We want it perfect and we want it now. During the last few decades our culture has become increasingly obsessed with life hacks: going faster, doing it better, competing, having the improved and updated version of whatever. In the drumming community we see expressions like ‘Greatest drummer’, ’Triple your speed’… yeah why not quadruple it :-)?
We are so accustomed to this kind of thinking that, as much as I try to stay away from clickbait words, if the title of this article wasn’t ‘Fast Learning’, you probably wouldn’t be reading it right now.
The reality is that it’s not about learning fast. It’s about actual, realistic, tangible results. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) nothing of value can be experienced in life unless we spend time working on it, intelligently, and strategically. There’s no actual ‘quick fix’ but there are tons of smart strategies that we can benefit from.
So here I’d like to share with you a few powerful concepts and techniques to learn more effectively, which can really make a difference in your speed of improvement on the drums.
We are going to focus on three main areas:
1- Feedback. We can’t get anywhere unless we know in which direction we are moving. Feedback is essential to be aware of what we are really doing. Otherwise we may waste years thinking we are getting better while in reality we are stuck and we don’t realize it.
2- Effectiveness. Since we all know improvement is about quality and not necessarily quantity, the key word here is effectiveness. How we use our time is more important than how much time we have at our disposal.
3- Absorbing information. In the information age we realized a counterintuitive thing. It’s not about how much information is available, it’s about how it is organized into knowledge and then it’s about our retention rate, meaning how much knowledge we actually put into practice to achieve real world results.
Many ideas are linked to in depth articles I have published before, so that you can go read them if you want to know more. Let’s dive right into it.
1- Study with a teacher, otherwise it’s hard to have an idea about what you are actually doing.
2- Ask for constructive criticism from musicians you play with or people who listen to your performances. How are your timing, accuracy, time feel, sound, style, and so on. This is the shortcut to becoming aware of the different types of mistakes that you might be making.
3- Keep a journal. This a great method to stay on track and have a reliable daily feedback. In a nutshell, you can organize it like this:
– Rewrite every day what you want to accomplish in the short, medium, and long term.
– Use it to plan in advance what you are going to practice every day.
– At the end of each practice session ask yourself questions like: What did I do right? What would I do differently next time? What are my strengths? What are my weak points? Writing the answers is more than twice as effective as just thinking about them.
4- Record yourself. This is the most direct feedback you can have about your drumming. A recording is like a snapshot of how you truly sound. It’s the only way to make a clear assessment of how you really play, the good and the bad, as opposed to the way you imagine that you do.
2- Rejuvenate. Effectiveness is based on a balance between effort and rejuvenation, instead of keeping going until you burn yourself out. As athletes understand very well, rest is as important as working out. As counterintuitive as it sounds, renewal is the most important part, actually. Try this technique: practice in focused, uninterrupted time blocks of 50 minutes and then take a break for 10 minutes, during which you do something completely unrelated to drumming. Do two or three of these blocks every day. This is how to prioritize quality over quantity.
3- Push your limits, practice deliberately, move out of your comfort zone and spend time on things you don’t know how to play.
4- Focus on your ‘why’ to motivate yourself, have a purpose, a mission, design the drummer you want to be.
5- Eliminate distractions. As I often say, today with all the notifications, emails, comments, likes, social media and so on, it’s next to impossible to spend more than three minutes without being interrupted. That’s the number one cause of lack of results. But there is a simple solution. Unplug from all of it. It’s actually toxic and addictive and you know it. I like these tools and find them useful too: it’s the quantity, the invasiveness, that is the problem. So I have no notifications on my phone. I schedule two or three time slots in the day, during which I do just that, answering emails, social networking and the like. Then I forget about it and do what really matters. Obviously we all have responsibilities and not all of us can just turn the whole thing off, but we can certainly reduce the amount of interruptions. This is how to put in the hours, day after day, week after week.
6- Believe in yourself and eliminate insecurities.
7- Keep in mind that the learning process is not linear, so be patient.
2- How do we really learn? The simple formula is Learning = Behaviour Change. Let’s say you discover a new drumming technique. Have you ever noticed that you didn’t actually learn it unless you implemented it and used it to make music? Otherwise it’s just something that you know about. It seems obvious, but we easily deceive ourselves on this one. So make sure you implement it, take action on it, do it, experience it. A little side note is that since we can’t possibly learn everything, we have to choose what to let go of. How do we decide? On the basis of the drummers that we want to be (see above).
3- Combine different perspectives, and don’t just rely on any single source, no matter how authoritative. What you hear and read is always just a point of view, not an absolute truth. Then create your own version of whatever you are practicing: always find and refine what works for you.
4- Feed all your senses with inspiring drumming sources. Listen to music, watch videos, go to concerts and seminars, study with a teacher, play with other people, learn songs, write music. The whole thing, not just one little slice of what making music is about. It’s almost useless to take lessons for years unless you also play music with the skills you develop.
5- Teach others. That’s the key to assimilate what you have learned. By teaching it to someone else, you are clarifying it to yourself.
Now, these are a lot of ideas, and you don’t need to use all of them all the time. Start testing them and keep coming back to this page when you feel like checking out a new concept. See what results you get and then stick to the ones that you are more in tune with. Make them part of your daily routine. That’s how to see exponential growth in your drumming.
You need to do a bit of extra work, like writing and planning, taking action and implementing, changing some behaviours, recording yourself and limiting distractions. But the results will be amazing.