on jazz drumming

How to practice jazz drums


how to practice jazz drums - broken drum stick

Practice, practice, practice. That’s what they say and it’s true. The key to getting good at anything, from jazz drumming to languages, is to practice. The hours spent in the practice room will pay off in your ability to perform the music on the bandstand. Practice is the training for musicians. However, any old practice won’t do, you need to pay attention to how you practice. In this post, I will give you a few tips on how to get the most out of your practice sessions (by the way, you can apply these similar principles to other things too!), and in another post I will give you some ideas, in broad strokes, about what to practice.


1.) How much time should I spend practicing?

This is a questions I think most people ask, and the sarcastic answer would be “how long is a piece of string?”, which means there is no specific answer. Basically practice as much as you can, but for starters I would aim at a minimum of 25 minutes three times a week. But, a lot will depend on what your long term goals are and how much time you have with other work-life commitments. If you want to see serious gains, I would suggest practicing your jazz drumming at a minimum of 2 hours a day.


2.) Do blocks of 25 minutes

I have found in the past that 25 minutes is a useful marker to structure your practice sessions around. Essentially this is the Pomodoro technique, and at times when I’ve been less motivated to practice (or study or work), the 25 minute marker is useful. It is long enough to get some serious focused work done, and the average person can’t focus for much longer than 25 minutes, but not so long as to be daunting. The basic idea is focus for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break and repeat. After 4 cycles (2 hours), take a longer break.


3.) Focus on the hard stuff

There is nothing wrong with jamming out and playing around on the drum kit. This is a great and necessary thing to do, but don’t confuse that with practicing. In jazz drumming, and learning in general, as in weight lifting, it is the challenge, the hard stuff, that makes us grow. Unless you are working on things you can’t do, or can’t do well enough, you are not practicing. You won’t see any improvement if you just play what you already know, but this isn’t an excuse to ignore working on the basics from time to time.


4.) Decide in advance what you want to practice

I recently got into using a basic version of the Bullet Journal for my daily life planning, and it affected how I think about my practice, and that is “be intentional”. I often used to sit down and practice whatever I thought I needed to and then write down what I did, but not I find it’s much better to plan the practice session in advance and think about the things I really need or want to work on.



5.) Set goals for your jazz drumming

All the productivity advice out there says “set goals”, and combined with being intentional about your daily practice - the micro level - this is about being intentional on a macro level. Keep a running list of the larger things you want to be able to play on the kit - this could include being able to play at a particular tempo, or complete a particular book - then work them into your practice sessions.


6.) Focus on one thing at a time

If you are anything like me you have a stack of drums books to work on, lists of things you need to get together and not enough time. One danger with this pressure, is to jump from one exercise or book to another, and try to do a bit of all of them. This generally is the most effective way to practice. It is better to focus, perhaps for a 25 period, on one thing. As one of my drum teachers told me once you improve one area of your playing it will have a positive effect on other areas of your playing.


7.) Love the plateau

In George Leonard’s book on Mastery, he has a chapter called “love the plateau”. This is the time in learning anything when you don’t seem to be improving anymore and just stay at the same level. It can be incredibly frustrating, but you have to learn to love it, because it’s inescapable. For all of us at sometime we will hit a wall, but this is where the dedication and love of a master for is craft is created. Just keep on practicing and the good things will come.


8.) Slow down. SLOW DOWN

This is perhaps the most important point - start slow, keep it slow, slow down - it is also the hardest! In fact it is some thing I struggle with myself; we all want to play fast. However, there is immense value in practicing slowly, mostly because it helps you develop the proper co-ordination and execution, as well as feel the space between the notes. So, we can repurpose K.I.S.S. as Keep It Slow, Stupid.


I hope that gives you some ideas on how to practice jazz drumming, next time I’ll give you a framework of ideas about what to practice.

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