Thursday, July 3, 2014

Speed Limit in Effect

The most profound practice technique I've ever encountered is to practice ‘dead slow’. This may seem counter intuitive, especially when speed would seem to be such a basic requirement for a drummer, but taking it as slowly as possible has some amazing benefits.

First of all, slow tempos can be difficult to maintain, so practicing with your metronome set from 40 bpm to no more than 60 bpm will give you lots of practice at slow tempos.

Secondly, when you slow it down, you can hear the relationship between various strokes. Does your hi-hat sync with your snare hand? Do your feet and hands hit together? Are you rushing sixteenth notes? Dragging triplets?

Slowing down also forces you to think about things. It's often possible to play something reasonably well at a comfortable tempo and yet not be able to truly play it. Take any pattern you like -- one that you're fairly familiar with -- and try playing it at 60 bpm. My guess is it will take some time to get the various parts under control. When you practice painfully slow, it's more difficult to switch into ‘auto-pilot mode’. Your instincts and experience can't bail you out, so you have to think about and take control of every stroke and movement.

Perhaps the best outcome of slow practice is mastery of the rhythmic feel. Again, it's counter intuitive: How can you 'feel' anything when it’s almost too slow to recognize it as a rhythm? Slow tempos give you time to examine your articulation, and how one stroke plays against the next. You can't tell if your strokes are well articulated and evenly spaced if they're flying by too fast to monitor.

Same with rhythms. When played up-tempo, things usually sound more or less OK, but playing slowly will show you exactly what it sounds like and whether it adheres to the parameters of the music. An easy way to spot a lack in this area is by listening to swing or shuffle rhythms. Drummers who have not practiced these rhythms slowly -- and have not mastered the basics -- usually don't play them very well.

Now, having said all this, slow practice is not the whole story. You need to have speed, so practice that as well. But when trying to master new things, set your metronome to 60 bpm (40 bpm if you can stand it) and stay on it until the movements are second nature. And when it's time to play those same patterns up to speed, you may be amazed at how easily they will come to you and how good they will sound and feel.

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