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"Drumming is a commitment to learning and a commitment to studying. You have to have that desire to excel… It never stops. You should never stop learning."

   -- Elvin Jones

In order to play a musical instrument with any degree of proficiency, you must have sufficient technique. Technique is a tool, a means by which one expresses one’s musical ideas. It is not an end in itself. Great chops are a dangerous thing in the hands of someone with nothing to say. That said, it’s incumbent upon every musician to develop his or her skills such that he or she can ultimately forget about technical concerns and focus instead on making music.

  Elvin Jones


I’m a firm believer in leaving musical problems at home when you’re on the bandstand. Music is a collaborative art form. Stay in the moment and listen to the other musicians. Don’t focus so much on yourself. The practice room is another story entirely. It’s a workshop, not a performance space.  

To get the most out of your practice sessions, choose a spot where you won’t be interrupted. Ideally, it should be an area where no one else can hear you. Many musicians become self-conscious if they know someone is listening. Remember, practicing is not a performance. You should never hold yourself to that standard. You want a relaxed space, free from expectations, where you can work comfortably at your
own pace. 

Be specific about what you want to accomplish. Thirty minutes of focused practicing will yield better results than hours of meandering. Set both short-range and long-range goals and practice with a sense of purpose. On the other hand, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of setting sail with no map, no destination, and nothing but open sea in front of you. This kind of practicing is important to your development as well. But keep your ears open. Take note of whatever new ideas come up and write them down so you can revisit and develop them later.

In addition to your time spent at the drum set, disciplined practice on the snare drum or a high-quality practice pad is an essential ingredient to developing a solid technique, so keep that in mind when apportioning your practice time.

Practice Room 2   Relaxation

Each time you sit down to play, either at the practice pad or behind the drums, take a moment to check in and assess whether or not you’re holding any undue tension in your body. All of your muscles – that is, those not involved in producing the stroke or keeping you upright – should be completely relaxed. With a stick in each hand, let your arms hang loosely at your sides. Keep your back straight and your feet flat on the floor. Take a deep breath and let it out. Are you gripping anywhere unnecessarily? Are your shoulders raised or pinched? Is your jaw clenched? Do you feel tension in your neck? In your tummy? If so, release it! Now, bending from the elbows, raise your forearms until they’re parallel to the floor. Your sticks should be an inch above and parallel to the playing surface (“the floor of the stroke”). This will be the starting position for all of your strokes.


Another important element to think about is balance. In order to play with maximum efficiency, you need to consider how you’re distributing your weight while sitting at the drums. Do you sit unnaturally high or low? Do you habitually lean forward or back? Do you favor one side over the other or grip in one part of your body to compensate for another part? Good balance will spread the workload over the entire body and allow your limbs to operate freely and independently of one another, greatly increasing stamina and efficiency while reducing fatigue.
  Practice Room 3

Practice #4  

Practice Session #1: Rhythm Cycle in Sevens and Fives

One of the features of this page is to periodically introduce new practice material. It may be a technical exercise, or it may involve a conceptual idea such as metric modulation or the use of resolution points. To start things off, here’s a brain-teaser guaranteed to keep you up at night.

Like most drummers, I like to warm up backstage before gigs. Some drummers play singles and doubles on their leg, others grab a practice pad and run through their five, seven, and nine-stroke rolls. That’s fine, but here’s something new to check out.

The Rhythm Cycle is an original exercise of mine. It utilizes the principal strokes taught to me by both Murray Spivack and Richard Wilson (wrist turns, rebounds, and downstrokes) and is an excellent warm-up exercise. It can be played on the snare drum, on a practice pad, or yes, on your leg. When accompanied by the hi-hat and bass drum, it’s ideal for working on control, balance, coordination, and concentration. Although it can be challenging, it’s a lot of fun!

Before we begin, let’s take a look at the individual strokes.

  For single strokes,simply turn the wrist to execute the stroke. No forearm or upper arm movement is necessary.

  For single strokes with a dot over them, turn the wrist as above but give the note a bit more emphasis by bringing the stick up higher prior to the stroke.

  For doubles,use a small wrist turn for the initial stroke, then let the stick rebound (bounce) once for the second note. Do not make an additional wrist turn for the rebound. One motion, two notes.

  Accented notes and multiple-bounce strokes utilize a downstroke. Richard Wilson often called this a “throw.” In his book It’s Your Move, Dom Famularo prefers “low Moeller.” To execute this stroke, begin with the stick an inch above and parallel to the playing surface. Leading with the wrist while bending the elbow, raise your forearm four to six inches. Don’t engage the upper arm at all (visualize a marionette with a string attached to the wrist joint, pulling upward). Make sure your hand hangs down loosely as the wrist comes up. When the wrist reaches the top of its ascent, snap it downward (as if cracking a whip) and strike the drum. This entire sequence should be done in one uninterrupted motion. Don’t force anything – let gravity work for you. Allow the weight to fall. In the case of multiple notes in one hand, the initial accented note is a downstroke and all subsequent notes are rebounds. NOTE: For traditional grip players, the path of the left stick will mirror that of the right.
Great! Let’s get started!

Download # 1:  Rhythm Cycle in Sevens and Fives.