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I’ll Practice Drums on the Weekend!

Do you know what caused me to start drinking coffee? It wasn’t when I stayed up late to study or party in high school.  It wasn’t when I played until 2 AM on Sunday nights and then woke up at 6 AM for school on Monday.  It wasn’t when I played on the road 6 nights a week, 5 hours a night until 2 AM.  I didn’t even need coffee when I was working 2 day jobs and playing in bars until 2 AM.  I can remember being very tired during these times but I never got to the point where I needed caffeine.

You want to know what forced me to start drinking coffee?  Cramming for tests while going to night school.  Yes, waiting until the last minute and then staying up late, into the night, to study for a test or to complete a school project.

It was understandable, though.  I was working during the day, taking 1 or 2 classes in the evenings, and playing drums on the weekend.  Also, my wife and I had our first child during this time.  We were busy!  And I didn’t have time to study every night.  At least that’s what I thought…

Recently I wrote a post about the challenge of relaxing while playing the drum set (Relax…It’s Just a Drum Set!).  In that article, I briefly described 5 tips to relax while playing the drum set.  The tips are so important, though, that I decided to write a detailed post for each one.  This is the first of the series: Get on a Regular Practice Schedule.

Pulling All Nighters
Once I started drinking coffee, I felt like I could stay up all night and have no trouble remembering all the material that I was studying.  I would wait until a day or two before a test and then start to study, staying up late, usually getting a couple hours of sleep before heading off to work the next morning.  Tests always seemed to be on Thursday or Friday so it wasn’t like I could use the weekends to “cram.”

It didn’t take too many tests, though, to realize that this was not a good approach.  The more coffee I drank, the more coffee I needed to stay awake.  I tried this “cramming” technique for my first couple classes but I grew to hate “pulling all nighters.” And my test scores were not what I expected.  Not only did my school performance suffer, I also would go several days without seeing my family.  I would be so tired after the test, I’d come home and immediately go to bed.

Applying Drum Practice Discipline to Studying
At this time in my life, I had already played the drums for many years, traveling around the country, playing in bands.  I was really good at scheduling practice time on the drums.  I would carve out some time to practice every day, even if it was only 15 minutes.  This routine helped me learn new things and stay in great drumming shape.

One night I was burning the midnight oil working on yet another project I had left until the last minute. It donned on me that I could apply my drum practice routine to my school studies.  I should be studying a little bit each night for the class I was taking.  And if there was no assignment, I should still spend a small amount of time studying the material.

I put my plan into action.  I was surprised how easy it was to follow once I got into the habit of studying.  It was less stressful because I didn’t have to worry about the long, late nights.  I remembered more of the information I studied because I was reviewing the material when my mind was fresher.  My new study habits made a difference in my performance: I got better grades.

Better Drum Chops Helps You Relax
What does all this have to do with relaxing behind a drum set?  It’s no secret that the better you are at playing the drums the more relaxed you will be when you play.  And the way that you get better at playing the drums is to study and practice…a lot.

You can practicing several hours a day for days on end. But you must have the time and discipline to do so.  If you’re like most of us, you’ve got a job or are going to school so you don’t have the luxury of spending hours practicing the drums each and every day.

When I was on the road and I had lots of time during the day, I was in a routine of practicing an hour or 2 a day.   I tried keeping the same routine once I got a day job, practicing several hours a day I got home at night.  It didn’t last long.  I would miss a day and then try to make up the hours the next day.  I’d get discouraged and tired, and I would wait until the weekend to try and “catch up” on practicing.

For most people, the trick to practicing the drums is like exercising: It’s best to form a habit.  And the best way to form a habit is to get on a daily schedule that you can keep.  I recommend trying to practice a small period of time every day.  If you can do it for several weeks, it will become a habit.

6 Tips for Creating a Drum Practice Habit
Here are 6 tips that will help you create a drum practicing habit.

  1. Start with a short period of time, say, 15 minutes.  Your mind will play tricks on you by saying, “15 minutes is a short period of time.  That’s easy.  Let’s start now.”  Once you start, you may often practice longer without noticing.  If you start with a longer period of time, your mind may say, “1 hour is a long time. I really need to do something else. I don’t have time to practice now. I’ll practice on the weekend.”
  2. Try to practice at the same time every day. Maybe it works best for you to get up early and practice before work because you know you won’t be interrupted.  Or maybe you like practicing after school because it helps you to relieve the stress of the day.
  3. Make sure you have a place that is a mini-drum cave, even if it’s in one corner of a room.  That way you can easily sit down and start practicing with very little set up.  You want to avoid wasting precious time setting up your practice area.  This is such an important point that one of the first posts I wrote was about having a practice routine and dedicated practice area: A Time, A Place and The Parts of a Drum Set.
  4. Have a plan for your practice time, even if it’s 15 minutes.  You might spend half the time learning a new drum fill and the other half playing along to a song.  Or you might alternate practice sessions between learning new beats and playing along with songs.
  5. Focus on relaxing while you play. You almost have to step outside your body and look back at yourself as you practice. Do your arms and legs look like they’re relaxed and flowing?  Are you sitting up straight?  Is your face contorted from concentrating hard?  If you are learning a drum beat and you feel your muscles tense up, play the beat slower until you can play it with your muscles relaxed.  Then speed it up.
  6. Have fun! If practicing the drums becomes boring work, then try playing something that you really enjoy.  Or maybe you just need to take a day off and come back fresh tomorrow.  Don’t worry about making up the time; expect to practice your regular length of time the next day.  One other tip is to think back about why you wanted to start playing drums and try to capture that feeling of excitement again.

The more you practice the drum set (if you’re practicing correctly), you’ll play better and feel better as you play.  Do your best to get into a regular practice routine and make playing the drums a habit so you’ll never have to say, “I’ll practice drums on the weekend.”