How to Practice

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By Shaquille Headley, Drums Instructor

Practicing. It’s something we’re all told to do and know we should do, but many of us don’t know how or why. Today, I’d like to share a couple of things I’ve learned over the years in hope of giving you some new things to think about when attempting to do this thing we call practice.

First and foremost, go SLOW. Too often do I see people trying to go too fast too soon, as they seem to believe practicing slowly is boring and that playing fast is more impressive and sounds better. While some of these things may be true, they are only true once you have a solid grasp on whatever it is you are practicing! Trust me, playing something fast and sloppy will never sound good, and it is not impressive (in fact, it’s the opposite). Going fast is just a round-a-bout way of wasting time. For instance, if you are practicing a certain passage or riff on your instrument and you start out really fast, chances are you are going to make mistakes. This will inevitably lead to you stopping, slowing down the tempo, and starting over again. This process is then repeated over and over again until you find the tempo in which you can actually play the passage cleanly, with no mistakes. So my question is, instead of starting fast and wasting all of this time slowing down, why not just start slow and then speed up? You’ll be saving yourself hours in the long run, and I guarantee that you will learn said passage quicker than you would have otherwise. Now don’t get me wrong; this doesn’t mean you should never practice fast. You should be able to play your riff at a variety of tempos, and the time will come when you will be able to play it very fast. But remember: you have to learn how to walk before you can run.

The second thing I’d like to discuss is concentration. In today’s society, it is increasingly hard to concentrate on one thing at a time due to the overwhelming amount of technology and information that is available, but it is still a very important skill to have. I find that the number one determining factor as to whether my students can play something or not isn’t their lack of skill, but lack of concentration. Concentration is definitely something that is hard to teach and takes a lot of discipline, so it is always an ongoing work in progress. One thing my teacher always told me was that if I could play something seven times in a row without making a mistake and I mess up on the eighth time, I’m not concentrating hard enough. I still follow this rule to this day, and I find it to be a great exercise to incorporate into whatever it is you are practicing. Try it! It’s harder than you think.

I hope I’ve given you a couple things to think about today and I urge you to try them for yourself. I think you’ll be surprised by just how effective they really are.

“Progress will not come in a day, but it must come daily.” – Anonymous

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