Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Whatchyoutalkinbout, Willis?

So, what's your sound? No, I don't mean what kind of music you play. I mean, what sound do you get from your drums? I ask because it seems to me that we live in an era of ever more product choices but somehow less attention is being paid to personalising the sound emitting from our instruments. We have the choice of umpteen kinds of wood, construction styles, heads, dampening and even mic'ing and EQing and yet it seems to me that – much like pop music – drummers seem to sound more and more alike as time goes on. I don't mean the notes they play – imitation, influence and homage are topics for another day – but the way we tune and the sound we draw from the drums.

I was recently party to a conversation on social media in which a fellow drummer asked “what kind of bass drum head is best for alternative/indy rock played live?” My immediate response was to throw the question back onto them: “What is your sound?” Many of the responses that followed gave recommendations for specific drum heads that the responders use or have used. And eventually, once a certain number of similar responses appeared, the asker fell into rank and decided that they would choose the most recommended head. But despite the heads recommended being, in my experience, perfectly good heads from a quality standpoint and for getting a certain kind of sound, I think both the questioner and the well-intentioned responders all sidestepped a crucial issue.

As no less than Vinnie Colaiuta says, “I thought we were making art.” That is, playing the drums is about conceiving, creating and expressing. And the most key ingredient, which informs everything from our equipment choices to the notes we play on down to the techniques we spend time shedding, is conception. What the question and many of the responses in our conversation ignored equally was conception. That is, what on earth am I trying to say with my instrument? What idea am I trying to express? What sounds do I want to bring forth into the world?

Don't get me wrong. In the process of learning and forming opinions we all seek the help of those we place trust in as authorities. These authorities may be teachers, mentors, peer groups or even social media networks. Of course, I don't know what sort of prior relationship these posters have, so I don't know to what degree the responses were based on prior knowledge of the asker's tastes. That said, it seemed to me that the questioner was simply tossing a Hail Mary and hoping someone would catch it and make their mind up for them.

That's all well and good and it may get you through the gig in one piece, but if we return to Vinnie C and other great drummers that many hold in high esteem, we see that many of them have a very clear conception of the sound they're trying to convey. And we know this because there is a certain consistency in their tuning and sound approach across a number of genres. Certainly many of the greatest players have engaged in playing chameleon on recording sessions and used sounds that fit the artist's, producer's or engineer's concept. But I think if we really examine the ranks of the great players – particularly of the past - we find that they almost all have/had a very disctinctive sound.

I grew up in the late 70s and 80s when you only need to turn around to find another drummer who tuned his drums low and fat like Steve Gadd. Having seen Steve play recently, that Gadd snare drum sound is as identifiable today as it was when his buttery smooth doubles first slipped into wide popular consciousness with the release of Paul Simon's 50 Ways. Similarly, if we consider the aforementioned Mr. Colaiuta, it takes only a few seconds for those who know his playing to recognise the combination of his popping snare drum and his deep, punchy bass drum. Going back further in time, it only takes a little bit of study to hear differences between the greats, not just based on what they played, but based on the way they tuned their drums and chose their cymbals. Whether it be Tony's distinctive ride cymbal or his CS Dot heads, Elvin's drum choir approach with his ringing 18” bass drum, Max's high tom sound that he played his melodies on or Clyde Stubblefield's snap-crackling rimshots, their choice of heads, tuning and techniques all relate back to a particular CONCEPT that they were trying to get across. Videos of John Bonham's drum tech, Jeff Ocheltree, are still making the rounds and baiting clicks on the internet 40 years after Bonham's death because many still want to understand how to get his distinctive sound.

The thing is, you could've taken Bonham out of Led Zeppelin and dropped him in another band and if you'd listened to him carefully at all, you'd know it was him the minute he laid into that big 26-inch bass drum and counterpointed it with that gunshot Ludwig 402 snare. The reason is that he had a SOUND. His sound. A sound as identifiable as a close friend's voice. And he – and indeed all the players mentioned above and more – were so clear in their conception that it rang out clearly through the sound of their instruments no matter where they were or who they played with. They had a voice that we continue to recognise many years in the future across millions of miles of space and despite perhaps never having met any of them.

Today, Dave Weckl tries to travel and tour with his own mics, EQs and mixing desk so he can be in complete control of the sound he's sending from his drums to the front of house sound system. He cares so deeply about getting his conception across that he has taken the time to put together a rig that reproduces as closely as he can the sound he wants from his drums on a night to night basis. He leaves little to chance. I don't know Dave personally, but I can only surmise that it's because he views his sound as part of him; as an expression of a very personal and unique concept that he's trying to bring to his listeners.

As drummers we often get preoccupied with the physicality of playing our instruments. And when we think about learning to play what one of our heroes has played, we focus on the rights and lefts and foots of it all. We don't always stop to think enough about SOUND. That is, how does something as simple as the relationship in pitch between the bass drum and snare drum effect the way our heroes' grooves sound? How do their cymbals effect the way their playing fits into the overall composition of the tune? These are all questions I'm sure the greats have all asked themselves in some form or another.

What lessons can we learn from these examples? When we go to create from our own experiences and from our own tastes, do we take the time to think hard and long about what sort of sound we're trying to make? Do we think about our voice?

Look, I have nothing against the person who decided to throw their bass drum head choice to the winds of popular webz opinion. If that's good enough for them, who am I to say it's wrong? Heck, it might even be part of some kind of cool concept that they're going for. Crowd-sourced drum sound anyone? Either way, my hope is that they'll put the head on and experiment with it for a bit and learn more about what they like and don't like. And hopefully that will lead them to start to question more deeply what it is they're trying to say on their drums. To ask “What do I want to sound like?”

And I have nothing against the responses, either, because I presume they come from those people having made their own discoveries about what they like and don't like and about what they want to sound like. They're merely expressing their own joy and enthusiasm at having found a sound that gets them all jazzed up and raring to play. And that's the whole point. But lost in all of it was the idea that the questioner ought to choose a sound and then pick the head that best suited that concept.

Wouldn't it be incredible if we all had drum voices as distinct as our speaking voices? Imagine being able to identify each other from just a few strokes played. Of course this is a ridiculous and impossible ideal and will likely never be realised. However, as far back as there have been drums, they've been used as communication tools. The hint is in the name “instruments”. They're a means to an end. The end being to convey an internal conception to other people across space and time, whether it be “things are cool up here on the mountain” or something more subjective and artistic in scope. So, in a way, by going down this path, we're honouring a tradition that is as old as our instrument itself. And when we think of great communicators and public speakers, we think of people who can clearly articulate even the most complex ideas. That is, they can take even a difficult or remote concept and put it to us clearly, and succinctly and often in a manner which is distinctive and unique to them. Think of Churchill's speeches, or Martin Luther King Jr.'s inimitable oratory style. Can we create such a unique and distinctive style of speaking through our drums?

Today, thanks to a bevy of top-notch designers and manufacturers – not to mention technological advances in electronics -- we have the option to personalise our sound in ways not possible in the past. But simply using different heads, cymbals or compressors from the next player isn't enough. Because that doesn't really get to the question of why we've made those choices? It doesn't really go to how we manipulate those factors to create our own sound. For that, we need a concept.

We can dig in and try to listen to the little drummer that sings from somewhere deep in our minds. If we can find that most intimate and personal of sounds and find a way to amplify it and bring it into the world, we will have accomplished one thing our heroes have done. And who doesn't want that?

Monday, 10 June 2013

Elvis, Guns N Roses and Taylor Swift walk into a bar...

You may think I'm about to launch into an odd joke (or brag about a legendary night out) but I'm actually going to talk about a concept that connects these artists who, at first glance, might seem to have little connecting them besides their ability to sell millions of records. Well, on second thought what I'm going to speak about does have something to do with their ability to sell millions of records.

You see, all three have had success from – in part – tapping into a long and storied musical tradition that dates back at least to the 1920s, and probably further than that. As we'll see, all three have made use of a particular rhythm which has formed the rhythmic backbone of a whole host of popular songs for nearly a century of recorded popular music.

Being that our primary job as drummers is to provide the rhythmic bedrock on which great songs are built, I think it's important that we take note of these sorts of rhythmic connections. Not only does studying these connections enrich our knowledge of the history and progression of the drum set specifically and pop music generally, but it also provides us with a creative tool for creating effective and appropriate parts when we're asked to do so.

With all that out of the way, let's get down to business. We're going to start by looking at three songs. First, Hound Dog by Elvis Presley: 

Second, Sweet Child O Mine by Guns and Roses:

And finally, I Knew You Were Trouble by Taylor Swift:

So what do these three songs have in common? The answer is that they share an underlying rhythmic structure based on this rhythm:


In order to hear this relationship, play all three songs again while clapping the rhythm above. You'll note that if you continue to clap this rhythm throughout each tune the various parts played by the musicians and the the rhythm of the melody dance on and off this rhythm, while continually referring back to it. In the case of Hound Dog the rhythm is played explicitly by the upright bass from the first bar of the tune. In Trouble, the guitar and then the bass drum lock into this pattern right from the beginning, though it's only implied on the choruses. In the case of Sweet Child O Mine, several of the instruments outline this rhythm distinctly though it's never as obvious as in the other two songs. But, it's undoubtedly there.

Many of you will be familiar with this rhythm which is – variously – called a One Bar Clave, African Clave,
Tresillo or Habanera in Afro-Cuban music and The Charleston in North American popular music. It has found its way into popular music all around the Americas and the Caribbean and has it's roots in the music of African slaves in those locations. The Charleston style of music and dance appeared in the 1920s in a Broadway musical called Runnin Wild. Here's the rhythm as played by the composer of that show, James P. Johnson: 


It's likely this rhythm had prior history in North America in the music of New Orleans and other places, but Johnson took his inspiration from the music of the dockworkers in Charleston, South Carolina. Whatever its genesis, it was its incarnation as The Charleston which first engrained it in the consciousness of a wider - and whiter - popular audience. The Charleston was a popular form of dance in white speakeasies during the 1920s. After that, we hear the same rhythm popping up in the Swing era in the works of Big Band composers. It also made its way into various forms of Blues and early RnB that eventually morphed themselves into Rock and Roll. The specifics of this chunk of history are beyond the scope of this article, but it was through these influences that the rhythm found its way into 1950s music such as Hound Dog. The jump to Guns n Roses is 30 years and the jump from there to Taylor Swift another 20 years. But, as we can see, all three songs are connected to a long tradition that spans basically the entire history of 20th/21st century popular music and the history of the drumset itself. So, if we take the time to trace the evolution and use of this rhythm, we bring ourselves into contact with nearly a century of music and begin to explore the deep roots of what we play on the drum set.

Beyond being a history lesson, why is this all important? Well, as Dave Dicenso has done a convincing job of arguing in his – absolutely stellar – book Universal Rhythms, once we become aware of the underlying rhythmic structure of any song that we're playing, we have a framework around which we can create our own patterns and improvisations without losing sight of, or detracting from the general rhythmic message of the song. As long as our patterns (say, our drum groove and/or the parts played by other instruments) refer to or are in some way based on a shared underlying rhythm such as The Charleston they will fit together and work mutually to propel the time feel forward. There needn't be one instrument playing the rhythm as explicitly as it is in I Knew You Were Trouble. These “skeleton rhythms”, as Dicenso calls them, are like the wiring under the board.

And what is it about The Charleston that makes it such an effective rhythmic tool? I think the answer lies in the natural tension and release inherent in the rhythm. To help elucidate this, we first have to define a word that drummers often use, but sometimes don't understand: syncopation. Far from being simply the title of one of the most recommended drum method books ever published, syncopation is at the heart of what we do. Simply put, syncopation means “disturbed accent.” When we say “accent” we're referring to the strongly felt pulses of either the quarter note or of the half note, depending on the style of music. Generally notes played on the strongly felt accents tend to create a feeling of rest whereas notes played on subdivisions that don't line up with these strong accents create varying kinds of rhythmic tension and propulsion.

In the Charleston rhythm, we begin on the most strongly felt pulse; beat 1. Our next note is on the and of 2, generating a feeling of jumping off of beat 2 and toward the strong pulse of beat 3. This tension is present whether we're feeling all four quarter notes as strong accents or the half notes on 1 & 3. The third and final note in our rhythm lands again on the strong pulse of beat 4. Or, if we're feeling the pulse in half notes it lands on an upbeat – creating tension of it's own between beat 3 and the 1 of the following bar. Personally, I find that I tend to conceive of the Charleston as played against a half note pulse. This creates the greatest sensation of tension and release as the second and third notes push and pull around beat 3 with the tension finally fully released on 1.

A simple exercise: clap the Charleston rhythm against both a quarter note and a half note pulse, either played with your feet or by a metronome. Pay particular attention to the sense of tension and release created by the rhythm against the constant pulse. Of course, you may hear the tension and release points differently than I do. There are no hard and fast rules about this stuff.

Another way to conceive of this rhythm, and one which can be very helpful when improvising is to think of it as the division of 8 eighth notes into groups of 3, 3 and 2. Accordingly, this allows the substitution or interjection of any rhythm totaling 3 eighth notes into the first two sections (or one idea of 6 eighths) followed by any rhythm totaling two eighths. I'll say more about the 3-3-2 concept in another installment.

If you're like me, you'll geek out on this and you'll end up hunting for this (and other underlying rhythms) in all kinds of songs. A few more examples of popular tunes that use this figure include:

All My Loving, I Want To Hold Your Hand, She Loves You and pretty much every early Beatles tune

Jumping Jack Flash 
How Sweet It Is
Brown Eyed Girl 
Billy Jean  
The Passenger (Iggy Pop)
Wake Me Up Before You Go Go 
Clocks (Coldplay)
She Said (Plan B)


Have a listen to some (or all) of these and try to find the Charleston rhythm. Once you've found it, pay close attention to how the other instruments play on and around it. All of these variations can be inspirations for constructing our own parts and improvisations when we come across a tune with the same rhythmic basis. If we collect enough of these sorts of ideas, we're never without something to say/play when confronted with such a situation. It's incredible just how many different ways various artists have found to use and embellish upon this simple framework.

Just like certain harmonic progressions (I/IV/V anyone?) The Charleston rhythm provides a musical connection between literally hundreds of hit songs from the past century. I've found that tapping into this connection helps me to better understand the inner workings of the tunes that use it. It also provides a basis on which to build and create parts that will work together when I'm working on original music. Good luck! 

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Welcome to BoomKa Music

Hideeho! Welcome to my blog. Everyone seems to do one of these introductory posts, so I suppose I will, too.

I'm a professional drummer and percussionist living in Luton, UK. I make my living playing and teaching drums. This blog is going to the serve as the repository of my various musings on the art and science of hitting stuff to make folks boogie.

I've had the opportunity to play with a lot of outstanding musicians all over the world and have appeared in the West End, on UK national tours of West End shows, and with countless bands both at sea and on dry land. I'm a bit of a musical chameleon, perfectly happy playing a theatre show as rocking your socks off in rockabilly style.

I'm currently teaching privately at my home studio, in local area schools and for the New School of Music in Leighton Buzzard.

I hope you enjoy what's to follow.

Leave a comment! Introduce yourself.


Practicing as Problem Solving

The logic is simple: if we want to improve, we need to work on the things we can't do, rather than simply repeat the things we can. The following are some simple techniques you can apply to assess and conquer your drumming problems.

Ask yourself, “WHAT AM I TRYING TO PLAY?”

An old teacher of mine used to say, “if you can't hear it, you can't play it.” It took a little while for the profound meaning of this simple seeming statement to sink in. Basically, before the impulse comes to move the stick toward a drum or cymbal, there is a conception of the note we're about to play. We need to have an idea in our heads about what we're about to do. Whether that idea is a result of reading a piece of music or hearing something and imitating the sound, the process is the same.

Now that I teach, I can't count the number of times I've had a student tell me that they're struggling with playing something only to find out that they either don't understand or can't read the notation and/or can't clearly hear what it is they're trying to play from a recording. I liken this to trying to read a word out loud in a foreign language that uses a different alphabet without knowing that alphabet beforehand.

So, if you're confronted with a piece of music that you'd like to learn to play, first make sure that you understand all the notation on the page. This might include combinations of notes and rests you've never seen, or form markings like repeats and endings that are unfamiliar, etc. Get some help. Try online, in a music text book or ask a teacher or fellow musician.

If you're working with a recording, one common problem is that the drum part is buried in the mix or goes by too fast to hear. When I was younger, we would hold our fingers down on vinyl records while they were playing to slow them down so we could try to decipher what was happening. Luckily, these days we have access to videos of our favorite drummers to refer to. But in the absence of that, we also have access to music editing and/or recording software that allows us to manipulate sound recordings to make it easier to hear what's being played. Personally, I use an open source piece of software called Audacity. It's simple to download and install and fairly intuitive to use. I sometimes import MP3 recordings of songs I or my students want to learn and then use the Effects generators to slow the recording down and/or equalize certain frequencies up or down to try to expose the drum part. So simple, even a caveman could do it.


I'm fond of a story I once read about Yo Yo Ma. If you don't know, he's a legendary concert cellist who sells out concert halls all around the world. Google him. Or have a look on Youtube. Whether you're a big fan of classical music or not, mastery is mastery. Anyway, it's said that when Yo Yo was first learning to play the cello, he would take very difficult pieces of music and learn them one bar at a time. Sometimes it would take him weeks to work out one single bar of a famous solo piece. Many would say these pieces were “too advanced” for a player of his calibre, but he didn't know that. He simply dove right in and had the discipline to work out the fingerings and bowing patterns he needed to use to get the notes on the page into the right order. Now, I certainly don't expect all my beginner students to get themselves a copy of Zappa's infamous The Black Page and start working it out, but I think the example demonstrates that with the right kind of slow, deliberate practice, great things are made possible.

Practice new material slowly. VERY slowly. Don't worry about playing things in time the first few times through. I call this playing stepwise. Simply play through the part putting the notes/motions in order. After you've figured out the sequence of notes and motions you need to make, then you can put them into strict time. Be disciplined about this. If this means taking 2 minutes between two 16th notes to figure out the next set of motions you need to make, so be it. The point is to stop and take the time to figure out what exactly you're trying to play so that you have a clear conception of it for next time. Remember what was said above – you can't play what you can't hear.

If the part seems fairly simple to you and within your technical abilities, then play through in time, but make sure to put the notes in the right order. If you hit any trouble spots. Stop. Put the right note in the right place. Then carry on to the next problem area or to the end of the selection, whichever comes first. Don't gloss over wrong notes hoping that they'll magically put themselves in the right place later on. Face up to your demons! Also, keep track of these trouble spots either mentally or by marking the music with your trusty pencil. You know, the one you always have with your music stuff...

From here on in, we're going to focus on the stuff you can't do, not the stuff you can. A lot of great research has been done in the past few years into the phenomenon of “talent”. The question posed by many of the authors is, “what makes people who are really good at things really good at those things?” And one of the answers that comes up time and again is PRACTICE. I just heard you collectively say “DUH! That's obvious, dude.” But what isn't obvious is that great athletes and musicians often use a similar kind of practice. Rather than constantly repeat what they already know and do well, they find the holes in their game and patch them up.

A majority of your practice time should be spent working on stuff you can't do very well, yet. Of course there is room for playing your favorite groove over and over while imagining yourself in front of a stadium full of adoring fans. But, if that's the only kind of “practice” you do, you won't see much progress. Progress is largely about improving stuff we do badly. So we need to have the honesty and courage to face up to our weaknesses and the drive to kick their butts with dedicated practice.


Here's how it works: now that you've figured out where your trouble spots are, you're going to ZOOM IN on those areas and REPEAT them many times until they are no longer troublesome. This could mean zooming in on a whole bar or just two 32nd notes.This process should – as always – start very slowly and in stepwise fashion. Be patient. Give your poor brain a chance to catch up to your ego. Of course, sometimes there are underlying problems with our technique or coordination that make it very difficult to play a part as a whole at first. If so, move on to the following steps.


This concept is simple enough, if you'll pardon the pun. Essentially, we're going to break the part we're trying to play into bite size chunks. Just like you wouldn't try to chew an entire steak at once, with musical problems it pays to bite off smaller bits and chew them well.

One simplification technique is to isolate limbs. If the part requires 4 limbs to play and it's too difficult, perhaps try 3. Or 2. Or even 1 at a time. Another similar technique is to isolate your hands from your feet. Once you can play the part using one limb or a combination of a few limbs, then add in the others one at a time. Or you can take parts played on many surfaces and move them to one surface to work out the sticking and, once done, move it back to multiple surfaces either all at once, or a little bit at a time. Think of it like building a house from the ground up. You can't put the roof on until the foundations and walls are firmly in place.


Once you think you have a particular trouble spot conquered, it's time to work on transitioning in and out of it. To do this, I usually make short loops of 2-4 bars including some bars preceding and following the trouble spot. I play these loops repetitively at slow speeds, first stepwise then on my own or adding a metronome or track to keep my time in check. If you're wondering how to make a loop of a track – remember Audacity? Such programs will allow you to easily snip out a piece of music, loop it and play it back at various speeds while you play along. SCIENCE!

Once you're able to play the (no longer a) trouble spot in a short loop, expand the context to include an entire section of your piece or even the whole piece depending on where you're at. If it isn't to play the section or the entire piece at the correct performance tempo, you'll need to work progressively with a metronome to get everything up to speed. You have a couple of options here.

  1. Work up sections of the song to performance tempo one at a time, then put them together.
  2. Work out all your trouble spots, and attempt to work up the entire piece to peformance tempo as a unit.

Which path you choose here may depend on the length and difficulty of the piece, how many trouble spots you have, etc. Remember that we're problem solving here. The exact same method isn't going to work for every problem.


Sometimes we come across things that we just can't do just yet. Perhaps our left foot isn't up to scratch with our other limbs. Perhaps our finger control needs work. Perhaps we just need to be able to play a decent single stroke roll to play a certain tom fill. When we come across these troubles in the course of trying to play new music, it's a good idea to go in search of exercises which will improve these areas. In these cases, sometimes I use exercises in books or that I've gotten from teachers to address my specific weaknesses. Other times, I develop little exercises of my own that target the weakness I've spotted. I come up with a few different ways of working on the problem and I start including these in my practice routine alongside the specific work I'm doing on the piece(s) I'm learning.

I think this is a very important step in building a strong technical foundation. Because while it's possible to get through a piece of music and learn the specific motions needed to play that piece, it's wise to build a strong foundation of fundamental technique that can be used to play all kinds of different things. Rather than just being able to play the fills in 1 song really well, we need to develop the technique to play the fills in many songs AND be able to create our own when the time comes. Many new and self-taught drummers who come to me for lessons have knowledge/technique which is a mile wide, but only a centimetre deep. I'm of the mind that it's better to have things the other way around, because often a deep technical foundation will be applicable to many songs, genres and styles. Single strokes are the same the world over.


After the first one, the techniques listed above are largely interchangeable. They may not end up happening in precisely the order in which they're laid out here. Don't be too rigid. We're problem solving, and sometimes problem solving means being flexible in our thinking and perhaps coming at the problem from a number of angles. Sometimes, stepwise practice and copious amounts of zooming in and repeating won't get you where you want to go right away. In such a case, you may have to spend significant time plugging some holes. But, don't get discouraged. When we get knocked back by a challenging piece, we have a choice to lie down, whine and cry and lick our wounds. We can tell ourselves, “I suck, I'll never get it!” and start a vanity thread on a drumming forum. OR, we can look at it as a learning opportunity. We can be brave and look our weaknesses in the face and set out to conquer them in time. Who would you rather be? The person who shrinks back from every little set back? Who takes their ball and runs home at the first sign of trouble? Or a person who – with great patience and mighty determination – works to come back bigger, faster and stronger the next time?


To defeat a powerful foe, we need a plan of attack and we need to stick to it. Like an MMA fighter, we need to focus on our opponent, learn all of their weaknesses and come up with a game plan to beat them. Then we need to train and prepare.

To defeat your playing foes, start by keeping a practice journal where you type or write down your long, medium and short term goals. For example, perhaps you want to play Mr. Brightside by The Killers. The verses of this song require the ability to play a single stroke roll as 16th notes at around 149 BPM. Depending on where you're at in your drumming career, that may seem like a doddle or it may seem like an impossible hill to climb. Either way, the process of goal-setting should be the same.

Start by setting your long-term goal. E.g. “By this date I want to be able to play Mr. Brightside. I think it's important to set a definite date, but be realistic. Now, sometimes the date is set for us – i.e. there is an upcoming performance or audition for which we need to know the material. As always, push yourself, but be realistic. Everything is possible, but some things are more possible than others...

Now, let's set some short and medium term goals. These are going to be detemined by where you're at in your development. If you can already play 16th notes at 140 BPM, you'll set different goals than if you can only play them at 100 BPM. So, here's a medium term goal for a person in the second position: “By this date, I'm going to be able to play my single strokes at 120 BPM.” Again, be realistic. Expecting a 20 BPM jump in your single strokes in a week is probably expecting too much. However, a month of regular practice might very well get you there.

A short term goal would be “today, I'm going to play this single stroke exercise to 80 BPM.” If you tick off that goal, then you set another one, “next practice session, I'll play it to 84 BPM.” Slow and steady wins the race. Be the tortoise, not the hare. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, Google “tortoise and hare”.

Keep careful track of your progress, and plan your practice routines around these goals. Know what you're going to practice before you pick up your sticks. Stay on task and mark down your achievements toward your goals. Write down any difficulties you have a long the way, or any observations. For instance, if you're playing has taken a step back but you haven't had a good night's sleep in 3 days, write that down. Keep an eye on what seems to make your practice sessions successful and what hinders them. Perhaps you get more done in the morning than in the evening? Maybe a meal or a cup of coffee immediately before gets your fires burning.

Now and again, review your goal dates. If you're way ahead of schedule, revise them accordingly. If you're behind, assess whether or not you're really putting in enough work to get the job done or whether you simply bit off more than you could chew. It's okay if you did. Discovering this doesn't mean you suck or will never be good or that you won't reach your goals. Rather, it's a learning opportunity. You've just learned a little about yourself, and about your process of getting better and about how to set appropriate goals.

Once again, it's your process. No two players get to their goals in exactly the same way or in the same timeframe. And don't get discouraged if you are practicing well and the gains aren't coming steadily. Sometimes we may work away for a while only to have the improvement come in a big, sudden jump. Sometimes it comes in a steady, linear fashion. The key is to do the work and not waste valuable time and energy worrying about outcomes or comparing yourself to others. You can't control that stuff, so don't bother trying. What you can control is how well you set and work toward your goals.

Happy practicing. Leave a comment. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more!