If your goal is to become a working drummer, you know, someone who gets paid to play the drums, then I’m sure we can agree you won’t be needing every technique and drumbeat ever cooked up.
Well of course, that all depends on your actual drumming goals. What I define a working drummer as, is someone who gets hired to play the drums on stage with his (or her) own band, or as part of another band. Either way, it’s playing on stage with other musicians.
Sometimes we can lose sight of this goal when immersed in the deep seas of practice. There are so many double kick beats, so many paradiddles, and rudiments to have fun with. But we really need to take a good look at our practice routines to make sure they are getting us closer to our goal of playing live.
So with this in mind, I’d like to share my thoughts on what I believe can be a waste of time to include in our practice routine. Now, of course, all of these come with somewhat of a caveat. But in general, they are the things I have never needed in over two decades of playing live in cover bands.
So let’s get started with the first waste of time.
Oh yes, I did! I just wrote rudiments! I can already hear the frantic typing of jazz teachers and keyboard warriors alike.
Now before my inbox gets inundated with hate mail and trolling, I just want to point out that rudiments aren’t actually worthless. Of course they’re not. But what I am saying is that we need to take care to practice only the rudiments we need to edge us closer to our drumming goals.
Now if your goals are to become the most technical drummer with the most polished rudiments, then you’re going to have to practice them. But, if you want to play the drums with a band on a stage, and not just play a practice pad to a metronome while sat on the couch watching the walking dead, then you need to focus on other things.
I’m nowhere near the most technical drummer, but despite never having actually practiced any rudiment exercises in my life (that’s right, never!), I’ve enjoyed a long career as a live performer. It’s not that I never worked on them, but I did it in the context of music. In other words, instead of doing exercises to a metronome, I would consciously work my technique while playing along to music, or jamming with other musicians.
Oh yes! Another offensive one to many.
But the truth of the matter is this: written musical notation is nothing more than a form of communication.
It has it’s place and has it’s value. And that value is the ability to communicate exactly what you should be playing. However, just like with spoken language, writing isn’t the only form of communication. We don’t just go around writing things down and never talk. We use all available forms of communicating we have. Music is no different.
And as for memory, well if you have a story to tell your friends, you don’t forget it if you didn’t write it down, do you? So what I’m trying to say is you don’t need to read music if you are capable of communicating your musical ideas in any other way.
Again, this is another skill I have never possessed or needed. Maybe I have a natural talent or a gifted memory, but I know many musicians who never learned to read music who play and communicate just fine. And again, it’s a skill I have never needed. When it comes to learning songs, I listen, play along and memorize them.
Some players grow to rely on their musical notation. I have worked with musicians who couldn’t play without their dots. Even though they played the same songs night after night, their brain became completely dependent on that magical book.
So having the skill of reading music can be useful, but if we grow dependent on it, then it becomes a detriment.
Ok. So this one definitely depends.
If you are playing in any kind of metal band, or a cover band that does songs with double kick rhythms, then obviously you need this one.
But, on the other hand, if like me you are in a cover band that never plays anything with a constant double kick beat, then there are plenty of other things you can direct your energy to instead.
I used to work on double kicks in my dad’s basement. I learned Matt Sorum’s drum solo from the Guns N Roses concert in Paris. It was great fun at the time. And I even used this solo a few times live. However, since joining my current band, double kick has no longer been necessary for me. So I have actually “forgotten” how to do it! If I ever needed it again, it wouldn’t take much more than a few days practice to get comfortable again, but for now, there are plenty of other things for me to work on that would benefit my drumming much more.
Speaking of drum solos, you don’t need to have the world’s greatest drum solo to play live in a band. Of course, you will most likely have to perform a solo at your gig. But again, it just needs to be good enough.
Wasting your time on the most amazing solo won’t get you any closer to becoming a good bandmate. You are on stage to play music with others. And this should be the focus of your practice.
The closest thing to a solo I do now is the ending to Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll. It’s short, to the point and gets me a cheer. Anything over 2 minutes get’s boring for the audience in my opinion (unless your playing at a drum festival!).
We’ve all been there. Clicking video after video.
Whether it’s drum covers by the latest youtube star or some really old instructional someone’s ripped off of VHS. Youtube can be a deep, deep rabbit hole of drumming media. And of course, there are plenty of exercises to be learned from these videos. But the problem is the same as before. If what you are learning is not necessary to get you closer to your goal of playing live, then it’s somewhat of a waste of time.
Stuff you won’t use
This one is kind of obvious right? But it happens all the time. And it’s basically the theme of this whole blog post.
Don’t waste your time practicing stuff you won’t need on stage.
I remember a drummer friend explaining with pride how he had spent hours on a particular exercise. He was playing paradiddles to a metronome. First, he would place the first accent on the first stroke. After four bars, the accent went to the second stroke. then the third and so on. He told me how it involved many hours of slow practice, writing stuff down, recording himself, etc.
However, I have never seen him use the skills he gained on a stage.
I mean, it’s not like you are going to start a drum solo, switch on your metronome, then start playing paradiddles with varying accents. Nor does there seem to be a place for this skill within a song. In my opinion, he would be better off analyzing exactly what he needs to improve his on-stage performance and work on that.
In a nutshell, that’s all the stuff I either wasted my time on over the years or just avoided.
Now your case may be different. You may very well need to learn to read music, play double kick blast beats, master your paradiddles, etc.
What the true message of this post really is, is to get you thinking about what your needs are, then practice that. Don’t make the mistake of practicing a certain technique for hours and hours only to never need it on stage.
That can lead to some serious over-playing very easily. Drummers spend so much time working on exercises, they look for any chance to show it off when they get on stage.
I remember Slash once saying how he never practices anything he’s not going to need on stage. He practices licks, scales, chords, songs, but never straight up exercises.
The ultimate hallmark of a good live drummer is a solid and consistent groove with a good feel.
If your practice routine isn’t getting you closer to this goal, then it’s slowing you down.