What is the Point of Practicing?? (The Question No One Can Answer)

I am one of the luckiest people I know.  I teach drums for a living.  I appreciate that every day and never take it for granted.  I have seen people with natural talent, I have seen those who are gifted with a solid work ethic and occasionally I see a student with both.  More often than not, those students who work hard make the most progress.  This progress is due not only to their work ethic, but also to the fact that they know the answer to the all important question...

What is the Point of Practicing???
For two decades I have been waiting for a student to answer this question correctly.  I am still waiting.  Answers usually include "to get better", "to improve" and "to make me understand" to which I reply "how does it make you better?", "how does it make you improve?" and "how does it make you understand?"  I am then confronted with blank looks and, inevitably, the dreaded "I don't know!"

Well, I think it's time to let the cat out of the bag... (drum roll please):  The point of practicing is to PLAY CORRECTLY!!  Makes perfect sense right!?  However, before a student understands this simple concept they will, with the most noble intentions, slog away at difficult passages again and again and AGAIN with no success, sometimes for hours.  I don't mean to sound harsh, but this is a COMPLETE WASTE OF TIME!

So, now that the secret is out, what does one do with this information?  Again, it's a simple concept:  SLOW DOWN!!

Lead drummers have been telling their corps to play things at a slower tempo forever.  Why?  Because playing slowly simply gives you more time to think about what you're playing.  With more time to think, mistakes will be minimized and you'll have more chance to execute trouble spots successfully.  Once you can execute perfectly, your practice session truly begins with many reps until the passage you're working on feels, looks and sounds correct.

A Leaf is Just a Leaf
Many students have told me that slow practice is boring.  I couldn't disagree more!  Slow practice is like putting your playing under a microscope.  Take the example of a leaf.  If you look at a leaf, it looks boring.  It's just a leaf.  However, if you put a leaf under a microscope you see cells moving around and all sorts of other interesting things.  When you slow your playing down there is now time to analize your timing, pay attention to your hand movements, notice if you are tense or relaxed and exaggerate your dynamics.  Now that you have all of these things to concentrate on, the speed of your practice becomes irrelevant and you are able to home in on all the fine details that pass by too quickly when you're playing at a higher tempo.

Practice Like a Hybrid
Hybrid cars travel long distances while not using much gas--they're fuel EFFICIENT.  Practicing like a hybrid means you make more progress using less time.  Minimizing mistakes is the best way to make your practice session more efficient.  My "go to" practice strategy for a difficult passage (usually involving left drags) is the creatively titled TEN IN A ROW.  At a slow speed, I play the passage ten times perfectly and my goal is to make that happen using only ten tries.  If I can play the passage perfectly ten times with ten attempts I have maximized my efficiency.  If I make a mistake, I start again at zero and repeat the process until I reach ten in a row.

Because drumming is motion-based, if you learn the motions correctly, even at a slow tempo, you'll find that if you reach ten in a row you'll be able to play your "problem spot" up to speed.  It works like magic.  Try it out and see for yourself!

Practice doesn't make perfect, only perfect practice makes perfect.  Practicing slowly and correctly has had a huge impact on my playing and that of my students.  It can do the same for you!


  • Terry Smith

    Terry Smith Halifax

    The nail on the head! Ouch!

    The nail on the head! Ouch!

  • Lysia

    Lysia Sackville

    Beautifully said!

    Beautifully said!

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