You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Practicing’ category.
Dawes is a band that wasn’t on my radar until recently. I think I dig their thing, but I know I dig this performance. It’s hard to sound good on tv and these guys nailed it.
The main point behind this post is to acknowledge Griffin Goldsmith on drums and bgv’s, and I want to zero in on his effortless and relaxed demeanor. He’s doing some pretty difficult stuff but he doesn’t care. Again, I want to emphasize that he doesn’t seem to notice that playing a shaker with your right hand while the left hand covers both the hats and snare is supposed to be demanding. And then he sings great background stuff while keeping a locked groove with awesome feel. Does he look like it bothers him to do this? Does it look like he can barely keep it together? Nope. He’s just doing the deal and owning it and looking cool.
I’ll go out on a limb and pontificate a little bit here: good musicians can do difficult stuff. GREAT musicians do difficult stuff but it’s not actually difficult for them anymore which means they don’t get distracted by the difficulty factor and instead just play what the music needs and totally nail it.
I’ve written about this before. Something that you want to perform is either impossible for you to physically accomplish or you should know it so well that it’s easy. There shouldn’t be anything in between. Goldsmith’s drumming in the above video is a a good example.
Rapper Tariq Trotter (aka Black Thought from the Roots) just posted this quote on Twitter…
“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”
My practicing on the airplane yesterday got me thinking about the stages of practicing an exercise. From my experience, working on something follows a path through these four levels of how I relate to what I’m working on…
1. Can’t do it
2. Can kinda do it
These four stages are the same as the 4 overall stages in the instrumental pursuit. The point of this post is to reiterate that the goal in practicing is to reach stage 4. That might seem obvious, but it needs to be stated (and I constantly need to remind myself of it) because the temptation to stop at stage 3 is so strong.
“Hey! I’m doing it! Look everybody, I can actually do this really difficult thing/exercise/pattern now! This is great! All my hard word is paying off because now I can finally do it!” (self high five)
My heart makes those exclamations long before I’m even in the ballpark of mastery.
“Hey… I think I’m getting this. Wow. I can do it for like 20 seconds without screwing up.” – Me on the plane yesterday
“Who cares. It won’t make a difference in your actual limb control until you can do it for 10 minutes without screwing up. And significantly faster.” – The voice of reason
“Hey shut up and leave me alone.” – Me
“How could it possibly benefit you to tell the VOICE OF REASON to shut up?” – The voice of reason
“You’re right. I’ll keep at it.” – Me, reluctantly acknowledging the voice of reason
That’s how it always goes.
And listen, just a warning here… the distance between each of the stages is roughly the same. Don’t expect to get from stage 3 to stage 4 quicker or faster than you got from 1 to 2 or from 2 to 3. I think that’s where the deception lies in the temptation to not go for stage 4. Reaching stage 3 after a lot of hard work and then realizing you still have a ways to go before stage 4 is demoralizing. But do it anyway. Getting to stage 4 is what makes ALL the practicing worth it.
Summary: Practice past the point of competency to the point of mastery.
I sat on a plane today for a few hours. Lately that’s more common for me than it used to be, whereas opportunities to sit behind a drumset and spend time simply practicing are less common. So today on the flight I tapped out a rudiment pattern for probably 45 minutes just using my finger tips on my lap and my feet on the floor. The noise of the flight covered up any sound so I didn’t bother anyone around me… at least I don’t think I did.
It’s a variation on a Bonham triplet pattern that inverts the RL and LR strokes, but using a 4-stroke pattern instead of a 3-stroke one. The variation is that I’ve got all 4 limbs involved, instead of only 3.
Pattern A: R-L-Rf-Lf (that is… right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot)
Pattern B: L-R-Lf-Rf
It’s just simple single strokes between the hands and the feet, though what I’ve really been working on is switching between them. In other words, play the above patterns once each back to back…
I work up to it by doing each “half” 4 times (a full bar if you’re feeling the strokes as 16ths) then switching to the other. After a minute or so of that I switch to alternating each time (two full rotations per bar, still in 16ths).
It’s way more difficult than I want it to be. I’m not a dbl kick player, so I’m not sure what this is even helping, other than mind stuff and limb control. But that’s the more important part of the game anyway.
PS. The link above to my post about Bonham triplets contains a few more super helpful limb control exercises. So I guess we can file this post under the “From The Archive” series.
This is a photo of a wall in the Art lab near my teaching studio at Northwestern College…
I walk past this message every day. It’s a great reminder.
Let’s for the moment imagine that we can quantify progress/skill on an instrument by counting rungs on a ladder. It seems to me that the difference between a gifted student (aka “brilliance”) and a normal student would be how many rungs they can climb in a given amount of time. The gifted person climbs 5 rungs in 30 minutes, and the normal person only manages 1 rung per hour. Now, a normal homework assignment (for my students at least) requires a 5-rung effort. So then, the normal guy has to work an hour every day for 5 days between now and next week’s lesson in order to get the stuff done. Yep, that’s about “normal.” But the gifted guy… he has a choice. He can get his 5 rungs accomplished in the first half hour after he gets home from the lesson and then have tons of time for video games, or he can practice an hour a day anyway and come back having learned the homework AND a bunch of other stuff. Pretty soon he’s asking for 50-rung assignments each week… or pushing himself for even more.
The point is this: what does the gifted person get out of their giftedness if they only put in the work needed to stay on par with everyone else? More video game time. That’s it. That’s all they get, because at the end of each week they are still on the same rung as everyone else. And then at the end of 5 years, or 10 years, they are STILL on the same rung as everyone else, so at that point nobody really knows or cares that they’re gifted.
But at least they’ve logged in tons of video games.
True greatness comes from the combination of giftedness AND hard work. In fact, the hard work is actually the means by which the giftedness makes itself known.
Some good thoughts on the importance of disciplined practice, from an acquaintance of mine up in Canada.
My wife and I went with some friends to the Michael Jackson documentary the other night. Wow. It’s great. Go see it.
I enjoyed the film on a few different levels. For starters, all the footage was from the prep and production rehearsals for Jackson’s This Is It Tour, which would have been quite a spectacle. As a professional musician, most of my work takes place in this prep/rehearsal environment. Any given 90-min gig of mine will often require at least 4-5 hours of personal prep and rehearsal time, and it’s almost impossible to measure how much overhead work goes into a complex show like Jackson’s. It was really cool to get a first-hand look at everything that goes into staging a show in the big leagues.
Which, leads me to the thing I really took away from the film. No one made ANY mistakes. In all the footage of instrumental rehearsals and technical run-throughs, I never heard or saw anyone in the band play anything incorrectly. Everything sounded as great as I imagine the actual performances would have sounded. Of course, the band often stopped to get instructions from MJ or the producer, but it was always timing and cue issues that needed discussing… never playing issues. Never.
Everytime MJ would stop the band during a tune to give them directions, he would say “see, this is why we rehearse.” The thing to notice here is his definition of “rehearsal.” The musicians in the film are obviously not learning how to play their parts during the rehearsals, as was apparent in their mistake-free playing. Instead, the band is spending the rehearsal time learning how to perform the show. There’s a huge difference in those two things. Learning how to play your part is something you do on your own, with your own time. That way, when everyone gathers together to work through the songs, you can give your attention and focus to timing issues and the nuances of the performance’s flow. The details of how the show progresses from song to song are often even more complex than the way you will play your instrument within a song.
A good show hinges on both correct playing and smooth transitions. The playing part can and should be handled on your own – but the transition part has to be worked out with everyone together. Therefore, in order to maximize rehearsal time in a group setting, the individual musicians need to be as prepared and precise as possible. The group rehearsal is simply time when you prove to everyone that you did your homework.
This Is It reminded me again of the importance of adequately prepping for gigs, so that I ALWAYS bring my A-game.
My students say this a lot. I used to say it a lot too, back in high school when I didn’t know better. I say “didn’t know better” because I have a different take on things these days.
Another phrase showed up at a lesson yesterday. A student was having trouble with an exercise, and I told him to focus hard and go slower. He said: “I am focusing, but I think my arms just don’t want to do it right.” I’ve heard that phrase many times from other students, but this time we stopped and talked about it. The phrase is related to “this is too difficult,” in that it places the blame on the pattern or your arms, and not on YOU.
The way I see it is this: your arms have no mind of their own. They do what they’re told to do. Now, sometimes the arms are told to do something by habit or by discomfort. This is problematic for drummers, because it can give the impression that you don’t have control over your own limbs. But, this is not true. We ALWAYS have control over our own motor skills (with the exception of illness or injury).
So, a more accurate version of the phrase above would be: “my arms just don’t want to do that, and I’m not currently putting in the mental effort to MAKE my arms do what I want them to.” That sheds light on the real issue. It’s not your arms’ fault for being “unwilling” to play the rudiment/fill/exercise/whatever – it’s YOUR fault for not using the very real control that your mind has over your arms.
Many times I think I’m focusing on doing something, but I’m really not. I intend to tell my arms and legs what to do in trying to master a difficult pattern, but I’m really just hoping that they’ll figure it out on their own.
So, anyway, after discussing this with the student, he tried the exercise he was working on again and immediately had much more success. I asked him if he thought the exercise felt easier after out discussion, and he said yes, and told me that he felt like he had a clearer picture of what to focus on.