There are so many things we can practice. Literally hundreds of exercises, songs, beats, techniques, etc. And guess what? You don’t need them all to be a good drummer.
Some will give you a great return on your time invested, and others not so much. But out of all the things we can add to our practice routine, there is one that will give us the biggest bang for our buck. There is one thing we can do that will account for at least 80% of our progress. And in most cases, drummers don’t do it enough!
I won’t keep you waiting any longer. It’s jamming!
So today I would like to tackle the main differences as well as the pros and cons of practicing versus jamming. There are some pretty large differences between the two, and I believe you need a healthy balance of both in order to become a complete musician.
In short, practicing is when you sit down all by yourself and generally work on specific things. Like a new technique, a new fill, a certain style, not to mention other things like endurance, speed, etc. Jamming, on the other hand, is when we get together with a group of people, preferably human beings, and we play music together. In this situation, there is generally speaking no specific agenda other than to have some fun and experience what it’s like to play with other musicians to create music from nothing.
So without further adieu, let’s get into the benefits, or lack thereof, of each of these two different ways of practicing.
First things first, like I already mentioned practising is a solo exercise. It’s something we do all by ourselves with the specific intention or agenda for the day or for that practice session. We can work on specific things in isolation which is something we cannot do simply jamming along with friends. Let’s now take a look at the different things we can work on and what the pros and cons are of doing so in a solitary manner.
The first and most obvious attribute we can work on and improve when practicing alone would be technique. We can work on specific things in isolation in order to improve them and get comfortable as quickly as possible. We can work on our sticking techniques, pedal techniques, specific fills, specific tricks for our solos, specific styles, we can work on our tempo… and all of these things can be done in isolation in order to speed up the learning process.
Obviously, if you are jamming with friends you’re not going to be sitting down and working on your paradiddles while everybody is trying to play music. However, on your own, this is precisely what you can do.
Another thing we can work on is specific songs. Once we decide which songs we will be jamming and once we actually jam them with friends, usually there will be weak areas revealed during the jamming.
In other words, if you play a certain song and you find it difficult to play perhaps a certain fill or a certain drumbeat, we now have information on what we need to practice when we are alone. So then, once we begin our practice routine we know what fills, what drumbeats and what specific songs we need to work on. And even though you will be playing certain songs more than once when jamming, generally speaking, you won’t be breaking it down to maybe one drumbeat, or one fill which you need to work on. But when practicing alone, this is exactly what you can and should be doing.
Tempo is another attribute we may work on in a specific way when playing alone. For example, if we have trouble keeping a steady tempo when playing fast, we can simply use a metronome and slowly speed up the metronome in order to get faster and faster while still hearing that guide which allows us to stay steady. And slowly but surely, we can start to remove the metronome as we start to gain comfort at said speeds.
We can also do things like program a metronome into a drum machine so that it plays three bars out of four but leaves one bar without the metronome. We then would play along, and when the bar appears that does not have the metronome we will be able to see if we are keeping steady during that time. If we are, we can remove another bar, have only two bars with the metronome and two without. And we would keep going until we only have one or even half a bar with the metronome and the rest without anything. If we managed to stay steady and come back in along with the metronome, we know are on track.
These are obviously things we cannot do while jamming along with friends. So generally speaking you want to practice with a metronome, but play or jam without one.
If everybody jams along with the metronome when we play together we can accidentally create dependence on the metronome and forget our own sense of tempo. Which obviously is something we do not want!
Other things we can work on when practicing alone could be things like endurance. Needless to say, you’re not going to work on your endurance when jamming, other than the regular workout that jamming is.
You can also work on your tricks, as in showing off. Throwing sticks in the air, twirling your sticks between your fingers, crossing over your arms when performing fills or cymbal crashes, etc. Needless to say, you won’t be practicing these things during your jamming sessions. Unless you want to be stopping songs constantly in order to pick your sticks up off the floor.
One more thing to note about practicing alone is that it can be quite therapeutic. The isolation and the repetitive nature of something we enjoy doing can help clear our mind and allow us to simply be present in that moment. Yes I know, that was a little Zen, but what the hell.
Okay. So let’s now talk about jamming. It’s that thing you do when you grab a group of friends, go to somebodies basement or maybe a practice room and all get together to play music and have a good time. There are certainly many benefits of this type of rehearsal that cannot be achieved by practicing all alone. Let’s now take a look at some of the areas where we can achieve those benefits.
In the case of jamming, we will not be sitting down and working on specific areas of technique in a repetitive fashion. In fact, we won’t be working on technique much at all. What we will be doing is learning where our weaknesses and our strengths lie.
If you’re playing a song with a band, you will be able to determine what areas of a particular song we find challenging, and what areas we find easy. At the end of the jamming session, a pattern will most likely develop. With certain specific things being difficult, and other things being easy. It may be a certain type of drumbeat for example. Or, it could be a certain type of drum fill or even a certain tempo for that matter. Either way, we will have ample information about what things we will need to work on once we get back to a solitary practice, and what things we can relax a little with.
When we jam, we will most likely be choosing songs amongst all of us that we enjoy or perhaps we need if we are planning on getting a gig. When we practice alone we tend to just play the songs we like, but not necessarily the ones we need. And if we focus our efforts only on our favorite songs we will probably be missing out on the information I just mentioned earlier about our strengths and weaknesses. Because if we play the same songs over and over again, of course, we will get pretty good. But that doesn’t mean we are good in all areas.
This is by far the most important area of improvement that jamming with other people will offer our drumming.
Playing along with other musicians has a completely different feel than playing along with a record, a metronome, or simply practicing all by ourselves. There is a dynamic exchange of energy between every single musician on the stage, or in the basement for that matter, that can, needless to say, only be achieved while playing with others. A few of the things we can learn from playing with others are as follows.
Flow has two aspects to it. Dynamics and tempo.
And what I mean by flow is, let’s take tempo for example, as we play a song, some of us, or maybe all of us may get excited. This usually leads to one, or more, or every musician speeding up as they play. What I specifically mean by flow, is how the other musicians react to said speeding up.
If the drummer speeds up slightly, the rest of the musicians will tend to go along with it in order to stay together. However, if the drummer is speeding up by a ridiculous amount, then the other musicians will have a completely different reaction. Similarly, if the other musicians begin to speed up, perhaps we ourselves will speed up slightly to accommodate. We don’t know until we are in that situation. And these are the things we can only learn by playing with other musicians.
The dynamics will have a similar flow. If the drummer begins to drum harder, for example as we approach a chorus, most likely the rest of the band will also play slightly louder. Again, if other musicians quiet down there playing, naturally we will do the same thing in order to accommodate the dynamic flow.
Nothing sounds worse than various band members playing together in their dynamics and tempo and one or two band members completely unaware of what is happening and in their own world. It doesn’t sound like a band, it sounds like a solo performer with a band.
Reactions are similar to what I just talked about in the flow. As it refers to how the musicians react to the changes in tempo and in dynamics, and how do we ourselves react.
In addition to dynamics and tempo, there are other things like for example intros and outros of songs. If we play a song and we haven’t completely nailed the ending, then those of us who know the ending should be willing to lead the rest of the band to said ending. And here we will learn how those musicians react to our lead, and how we react ourselves too.
Now the most obvious and fun benefit of playing with other musicians is that we can write music. Writing music alone is also a lot of fun. But when we have others involved in the process we can achieve things we would never have been able to achieve all alone.
Perhaps another band member has an idea for a verse, we have one for chorus, another has one for a bridge, etc. Creating something from nothing with the collaboration of others is an experience that obviously can only be achieved with others. And it’s a lot of fun.
Noise is also something we can only achieve with others around us. When we practice alone we will get very used to the headphones, or the speakers, or the sound of the room where we are practicing. But this does not represent the sound of a live performance when we are on stage surrounded by other musicians.
When we jam we can begin to get a feel for what it sounds like to have other musicians around us. It can be confusing since sometimes we will not be able to hear our own drums correctly, whereas in practice we can obviously hear them perfectly. And it’s something we need to gain comfort with because on a stage things sound different. They will also change from gig to gig, venue to venue. But in general, we need to get comfortable with the difference in sound between playing with others and playing with ourselves (if you know what I mean!!… Gigidy!).
So there we go. These are the main differences and the ones I believe that are the most important between practicing alone and jamming with other musicians. Like I said earlier I believe we need a healthy balance of both in order to be a complete musician (and yes… drummers are musicians!).
And the way we balance these two out is by simply doing them and learning where we are stronger versus where we are weak. If we practice a lot alone and we develop excellent technique, excellent styles, fills, drum solos, rudiments, etc… but we lack when it comes to jamming with others, then we will never be a good drummer.
Similarly, if we always jam with other people never practice alone, we will be great following others, leading others, etc… but our individual technique, in other words, the mastery of our own instrument, will also be lacking.
Only by doing both things will we learn which one we need more. And then we can decide how much more time we dedicate to one versus the other. At the end of the day, our goal is to be on stage with other musicians playing for an audience. In order to do so, we need to get comfortable with playing with others.
Both practice and jamming are essential for growing into a complete drummer and musician, so get practicing and get jamming!
How much do you practice alone, and how often do you jam? Let us know, in the comments below 🙂