Over many years of teaching, I’ve noticed a few things that come up again and again when I’m working with beginners. In this edition of “The Thinking Drummer,” we’ll look at the top 5 mistakes I see.
If you’re just starting to play drums for the first time ever or even if you’re just fairly new to the instrument, have a look at these common mistakes. Avoid them and I think you’ll move along your path to getting better at the drums more quickly and more efficiently.
1) Failing to slow down
This has to be the most common issue I see. Slowing down something you’re working on is the absolute best way to make your life easier behind the drums. It doesn’t really matter what level of complexity you are dealing with. No matter what it is, if you slow it down, you’re guaranteed to have an easier time learning it. And that rule works forever. Not just for beginners. I slow things down all the time in order to learn them more easily, and I’ve been playing for over 40 years. It works.
2) Mindless repetition of incorrect movements
Some drumming students, in an effort to improve their hand technique, will spend a lot of time practicing, thinking that putting in the time will move them forward. Unfortunately, sometimes, this practice is somewhat thoughtless, and the repetitions are of incorrect or faulty movements.
This kind of practice is actually worse than not practicing because it creates muscle memory for bad technique. The answer is to pay attention to what you’re doing in your technique practice. Know what the stroke you’re working on is supposed to look like so you can use your eyes and body to make adjustments to get you there. Otherwise, you’re just wasting time.
3) Moving too quickly from one exercise to the next
I have sometimes said that I wish drum books only had one exercise on each page. I know it doesn’t really make economic sense to publish books this way, but it makes psychological sense. The problem with a page of 20 exercises is that it creates a psychological desire to hurry through the page. It sets you up to want to finish all 20 exercises quickly so you can get to the next page. The truth is that thinking this way will lead you to “sort-of-knowing-how-to-do-a-lot-of-stuff,” rather than “really-knowing-how-to-do-just-a-few-things.”
Guess which is better? Yup. Sort of knowing a lot is pretty worthless. The point is to stop rushing through that page of 20 exercises. Quiet your mind and tell yourself that you aren’t going to the next exercise until you’ve absolutely mastered the current one. That way, you’ll get something out of each exercise you work on. I see this problem all the time with beginners, so be patient, focus, and take your time.
4) Not enough time on groove and the big picture of songs
Learning to play songs is really important for many reasons, probably the biggest of which is working on groove. But sometimes when I work on a new song with a student, they get too focused on the details of every note the drummer is playing. The better approach is to learn the sections of the song, absorb and analyze the kind of beat the drummer is playing in each section, and dig into being able to play those grooves.
It doesn’t matter if you play exactly what that drummer is playing. Cop the vibe. And cop the vibe of the fills too. Then learn the song well enough that you don’t have to look at any chart while you play it. That allows you to focus on the groove. Make it feel really good. Play simply and play confidently.
5) Too tight!
Tension in arms and upper body and/or squeezing the stick too hard in a death-grip are technique-killers. Unfortunately, I see this a lot in beginners. Loosen up. Take it easy. The bounce comes with looseness. This is a big one.
That’s it for this installment of “The Thinking Drummer,” my beginner friends. Watch out for these mistakes and you’ll be ahead of the pack.