THE PRACTICE DILEMMA PT. II
The word practice is often an intimidating word. When students hear this, they immediately think of it as a chore. Others are intimidated by practicing because they never know what to practice. Yet, others don’t practice because they never seem to have the time. These are barriers that prevent students from reaching their fullest potential. While talent exists, mere talent is not sufficient to advance. This music talent must be nurtured with hard work, personal development, practice, and single-minded concentration. These are the ingredients that will transform a musician’s skill level and ability. Practicing should always be looked at as a means of advancement. It is a process where happiness and motivation come as a result of seeing where you were, to where you are, to where you will be. In this resource, we will discuss the different kinds of practices you can do. While it is difficult to find time to get behind your instrument daily, these principles will help you get more done in less time. They will increase your efficiency, effectiveness, and level of time of progression.
Mental practice means to know what you are going to practice before you practice. It is having a specific plan before sitting behind your instrument. For instance, if you want to progress with Latin music, immerse yourself in listening and reading Latin music and instructional books. Have in mind exactly what you want to work on before working on it. This will give you specific goals to accomplish and prevent you from playing aimlessly on your instrument only regurgitating what you know. Mental practice requires preparation. You must have a decisive and specific plan of what to work on and how you will progress before sitting down on your instrument. This can entail writing down specific concepts you want to learn, or studying an instructional video and having clear and specific concepts to work on. Mental practice will help you single-mindedly concentrate on one area of your instrument where you will become a master at it. As alluded to above, too many musicians play their instruments casually without having any clear goals on what to accomplish. If you consider yourself a casual musician playing an instrument to release stress, then this doesn’t apply to you. However, if you are a serious learner and want to advance, mental practice will help get you there.
Visualize practice means to visualize how you want to look, feel, sound, and play your instrument. It is having a clear picture of yourself playing your instrument. Visualizing can also involve mentally seeing yourself playing something before playing it. For example, if you always wanted to learn crossovers on the drum set, you can picture yourself doing crossovers and how it would look before applying it. Or, if you have always been drawn to showmanship, you can envision yourself doing a stick twirl before physically trying it with the stick. Visual practicing also helps immensely when watching instructional videos and live performances. I have been blessed to have a photo-graphic memory. So much of my learning and progress have come from remembering something I watched on an instructional DVD or online video. Although it is difficult to retain every single aspect taught in that video, there are some drum licks that I immediately programmed into my subconscious mind and was able to execute them on the drum set. Visualizing what someone is doing and how they are doing it are paramount to practice. Lastly, visualizing yourself can help you perform successfully. Many athletes have used this method of seeing themselves perform well before playing. Whether you are performing live, in the studio, in a recital, or in a competition, envision yourself performing well, and this can ultimately help transcend how you play.
In 1926, notable jazz singer, Louis Armstrong sang, “Heebie Jeebies”, which became a national bestseller. While singing the song, he didn’t know all the lyrics and invented a gibberish melody to fill time. This was the inception of scat singing, which means the voice was used in imitation of an instrument. Later, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, and Al Jarreau were key influences of scat singing. Just like scat singing mimicked the sound of an instrument, you can also sing rhythms you want to play. When you can say it, it makes it much easier to play it. There have been many times in my playing where I struggled to play something I created. However, when I sang the phrase out loud, it helped me physically transfer this to the drum set. Singing a rhythm can give you clarity on how to articulate an idea on your instrument. We have the ability to make a variety of sounds with our voices and can use this to our advantage when playing our instrument.
Professional and World Class Drummer, Dave Weckl suggests to sing rhythms out loud as this will help better grasp what you’re trying to play. Dave has mentioned this numerous times in his instructional products, interviews, and in a masterclass I had the privilege of studying under him. I have applied this method in my own playing to figure out complex grooves and fills and it has helped me be able to articulate them on the drum set. If there is something specific you are yearning to learn, but are having a hard time playing, sing it out loud. You will be surprised how saying something can be transformed into playing it. Additionally, singing various subdivisions in a song can help you develop various tempos and phrases in your playing. A subdivision means the number of beats you can play within the spacing of a pulse. The more beats you incorporate into the spacing, the faster the rhythm becomes. Singing subdivisions will enhance your ability to play unison rhythms, triplet rhythms, straight/even rhythms, and odd time rhythms. This concept of singing subdivisions will generate versatility in your playing and help you stay in time with the music. You do not have to have a proficient voice to sing. Simply distinguishing the sounds of your instrument with your voice can greatly enrich your playing, and generate new ideas that would otherwise never come by only using your limbs to practice.
Note Taking Practice
With the vast information technology era we live in, it can get very overwhelming focusing single-mindedly on one concept. Just type in “music lessons”, and you will come across millions and millions of hits! After a long day of work and family obligations, it can be difficult finding time with getting behind your instrument. A good antidote to this is studying an instructional book, DVD, or online class series. For instance, I have made it a goal to methodically work through all my drum DVDs. I have sticks, a pad, and notebook available. I take careful notes on what I am learning and frequently pause the DVD to mimic what I am learning on the drum pad. There are times I can only do this 20 minutes a week and other times a few hours a week. Regardless of the duration, there is always incremental progress. I have now gone through numerous DVDs (and still have many to explore). This “note taking practice” has greatly enhanced my playing level, and it has given me many new teaching insights. When I am able to get behind my drum set, I will review what I learned in my notes, and thus, have brand new material to practice. Note taking practice is a great tool to use when single-mindedly beginning and completing concepts on your instruments. It avoids the common mistake students make, which is jumping all over the place and not knowing what to practice due to excessive amount of information available.
We have all seen amazing acts of talent. Whether on a television show or YouTube, there have been amazing displays of God-given talents from people of all ages. I have seen videos of 14 and 15 year old drummers playing in worship bands at their church who have captivated and inspired me. Inspiration is what fuels desire, motivation, and innovation. We all fall into ruts when playing our instruments, but it is inspiration that propels us out of these times of stagnation. It is important to have various influences at your instrument. Listening, reading, researching, and watching your influences will inspire you to grow and try new things on your instrument. Not only does inspiration serve as a platform to learn new concepts, but it also is a means of daring to move forward. It provides a way to explore the unknown on your instrument, exploring new ideas that may have never been explored. As a musician and full-time business owner, my time is very limited, so I make every effort to make the most of my practice sessions through careful planning and preparation. Sometimes this isn’t enough to help me reach my fullest potential when I practice, so I either listen to the music of my favorite artists on my smartphone Pandora stations or listen to CDs of instructional music books I have while I am driving. This puts me in the mode of practice and provides great inspiration to develop new ideas. Conversely, if I am doing something completely unrelated to drumming and then just transition into practicing, I am much less prone to feeling inspired to generate new ideas. In John C. Maxwell’s book, Becoming a Person of Influence, he states: “When you consistently listen to others, you never suffer for ideas. If you give people opportunities to share their thoughts, and you listen with an open mind, there will always be a flow of new ideas.” Just like listening to others generates ideas you would never think of on your own, listening to your influences will provide new possibilities on your instrument!
In Brian Tracy’s book, Maximum Achievement, he states that: “Whatever thought or action you repeat often enough becomes a new habit.” He goes on to say: “The main reason for so much underachievement and frustration is simply that people do not know how to get the most out of themselves. They don’t know how to apply themselves for maximum performance and happiness.” In other words, hard work, repetition, commitment, planning, and discipline are the means of advancing on your instrument. While it can be difficult spending hours on your instrument every day, these practice principles, if rightly applied, will stir your creativity just like stirring cream begins to permeate in a cup of coffee. Further, putting these principles into practice a little bit every single day will enhance your playing and infuse motivation to keep practicing!