How To Practice The Drums

Learning the Essentials


Have you ever wondered how to make the most of your practice time? Well, you’re not the only one. We all reach a point in our drumming where we start to ask important questions like, What should I practice? and, What’s the most effective way for me to make progress?

Hang with me and we’ll answer these questions together.


I’m sure you already know that becoming a proficient drummer takes a lot of commitment, diligence and patience. It requires many years of focussed practice along with regular contact with great music and great musicians. Having the self discipline to practice often is the only way you will improve as a drummer.

Sadly, not many players are prepared to make this commitment and fail to reach their true drumming potential. They just sit down at the kit and bash around for a while not really doing anything in particular. They get a little bit better over the years, but not much.

The player who is focussed, organized and follows a structured practice routine, however, moves forward at a tremendous pace. Getting better, month after month and year after year. These tips are for you my friend!

Know Your Outcome

Knowing what you are trying to accomplish makes your practice time a whole lot easier and helps you to identify the key skills you want to develop. Set some inspiring outcome goals that you really want to achieve – play in the school band, be comfortable playing jazz, become a touring drummer. And some process goals that will help you to get there – practice for 2 hrs 5 days a week, get lessons with a top flight teacher one day a week, work 10 hours a week to save $1000 for new gear.

Give Your Practice Time Some Structure – The Four Elements

Divide your practice time into the four core elements of technique, reading, songs and solo’s. I suggest a 25% split with 25% of your time on technique, 25% on reading, 25% on songs and the last 25% on solo’s. You can practice as much or as little as you have time for as long as you cover all the bases and work them in the different styles (Rock, Jazz, Latin, Etc.)

Practice with a Metronome

This might be obvious but many drummers still don’t do it. Practicing with a metronome is a must! We are drummers; our duty is to keep the band on time. If we cannot even play a solid drum beat or roll on time, then how are we supposed to lead a band? Regular practice with a metronome will greatly enhance your timing and help you to feel the subdivisions better than any other practice aid. I don’t know any top drummer who hasn’t spent time with a metronome.

Practice With Music

Metronomes are great for technical development and improving your inner clock but they just can’t replace actual music. Most of your practice time should be spent playing along with songs in different styles, tempos, and feels that really push your playing to the next level. Don’t always stick to what you know because you will never get any better. Try new and challenging pieces and try doing your technical exercises along with music as well. You will learn how they fit together and you will greatly improve your musicianship.

Get The Groove

One of the best practice techniques I have ever used came from The Commandments Of R&B Drumming by Zoro. In the book he suggests a simple technique to work on your time and groove which works like a charm. All you do is create a playlist in iTunes for each of the main grooves that you want to master (1/4 Note Rock, 8th Note Rock, Shuffles, 1/2 Time Shuffles, etc.) Include at least 10 tracks over the full range of tempos. You can focus on one feel a day and get the groove nice and tight.

Work Your Weaknesses

When you start playing regularly you’ll quickly find out what your weaknesses are. You can choose to ignore them and hope they go away or turn them into strengths. I suggest the latter. A large amount of your time should be spent working on your weaknesses and practicing things that you are not yet able to do. At the start of each session select one weakness in each of the four elements and focus on those for the day’s practice.

Listen To And Play A Wide Variety Of Great Music

Listen to all kinds of music from rock and r&b to latin and Jazz. You will internalize the rhythms, the attitude and the language of ‘music’ which is what will make you a great musician and not just a drummer. If you have a well developed vocabulary then you will be able to express yourself fully and interact well with other musicians as well as the audience. You may just want to be a punk drummer but you should still take ideas from other styles and make them your own. It’ll spruce up your playing and make you a more well rounded player.

Total Immersion

When you really want to get a feel for a style of music then you need to immerse yourself in it. Listen to the music, watch concert footage, go to live shows, spend time with the players and learn about the culture and the history. If you can get the music and the vibe inside of you then you will be in a much better position to play it authentically.

Find The Time

If you are serious about your drumming then you need to find the time in your week to get your practice done. There’s no way around it. When you practice you get better, when you miss it you don’t. It’s that simple. Set aside a bit of time everyday for your drumming and make sure you get it done – no excuses.

Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day

All the great drummers took years to develop their skills and are still improving to this day. Don’t expect that after one years practice you’ll sound like Steve Smith, so be patient and enjoy the journey. If you can have fun with it and celebrate your little victories then you are far more likely to stick with it over the long term and benefit from the compounding effect of years of practice.

Make Time to Practice and Time to Play

One of the biggest errors a drummer can make is failing to make time for practice as well as time to jam. Believe it or not, there is a big difference here. Practice time is a chance to work on your technique, stick control, interdependence, beats and other things you want to master. Jam time is a chance to apply your newly learned skills to real applications, let loose and have some fun. Both are essential so you should structure your practice time to give an equal amount amount to each. The ultimate test is how you perform along with other players!

Have Fun No Matter What

This may all sound a little serious so you should never forget why you play – to have fun! No matter what you are working on, keep it light hearted and find ways to inject a little more excitement. If you are bored with rudiments put on your favorite track and practice along to that – single stroke rolls are much more fun when you’ve got a sweet bass line in your years. Invite some friends over and practice as a band.

Now Kill It! DN

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