Half Notes: Practice Makes Miserable


Sometimes, I kind of wish there was the equivalent of a writing group or poetry workshop for drumset players.  Like, some kind of accountability structure, a meet-up, a way to check in with people, a way to make sure you actually practice.  A way to mix endless rudiments with incisive-yet-helpful feedback and steaming mugs of caffeinated goodness.
Thing is, I used to hate practicing drums.  I despised it.  Like a bratty little kid, I’d do anything I could to procrastinate and avoid.  I knew I needed to do it, but there were so many blocks: My practice space was sooo faaar away.  I had too much else to do.  I couldn’t motivate – it was one thing to practice with the band, but who would know whether I practiced on my own or not?  Couldn’t I just get Really Good through playing with my band mates during our regularly-scheduled practice sessions?
Nope.  And what’s more, the shocking news was: People DO notice if you don’t practice on your own.  It’s true!  My band had formed mere months earlier – the Vic Firth 5A still a complete stranger to me at that point – and so at each practice they’d eagerly ask me what I’d learned, how far I’d come this week, where I hoped to get next.  Did I know how intuit the right groove for each song yet?  How were those rumbly 16th-note fills coming?  I was overwhelmed and dejected.  I would watch videos of Elvin Jones and Dave Grohl and Gene Krupa over dinner, spending nights with the Jojo Mayer DVD on in the background, hoping to skill-build through osmosis.  No dice.
Back then, despite my practice malaise, I didn’t ditch practicing completely – instead, I would compromise, crappily.  I would drag myself to Gowanus, where my practice space was at the time, and practice – but with distinctive lackluster.  I had that feeling you get when you have an hour or two and the world to conquer therein – a total impossibility.  And the task ahead of me was spectacular: Learn How To Play Drums; Be Good At It.  Remember Old Parts; Commit to Memory Astoundingly Unique New Parts; Don’t Mess Up.  So I would take those two hours, look them directly in the eye, and fail.  Miserably!  I would get distracted.  I would get bored of my uneven single stroke rolls within minutes.  And my frustration with my own lack of chops meant that I didn’t even enjoy jamming with myself.
Not shockingly, it just took increasing ownership of my instrument for me to start to be able to bear and, soon enough, actually enjoy practicing.  As I became a better and more confident drummer and as percussion started to eke into my bloodstream, practicing became less of a chore and more of a natural extension of the rest of my life.  The key became making sure practice could be fun – playing along with an entire Erykah Badu album just there in my headphones, or trying out completely unconventional beats – while still useful.  Everyone I know who started playing as a little kid – practicing is in their blood.  Not to totally romanticize that experience, but those kids who begged for drum kits, for lessons, who struggled over Led Zeppelin parts for weeks and weeks just to get one song under their belts – I doubt those kids EVER had trouble motivating themselves to practice.  Quite the contrary – they probably needed to be told to STOP practicing for goodness sake, it was keeping up the neighbors.  Me, it took a little bit longer to get there.  Still chugging along.  But it was worth the wait.  I LOVE not dreading practice.
Still – while I’ve mostly reformed my miscreant ways, discipline remains a problem.  I mean, let’s face it: My practice space is STILL far away and I STILL have a ton of other stuff to do, like constantly!  After a long day of work, the long trek and the solo practice session can still be a bleak prospect.  Which is why I sometimes wish for my own personal drummers’ ‘writing group’.  A convening of drum kits, a supportive circle (new age though it sounds), a sense of accountability for my own development as a musician.
Barring that, though, I am committed to the project of loving my practice sessions more and more each day, each week.  Just Tuesday night, I sat in my practice space shamelessly rocking out on the kit to Kelly Clarkson and didn’t care who heard me.  I wrote some new parts, rudimented around and shvitzed the evening away, barely realizing the passage of time.  I have started to alternate practice activities – a balance of technique stuff, endurance stuff, getting-the-hell-into-that-pocket stuff, and just plain fun and creative stuff.  It’s a good mix and a weighty challenge but also an exciting project, even solo, sans writing group.

– Temim Fruchter

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6 Comments

  1. Temin,
    I love your articles & relate to everything you wrtite about. I picked up sticks at the age of 49, nevermind 20 something ! From week to week I wonder how I will stay ahead of the kids I teach…LOL!
    I would like to join you in your proposed drum support group, what a teriffic idea. I think we must do so via email, since it’s not possible to have our kits convene, due to the miles between us.

    Keep up the good work both writing & playing.

    Drummingly Yours,
    Gail AKA: The Drumming Grandma 🙂

  2. Wow, I have the exact same problem. My drumset used to be at my ex band’s house and that was a good reason why I wouldn’t practice…but NOW it’s at another place that’s soooo far away! Ugg! So, when you say you took increasing ownership of your instrument, what do you mean? You commited? Or did you find some sort of schedule that worked for you? I’m always in the mood to play, I just get frustrated with the exercises that are necessary to improve. Any tips on exercises that don’t sound like a drag? Anyway, wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed your article. Take care!

  3. Thanks for these comments! They’re really appreciated. And I’m totally down for virtual drumming support, too – we just need some percussive emoticons or something. 🙂

    Leia: Totally! When I say I took increased ownership of my instrument, I guess I just mean that I let myself see how crucial practice was, how necessary, and so started to see it as part of the fabric of my life. I’m in this band and so realizing the success of a group of people was riding on my ability to become a better drummer (!) helped and was an additional kick in the butt. But really it was just absorbing the fact that if I wanted to be a drummer – like, a capital D drummer – I had to GET there somehow. Practicing had to be like eating or sleeping – like not something I could skip or gloss over. And even the littlest bit goes the longest way – even weeks where I would practice ONCE, my bandmates would notice how much better and more natural I sounded.

    Tips? I’ve heard a lot of ‘making practice fun’ tips from people way more experienced than myself but my two tops are 1) mix it up – don’t just do single-stroke rolls for two hours or you’ll fall asleep and 2) play along to music you like – it will energize you!

    Thank you for reading/commenting!

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