Ask the Drummer #1: How Do I Practice and Master a Drum Lick?


Welcome to a new feature, “Ask The Drummer,” where I answer questions sent in by readers. If you have a question, use the contact form on this website, and put “Ask The Drummer” in your subject line.

Hi Mark- I’ve been checking out BANG’s Nasty Drum licks and I started working on the lick in the blog post “Milking Your Licks Dry.” It seems pretty straightforward, but I just am not able to get it down so I can use it. Any advice?
Regards, John

Hi John-
Thanks for writing to “Ask The Drummer.”
The idea you’re talking about, RLRF, is a very useful drum lick and can be used in many different ways. If you are not currently able to master this lick, here is a system to try to remedy that. By the way, for those of you not familiar with the idea John is talking about, have a look at this LINK.

When I get frustrated by not being able to lock down a drumming idea I’m working on, I will often resort to something I’ve begun to call Micro-Practice. The idea behind Micro-Practice is to use a laser-like focus to get whatever lick, independence idea or technique locked in so you can use it at will.

The keys to Micro-Practice:

1) Practice ONLY ONE Lick, Technique, Groove, Independence or Concept.
When I’m in Micro-Practice mode, I do not practice anything else but this one thing. I will spend hours upon hours upon yet even more hours if I need to in order to get this thing locked. You’ll be shocked at how effective it is to be this focused and not jump around from one idea to another.

2) Spend As Much Time As Needed
As indicated in #1 above, practice a lot! Hours per day, not minutes per day. If you want to get it together (whatever your “it” is) you have to spend the time. A lot of time. This is particularly true for difficult multi-limbed independence or technical things. Pick an idea or independence and a tempo goal and work until you get it.

3) Be Methodical
This means:
— Lock down the pattern slowly. Locking it down means that the pattern is memorized and can be played without looking at any paper or notation. When playing it slowly, make sure that the spacing between the notes is perfect.
— Make sure that the various voices are the correct volumes. For RLRF, the most important nuance is that the bass drum is not too loud. The most common mistake that drummers make with hand/foot combinations is to allow the bass drum to dominate the pattern. Keep in mind that the bass drum is the biggest drum on your kit, so it can be all too easy to get a lot of volume. Make sure you adjust for this.
— Have a goal tempo that you want to reach and use a metronome to guide you there. For example, there is a lick I’m working on now that I want to get to 105 bpm. Why 105? I want to use that idea in a specific song and the tempo of that song is 105 bpm. To get there, I’ve been working with a metronome. I started at 80bpm, and I’ve been slowly moving the tempo up in small increments.
— Record yourself. That is the true test of whether your new idea or lick sounds good or not. Record yourself and listen back. The recording doesn’t lie!

4) Can you play the idea “at will”?
When you’ve completed all these steps, test your ability to play your new idea at will. This means playing it thoughtlessly, effortlessly and easily at the appropriate tempos. If you can play it with as much ease as you can play the most simple rock beat and it sounds great, you’re done.

I hope this helps, John!