Unusual paces, and unusual spaces…How and where do YOU practice?

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While sitting at my desk surfing the ‘net a bit today, I realized that subconsciously all four of my limbs were moving to the beat of a particular song that I was listening to; almost as if I was sitting behind my drum kit playing along.  Then it dawned on me; I do this type of thing all of the time.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t practice near as much as I should/could, and certainly am not anywhere close to where I used to be in the “wood-shedding” department.  However, I was thinking today that perhaps I do practice a little more than I give myself credit for.  Now – hold on for a second (I can feel some of you either yelling at the computer or getting ready to email me) nothing can ever replace the good old fashioned ‘shed’ session at your studio, home, or whatever place  you have to work some things out.  What I’m trying to say is that I think as drummers and percussionists we have a bit of a gift in the sense that we can almost practice anywhere, anytime, as opposed to other instrumentalists (OK maybe vocalists fall in this category too).

Think about it; I’ll bet you do a lot of the same things…that’s what I started thinking about.  Every time I listen to music, or even when I’m just thinking about music I’ll often tap my fingers, wiggle my toes, sometimes even grind my teeth in a rhythm (not recommended by the way!).  Is there some sort of merit to this?  From a pedagogical standpoint, perhaps not.  It’s important to train your muscles in certain ways to get used to playing certain instruments, rhythms, etc.  However, it’s my contention that there is most definitely some value to simply tapping your fingers along to music!  I could list a myriad of positive things – coordination, rhythm, improvisation; just to name a few.  Even though I’m not physically behind a drum kit, I’m still training my limbs to work in conjunction with each other.  I’m exploring syncopation and musicality, most likely because I’m focused more on listening to the music that’s going on rather than some exercise written on a black and white page.  In a sense, I’m working on being a better musician than a drummer which is worth more than its weight in gold.

So sometimes these acts are subconscious, and other times we DO consciously practice albeit in very unconventional ways…  This brings to mind some stories of other drummers I know and some things that I do that are a little bit ‘out of the ordinary.’  One of my favorite stories is from a good friend of mine and amazing drummer Chris Brown.  At one point Chris became the ultimate “multi-tasker” when he combined physical exercise with Latin percussion and came up with the now infamous “conga bike!”  Quite simply, he placed congas within reaching distance while riding his exercise bike and practiced conga techniques while putting a few miles in on the ‘ol elliptical!  Or there’s the story Raymond Massey told me about his foot practice techniques.  Raymond bought some bass drum pedal practice pads and while watching television, would work on his double bass drum patterns.  If any of you have the pleasure of hearing Raymond play, you will quickly realize that this practice paid off for him, as he’s a monster player!!!  I know that Johnny Rabb has been known to have a pair of sticks in the car and practices his Freehand Technique on the steering wheel while sitting at a stoplight (surely he didn’t do it while driving!!! Once he recovers from his stint at the hospital I’m sure he’ll be back in action drumming while driving!  hahaha – just kidding).

In addition, besides tapping your fingers, there are lots of other ways to practice without the use of drums or even sticks.  One thing that I started doing quite a few years ago (I’ve since found out is an old practice technique used by some percussionists) was to tap the palms of my hands together to work on my palm/finger technique on congas.  (Check out the video at the bottom of the page for a better explanation/demonstration)  JoJo Mayer has a cool exercise in his new DVD where he puts his arms together and claps his hands together hundreds of times to build muscles and endurance.  Further, I really think that tapping my hands together or on my chest to some Brazilian or Latin music has helped me to get the phrasing and feel of the music together…something that you cannot learn from a book!

Now I know some of you may be dying to send me emails and complain so I want to make sure to note that I’m in no way advocating abandoning quality practice time.  I’m just being realistic – as life moves forward and our lives get busier, valuable practice time can slip away very quickly.  If you’re a young student of drumming reading this, please practice as much as you can and get behind some real drums!  However, next time you decide to get down on yourself for not practicing enough, try to take some solace in the fact that each time you’re tapping along, moving your feet, etc. you may be helping yourself more than you think.  Above all one thing that I tell all my students and stress in clinics is to become a musician first!!!  Sometimes you just have to think about the music first and a lot of times everything else falls into place.

So what’s your story?  Any weird/strange/cool practice ideas?  I know you’ve got some – let us hear about it!

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