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I've always enjoyed learning. As musicians, we need to continually develop our craft through study and practice. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to study with two distinguished teachers: Murray Spivack and Richard Wilson. Over the years, drummers such as Vinnie Colaiuta, David Garibaldi, Carlos Vega, Louie Bellson, Chad Wackerman, and a host of others have studied with these two masters. To this day, nearly thirty years later, I still work on - and teach - the basic principles they taught me.

In this section we’ll listen in on a discussion featuring some of the world’s best drummers, past and present, regarding their individual approaches to practicing.
     

"You have to be organized and know what you're going to do so you're actually building, day to day, on similar ideas. Things don't happen in one-day intervals. They happen over months and years, so there has to be some kind of consistency in your practicing concept so things can develop logically and slowly, and you're giving them the space to do that."
   - Steve Smith, Modern Drummer Collector’s Edition, 2007


"It's the best, man. And it's on the beginning side of it. For instance, a stroke - how does it feel to come down on one, a downbeat? How does it feel to strike an upbeat? It's very cellular work. I think of it as cell work. It's very rewarding. I mean, I feel relaxed and ready to go whereas before it was like I could, of course, play, but maybe the consistency wasn't as high. I have more expectations now; I want more from my playing. It needs to be. That's why I think it's working for me."
   - Jeff Ballard, interview by Renato Wardle,
      www.allaboutjazz.com
, 2006
  Jeff Ballard

"Drumming is a commitment to learning and a commitment to studying. You have to have that desire to excel. You have to realize that playing drums requires the same discipline you'd need if you were in the Berlin Symphony Orchestra. That's the kind of discipline those musicians have, so that's the kind of discipline you have to have. You have to study all the time. It never stops. You should never stop learning."
   - Elvin Jones, Modern Drummer, July 2002

"It’s all I could think about. I played all the time, practicing six hours a day. I would carefully organize my practice time: an hour on reading, an hour on working on my lesson, an hour on technique, an hour on Stick Control, an hour on the left hand, an hour on brushes... I was very concise about the information. I took it very seriously."
   - Joey Baron, Modern Drummer, July 1996

"If you want to grow and get better you can't be afraid to sound bad, look bad or look foolish. If you're afraid to lose face you won't go forward. In a sense what everybody should do is work on their weakest thing. It's very important to dive headfirst into what you can't do... With learning, every time you do something bad it's like money in the bank. You might do it bad a hundred times before that hundred and first time sounds good. But there's no way to skip it. You have to pay to sound good."
   - Bob Moses, Modern Drummer, October 1994

"There's so much to discover. Every time I sit down to play I find new things. There's so much to learn, so much to do. The main thing is that I'm trying to get the most out of myself that I can. I'm trying to be the picture I have of myself. That really drives me."
   - David Garibaldi,
     ModernDrummer,
     November 2003
  David Garibaldi  

"I was a rock drummer until I heard Elvin Jones and Tony Williams. Then somebody told me that that kind of playing wasn't just random. Maybe you'll count eight-bar phrases where the tension mounts and mounts... or long ones where it stretches for sixteen bars... and you realize there's more and more tension happening, and suddenly - BAM! - it's all on one.... When I heard that, that's what I did. I listened to those records and I just counted all the way through, and I was amazed that it all added up."
   - Terry Bozzio, Modern Drummer Collector’s Edition, 2007

Tony Williams   "I used to practice eight hours a day, every day! From about 1956 until about 1962. It was a whole thing, a whole period in my life where nothing else was happening."
   - Tony Williams,Notes and Tones by
     Arthur Taylor
 

"I'd come home every day at 3:00, set my drums up and practice. I was totally into it. Summertime I wouldn't go out. I would play all day, from noon until at least 7:00 or 8:00."
   - Al Foster, Modern Drummer, January 1989

"At certain stages I would work on tempos I was having problems with. I worked on every aspect of my playing, but especially on getting a good sound, which comes from experience and hearing yourself on recordings... you figure out which snare sound is right. I spent time on brush playing. They're hard to play. But I think the key is that I had a lot of experience playing with people. That's the answer. Experience playing with people regularly is invaluable."
   - Bill Stewart, Modern Drummer, March 1996

"In practice, you should prepare yourself for ensemble situations. Practice timekeeping. In addition, you do have to work on your chops, which means practicing basic snare drum techniques. You must understand such things as the degree of relaxation or tension in your grip, the angle and access of your wrists, the positioning of your fingers, and where the fulcrum of the stick is. Suffice to say that all drumming is a combination of finger, wrist and arm motion… We want to make our drumming motion and activity as efficient as possible to get the most out of what we do, and this frees us up to make that much more music."
   - Peter Erskine, from his book Drum Concepts and Techniques

"When I play music, I try to play ideas. I'm not concerned with thinking about what kind of rudiment I'm going to use here or what pattern I'm going to play there. When I practice, I'll just sit down and start playing. I'll be improvising, and one thing will lead to another. 'Oh, that was nice. What if I take that and do this?' My time spent on the set is as creative and spontaneous as possible. And from that comes ideas."
   - Jack DeJohnette, Modern Drummer, October 1989

"Mostly what I do is play singles and doubles to keep my chops up. I practice so that when I'm working, everything is fresh again. I don't practice what I'm going to play. I want everything to be up. When I come to a situation, my improvisation should be pure."
   - Max Roach, Modern Drummer,
    June 1982
  Max Roach  


"People don't give a damn how many paradiddles you can play. People only know what they feel. You can take a drum and move the earth. You can transport people."
   - Art Blakey, Modern Drummer, September 1984

Shelly Manne   "I believe that drummers as well as all instrumentalists and composers should concentrate on stripping themselves of all unessentials. They should not play anything just for effect, but should search for good sound, beauty, taste and an honest overall musical approach, using technique for musical ends alone, always thinking of the group sound and playing naturally. And, of course, in jazz the swing must be there."
   - Shelly Manne, liner notes from Empathy, 1962
 

"I used to practice anywhere from four to eight hours a day when I first started, from the age of thirteen to when I was about twenty-four."
   - Elvin Jones, Notes and Tones by Arthur Taylor

"When I was practicing every day, I was doing nothing else but that. I'd get up in the morning and not even bother getting dressed. I'd just move to the drums in my pajamas. I would be playing on the pad while I watched TV, and I'd go over to another drummer's house and play with him. All drumming, all day."
   - Tony Williams, Modern Drummer, June 1984

"My most productive time was during my first year at college. I had the whole summer off, I didn't know anybody, and I was up at school alone. So I made up a practice schedule and hit it ten to fifteen hours a day for about three months. I went through two summers of that, and it never got under six or seven hours, even when school was in session. I was really concentrating."
   - Dave Weckl, Modern Drummer, October 1986
  Dave Weckl

"I think any musician needs just enough technique to express himself; I don’t think he should go beyond that. It becomes meaningless if it goes beyond his feelings. It’s always good to have a little technique to spare, but I don’t think you should become wrapped up in technical things as far as music is concerned, because music comes from the heart!"
   - Kenny Clarke, Notes and Tones by Arthur Taylor

"I'm not a trained drummer -- I never studied. I can't play a proper roll and I have very little organized technique like paradiddles and such. I just play what I feel. I never practice, I just go up on stage and play... I think I did all of my practicing onstage."
   - Jon Christensen, Modern Drummer, August 1995

Buddy Rich   "I think it's a fallacy that the harder you practice the better you get. You only get better by playing. You could sit around a room in a basement with a set of drums all day long and practice rudiments and try to develop speed, but until you start playing with a band you can't really learn technique, you can't learn taste, you can't learn how to play with a band and for a band. Once you've attained a job, that's an opportunity to develop."
   - Buddy Rich, Modern Drummer,
     January 1977
 

"The more you study, the more you find out what you don’t know, but the more you study, the closer you come."
   - Cozy Cole, Drummin’ Men: The Swing Years, by Burt Korall
 

"Cozy Cole had a studio on West 48th Street… I went there regularly for lessons and followed him to West 54th Street and Eighth Avenue, where he and Gene Krupa had their drum school. Cozy was a great teacher. He'd say: ‘Play that!’ If you didn't play it perfectly - from top to bottom - he wouldn't let you go on. He asked a lot of his students. You had to give him what he wanted. I worked very hard on rudiments. Cozy put heavy emphasis on them."
   - Philly Joe Jones, Drummin’ Men: The Bebop Years, by Burt Korall

"I resolved to learn the drums technically, from the bottom up. I got myself the best teacher in New York (the legendary Sanford Moeller) and I practiced for hours every day. At the same time, I'd go to Harlem to watch the great jazz drummers like Baby Dodds, Chick Webb, Dave Tough and Sonny Greer."
   - Gene Krupa, Modern Drummer Collector’s Edition, 2007

"There's always something to learn. You have to always keep your mind open to learning, and you need discipline to do that. You have to say, 'I am not going to the movies tonight. I'm going to stay home and study this music. I need to practice.' Or, 'I need to brush up on my rolls and rudiments.' That attitude has to be a part of what you're doing."
   - Elvin Jones, Modern Drummer, July 2002

"Practice with a metronome or rhythm machine. Set up a tempo and play a feel along with it. When you feel locked in with the tempo, stop and think of another feel. Play that until it feels comfortable and then stop. Give yourself a two-bar count-off and then play the first feel for sixteen bars with a fill at bars 8 and 16. After the second fill, go to the second feel for sixteen bars. Just notice what happens. It can show you places where you might be rushing or dragging. Repeat this exercise using different dynamics for each section."
   - Steve Gadd, Modern Drummer Collector’s Edition, 2007

"When I do practice, being musical is my number-one priority. I try to practice musically. I don't practice exercises or warm-up routines or rudiments or any of that stuff. If I have time off, I practice certain tempos that I want to improve on. Sometimes I just improvise at the drumset -- just playing for a while. It's valuable. I might practice brushes for a while. So I'm not into the typical drummer's techniques. There are many drummers who can play rudiments better than I can."
   - Bill Stewart, Modern Drummer, March 1996

"The playing that's coming out of me is coming from the music that I'm hearing, the people that I'm playing with... Sometimes I'm still playing stuff on the drum set that I've never played before, because I'm not thinking drum set. I'm not thinking cymbals and drums... A lot of times my eyes are closed and I'm just playing... I just go ahead and play, and whatever ideas are in my head hopefully they'll come out."
   - Paul Motian, interview by Chuck Braman, www.chuckbraman.com, 1996

"I want to be able to tell stories when I play. I want to grab a motif and develop it as much as I can, whether I'm comping or soloing. That motif can be anything. Develop it, switch it around, go to another motif and then return. When you do that, it gives your playing a sense of organization. Otherwise it can sound like you're rambling, just playing by reflex."
   - Antonio Sanchez, Modern Drummer, May 2005

"As a drummer, you have a lot to do. You're supposed to make everything sound good. The drummer can make 'em or break 'em."
   - Roy Haynes, Modern Drummer Collector’s Edition, 2007