible, take lessons in other music-related art forms such as another musical instrument(S) to have added dimensions to your understanding of making music OR even dance lessons to understand how body reacts to rhythm. I have not done the latter before but I tinker away on the piano when I can get access to one to gain a better understanding of other aspects of Music besides rhythnm: melody and harmony.

It is redundant to show a video of a young, and obviously good, drummer blazing away on the drumkit for example and tell other drummers that you need to have both talent and a solid practice routine. When you want to teach or preach something explain WHY and HOW as thoroughly as you can. The above three steps have guided my own daily practice routine and I am always learning something new, acquiring new chops, or finding better ways to do something I am already good at. 

Only experience with lots of trial and error can show you the above. It never stops..