Creative Practice Strategies for Drummers 1

"What should I practice?"

This question crosses every creative person's mind at some point. The short answer is: practice something requiring you to be present. Presence is ultimately what we need in any situation, musical or otherwise.  The long answer depends on where you are in life, how much time you have to practice, and your aspirations.

In my experience, I've found one can't go wrong practicing the basics. If you want to build a house, you first must lay a solid foundation.  I'd like to share some techniques and strategies that will make your practice more efficient and more joyful.   

I practice the 40 P.A.S. rudiments daily.   It's a great way to warm up, helps you get control of the spacing between the notes, and helps you control your dynamic range. 

I have been practicing a form of Alan Dawson's Rudimental Ritual, where I perform a series of rudiments on the snare drum over a samba foot ostinato.  Dawson's Ritual is available everywhere on the internet.  I often practice a variation by Marvin "Smitty" Smith called Smitty's Ritual, which I've demonstrated at my site. The two rituals are almost identical.

Unless you're involved in a drumline, chances are you won't be playing strictly rudiments in your musical situation. All drummers need to practice rudiments, but we drum set players must also practice orchestrating the rudiments around the drum set. With some imagination and creativity, a whole new vocabulary of grooves, phrases, and solos is available to us.  The ultimate aim is to apply it to our musical situation.  

Let's orchestrate the 5-stroke roll.  Here's a common way the 5-stroke roll is practiced:

Fig 1.

The first modification to make is to displace the normal order of the rudiment, putting the accents first instead of last:

Fig. 2

Next, substitute the right foot for the right hand. Be sure to play the accents and make sure the pattern grooves:

Fig. 3

Once you're comfortable with the phrase, change the context.  It will sound the same, but you'll begin to feel it in triplets with a basic 4/4 pulse:

Fig. 4

To reinforce the 4/4 feel and add the basic pulse, add quarter notes on the hi-hat with the right hand:

Fig. 5

Remember to play the accents, so the basic groove can be felt. All the snare drum notes except beat 3 should be ghosted.

If we were to apply this to a musical situation, it would probably be too busy. Instead, we'll use it as a variation in a four-measure phrase:

Fig. 6

The result is something that feels and sounds great, yet doesn't sound like a rudiment at all.

Here are the creative techniques we applied:

  1. Displacement of the basic rudiment;
  2. Substitution of the bass drum for the right hand;
  3. Putting the phrase into a new context (4/4);
  4. Using the phrase as a variation within a larger phrase.

If you want to apply this to swing, practice this with various ride cymbal patterns and add the left foot hi-hat on beats 2 & 4.  If you want to apply this to Afro-Cuban 6/8, practice the bell pattern on the right hand with dotted quarter notes (or quarter notes in 4/4) on the hi-hat.

Orchestrating rudiments is a great way to create your own vocabulary on the whole drum set.  Remember to practice the basic rudiment first on one surface until it sounds and feels smooth and relaxed.  

When you practice, pay attention to your body, mind, and breath.  It took me a long time to realize that breathing, feeling the body, and being present are the most important considerations - even more important than notes.  Since life requires presence, focus, and concentration, let's begin in the practice room.

With Gratitude,




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