Evaluate your weaknesses.
Many times we know what our weaknesses are, but we just don’t want to work on them. From a smart practice standpoint, the fastest way to improve is to focus on your greatest weaknesses. For example, if you struggle with consistent time, but instead of working on that issue, you work on hand foot combinations to apply to chops. While this is something worth working on, the overall weakness of time will put a limit to everything you are trying to work on. The same would go for not having control over your volume, or possibly hand foot technique (if we reversed the first example). Take the two weakest points of your playing and be sure to work on them.
Many drumming weaknesses… Where do I begin?
Where to begin can often be a challenge. It is easy to lose sight of goals. Smart practice is focused practice with a goal. Begin by focusing on the issues that are getting in the way or your current performance opportunities. If you are in a band that plays to tracks and your time is an issue, you have to deal with that. If you are in a wedding band you need good command of a variety of styles. If you play in churches, an issue that often comes up is that drummers are playing too loud, so focus on control of your dynamics on the kit. To sum it up simply, focus on current performing weaknesses. Practice and improvement are a lifelong pursuit. Tackle the issues of today now, because those improvements will lead to more playing opportunities as people hear you perform.
Keep a practice log.
A practice log can be kept on your smart phone or in a music book. The idea is to keep track of things you are practicing, and at what tempos. Sometimes, writing down what you are doing will help you realize things you are not doing and should be doing. A practice log can be your best friend during those times when you feel like you aren’t getting better. Flipping back some pages and seeing what you were working on 6 months ago is proof that you are improving, though it may not always feel that way. Writing things down helps keep you focused during practice.
Divide your practice time.
If you know your weaknesses and are working on four things, then divide your practice time to accomplish those goals. The following is a simple example if you had an hour of practice a day.
15 minutes – Warm up and rudiments
15 minutes – Coordination – Afro Cuban grooves
10 minutes – Reading – Drum charts and snare drum pieces
10 minutes – Learning a new song for the band you are playing with
10 minutes – Have fun doing whatever you want
Notice the extra part for having fun. Some drummers sit down and just play, solo and jam for an hour. The problem here is you aren’t focused with your practice and most likely are not improving as fast as you could be. The flip side is that sometimes with focused practice you lose sight of the fun that got you playing the drums in the first place. So finding middle ground is important. Be focused, but don’t forget to have fun.
While this list could potentially go on forever and will vary greatly depending on your goals, always be listening to music. Listen to the great drummers and try to copy, adapt and apply things you hear and learn. For books, some great places to start are Ed Uribe’s The Essence of Afro Cuban Percussion & Drum Set, Zoro’s The Commandments of R&B Drumming, anything from Gary Chaffee, Anthony Cirone’s Portraits in Rhythm, or anything by David Garibaldi. As you work through material, you will begin to get a feel for what works for you and then you can adjust your purchasing decisions based on that. There are many books and video resources available. Allow me to shamelessly plug my Better Drums in 60 Seconds series as well. In the end, remember your goals and focus your practice and efforts to meeting those goals. With a little effort and structure, you will be on your way to developing a consistent and disciplined practice method that will make you a better drummer every day.