Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Stay On Track With A Practice Matrix

It's a problem as old as human existence: How do we keep track of all the things we need to do and how do we make sure they get done without getting overwhelmed or confused or losing items through the cracks?

Entire industries have grown up around this problem, but so far I've yet to see a formalized system for easily setting and staying on a drum practice schedule. I've tried a number of methods, and whether it's for practicing my instrument or managing the rest of my somewhat chaotic life, it sometimes seems like a lost cause.

Lately I've turned to a system I used back in university to manage research papers, and which I've kept using whenever I need to manage a lot of disparate items: 3 x 5 cards. It really began just as a means to jot down practice ideas. Then the cards began to stack up. So I punched holes in them and put them on a ring. I could then page through the cards while working on the various ideas.

For example, here's my card layout for “4-Way Coordination: A Method Book for the Development of Complete Independence on the Drum Set” by Marvin Dahlgren and Elliot Fine.

Each time I practice a pair of exercises (there are 2 on each line), I put a tick on the card. In this case I want to work through the early material fairy quickly, so I'll do each exercise pair 10 times then move on to the next. There's room on the card for pages 5 and 6 for a total of 80 days of practice!

Here's another for ‘Basic Rock Beats’. The rows represent a bass drum pattern and the columns are ride patterns.

Let's say I practice each figure for five minutes a day and spend a half hour on a row or column. It will take 6 days to play every pattern on the card. If my goal is to play each one 10 times, that gives me 60 days worth of practicing on a single 3 x 5 card. On a card like this, I might work on a single column or a single row or once through the entire card until I've racked up my objective. 

I now keep a few blank cards with me at all times, and when I have a new idea I put it on a card.
Later I'll add the card to the stack. When I'm completely done working with a card, I pull it from the stack and file it.

As I worked with this simple method, a number of unexpected benefits emerged. First, there is no need to copy from one page to the next as when using a notebook.  I can also pick and choose cards according to mood. 

The great news is that I feel less pressured when working with the cards. I attribute this to the tight focus of what's on the card. Instead of a full page of 'expectations', I have just the one thing in front of me and that helps me to 'be in the moment' and to not feel intimidated by all the things I'm not working on. I can also see my progress more readily as I work on new things. Instead of the feeling of "When will I ever accomplish this", I get satisfaction from seeing those tick marks add up.

I'm calmer, more relaxed, and my practice sessions seem to go by rather quickly. Often I've turned over a card to find myself back at the beginning of the stack, yet feeling that I've spent hardly any time at it!

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