4. Playing/Practising too fast.
‘First of all i tell em’, practice slow… i see some of my students run through something. They just hack through it… sounds terrible.
I say, ‘just do one bar’. They run through it. I say ‘NO, slow it down’.
They slow it down, i say ‘that’s not good enough, slow it down’.
I say okay, ‘put the sticks down. Take a deep breath’. Okay… ‘Let’s. Do. This. Slooow’.
They play the one bar, and they play it correctly. I say BINGO!
Now you’re cooking with gas, now we have lift off.
– Kenny Washington
‘One shortcoming I see in most players is time… One thing that seperates pros from guys with a lot of chops, a lot of knowledge and a lot of talent… a lot of them just don’t put enough emphasis on time and feel.
Most guys tend to rush’
– David Hungate – Toto, Nashville Session Bassist.
Ever feel like your drumming is a bit sloppy? You can play a bunch of stuff but it’s a C- instead of an A+? Can’t figure out why no matter how much, or how hard you practise it STILL doesn’t groove?
You might simply be practising too fast.
My drum student’s idea of ‘slow’ and MY idea of slow are clearly wildly different things. I’m talking anywhere between 50-150 bpm different! Playing slow requires concentration and accuracy.
All of my students practise too fast. All of them. Some of them, i tell to slow down and try again. They go again and it’s usually the same tempo.
‘If nothing changes, nothing changes’. – Anon.
Your body and mind need time to catch up with the complicated tasks drumming requires of them. I tend to start a new exercise/groove/fill at around quarter = 60 bpm.
If that’s too fast, i.e. it’s not sitting properly. I will change the subdivision to 8ths at around 100 (1/4 = 50 bpm). My approach is to surgically dismantle anything i’m learning.
Trust me, even the most complicated Vinnie lick is playable in 8ths at 50 bpm. You soon learn your shortcomings when the magnifying glass of 50-60 bpm is applied!
Remember slow is harder. I’m not kidding. Try and jam with Jeff Porcaro, JR or Steve Ferrone on a ballad without flamming your backbeats. It’s almost impossible. At faster tempos we can fudge notes and get away with it.
If we grid it out on pro tools and look at the wave forms, the gap between notes at slower tempos is larger than on fast tempos. The slower the tempo, the larger the gap. More room for error. There is infinite space between beats. You have a very good chance of not getting your subdivisions on point.
The beauty of it is that by taking it slow, you get a chance to actually hear if it’s right. To count it. To feel where things should be landing at a slow tempo. You’re in the fight. Go straight to 210 bpm, you’re not in the fight. Your back pedalling around the ring chasing your tail. You’re throwing out a feeble jab in the hopes you might catch a lucky punch.
You don’t win that fight. Ever.
We are hardwired to measure the success of our drumming (like running, lifting weights etc) on how fast (how heavy) we can go. Guitarists are really bad for this too.
Trust me, fast and sloppy is absolutely worthless. It is literally a waste of time.
Time and time again drummers flail away sweating and drumming up a storm of frustration.
‘How can nobody see how awesome this is!?‘.
Thing is, it’s not ‘awesome’. It sounds like a drum kit falling down a flight of stairs.
‘There was a little bit of running shoes in the dryer drum fills’ – J. J. Blair (Grammy Winning Engineer/Producer)
There are no shortcuts to becoming a good/great drummer. But if there are any magic potions that I have seen, practising slow is one of them.
It is quite astounding what can be achieved (and how fast it can be achieved) by practising slowly.
You will be amazed what you learn about your drumming, technique, learning capacity, concentration, and bad habits if you SLOW. DOWN.
Homework Task: Record yourself playing a simple groove. I mean a really simple 8th note groove. Record a minute of that groove with no fills. Listen back.
An amateur might try to crank up the metronome and see how fast he/she can play the groove.
These are the questions a Pro would ask…
– Is the groove sitting in the pocket?
– Is this money beat worth a million bucks? Or a buck O’ five?
– How good do I want this beat to be?
– Is this good enough to be used as an instructional demo on how to play this particular groove?
– Is the time moving?
– If playing to a click: Are you on the click? Are you chasing the click?
– How are the internal dynamics? Are the hats too loud? Is the snare too loud? Is the kick drum loud enough to engage the dance floor?
– How can i make this groove sound better?
* When starting out, you are just dying to fly around the drums as fast and loud as possible. I get it! It’s really fun. You have to do that. Just remember to mix it up with slow, controlled and accurate practice. It’s the vegetables. The fast, fun stuff is desert afterward as a release (treat).
* Slow, accurate practice is NOT sexy. But it is where you will get REAL and noticeable growth.
* Try recording and listening back to your practice actually listening/watching for ‘progress’ as opposed to ‘YO i went from 60 bpm to 150!!!’.
150 bpm means nothing. 75 bpm CLEAN means a whole lot.
We can’t learn everything. Honestly, i don’t have much more facility now than i did 10 years ago. I just ensured what i have is much better quality.
Disclaimer: I honestly don’t think it’s reasonable to expect this type of diligent, disciplined practise from younger students. My goals for students 10 years and younger are pure enjoyment and fun. By instilling a love for drums and drumming the inspiration to learn more will happen organically. I do have a ‘slow game’ where we try and play grooves as slow as we can. There’s plenty of time for kids to learn heavier concepts like ‘time’ and ‘subdivision’. Let them be kids!
As always let me know any feedback, arguments, complaints.
See you on part 5!