People often ask me about a training program. What could they do to improve their drumming and or improve more rapidly? I put together the following suggestions based on my own training program that I have followed for many years. Those of you who know me personaly know I am a bit of a fanatic so of course you can tone down the program to suit your own personal needs. So just take a few ideas from here or all of them. “Arai gor dai” as they say in Thailand (“up to you”)!
Training and practicing is different for everyone. I have been teaching drummers for over 30 years and following these methods will definitely improve your drumming skills on every level.
So here we go. One to three times per day listen to music from the country or the type of music you want to lay. For example if you are studying music from Guinee listen to music from there when you are washing the dishes, an odd job, cleaning the house your yoga or doing your internet. Have it on in your car. It is especially good to listen first thing or right before bed. You do not have to study it, just listen to it to help you immerse in it. Since we did not grow up with this music it is important to familiarise yourself with it by listening consciously and subconciously.
If you are abe to drum where you live try to make contact with your drum or instrument on a daily basis. Even if it is just 5 minutes, that is better then nothing. As far as traing for rapid advancement goes you need to play 45 minutes a day 5 to 7 days a week. Start your session with stretching your wrists using the exercises I have shown in one on my drum yoga videos here or on Youtube or use your own if you have them.
The next step is to play anything you like on the drum without discipline. This is just to free you up and to get loose. Depending on how much time you have alotted you can do this long or short.This is the warm up section. So get loose and free.
Once you have gotten warmed up I suggest you work on technique for making sounds. Hit tone-slap-bass-muff. Start slowly. This is the the rudimentary part of the training. If you have drum exercises you practice such as flams, double strokes, etc. this is where I do them. You can never work too much on your basic techniques for hitting the drum. If you have a mirror watch yourself and see how you can improve your technique simply by watching and learning. You will be surprised what the mirror will tell you!
Practice making rolls. Try three notes, then four notes, then five notes then six notes. Rolls are important for soloing. Do this in succession several times or as many as you can. People wonder how the master drummers get those wonderful rolls they play. It is practice or what they call “repetition” in West Africa. Make sure you are as relaxed as possible when you make rolls. Also check that you are breathing normally and not holding your breath. If you are practicing in a mirror check to see that you are not making strange or strained faces when you play difficult techniques.
For the next step in my percussive practice ritual, I pick a drum rhythm I want to work on. Say for example Sinte from Guinee,West Africa, but it can be anything you like. Any rhythm you want to work on. To start, I simply start to play and explore Sinte. I step back from myself in a sense, and watch myself play it. I detach from myself as much as I can and just let the rhythm or part happen. If I am doing mirror training then I watch myself in the mirrror while I play my djembe or conga drum and if I am hanging to one side or another then I correct my posture.
One thing I notice about my drumming practice is that if I am not careful I always fall naturaly into a certain speed. Most people do this and it is counter productive. You actually want to change the speeds you play at. When I notice this in my own playing or in a students playing, I try to push the speed faster, faster and fastest with out creating any tension in my body, especially my arms, wrist, neck. When you are speeding up check to see if there is tension or pain and if there is lighten up your hits and strokes until the pain disapears. If something hurts at any time simply slow down, lighten up or stop.
Next is another important drum practice that almost no one does is to slow down any rhythm you play as slow as you can. Try it. You will be amazed how hard it is to play. Another thing to practice is playing a rhythm left handed and right handed. Great training for balancing out the brain and the body. You do not have to do all these things in one practice session. They are just techniques to help you improve. Mix and match and see what works for you.
When I am exploring a certain rhythm pattern I subtly try to play the basic drum rhythm but make ever so slight variations in the pattern. Replace a tome with a slap and slap with a tone. See what it is like to leave a note out, to repeat a section. From this you will start to get soloing ideas as well. This works for any kind of hand drumming be it West African, Afro Cuban or world drumming.
If you are studying west african, afro cuban or any other traditional hand drumming with a teacher or from lesson tapes or videos it is good to listen to the class tape or watch the video from class (or go over your notes) the same day or night you had the class. You do not have to decipher it all. The review is to just keep it fresh. Then if you can, put it on your stereo or computer (however you listen or watch) first thing in the morning, even if it is just on in the back round while you eat your breakfast for example.
People often say they do not have time to train or practice because of work but all of these things can be done while you do other things as I mentioned above. It’s all a matter of focus and intention. Just put these things into your daily life. Meanwhile, to avoid becoming overwhelmed with too much material, simply pick one rhythm or one part and work on just that one part or piece until you really have it or “own it” so to speak. Then move on to the next one. If you work on one piece or one part at a time you will feel a sense of accomplishment and you really get a chance to work on it and to own it. Often I will take an African drum class from a master djembe drummer like Bolokada Conde. He gives out so much information during one class it is impossible to get it all. I am still working on parts and phrases as well as solo techniques from classes I took in Brazil, Cuba and Mali years ago! So make sure when you take your classes you bring your recording device of some sort so you can refer back to it later.
If you are studying in a group class or have friends who play make a concerted effort to get together for a study group where you pick one two or three rhythms and try and reconstruct the arrangement from your class, from your notes or from where ever you or they got it from. The re construction process helps to train the mind to set up the pieces and to see them three dimensionaly or as a whole, rather then parts on a piece of paper.
With your group of friends be sure to take turns playing each part so that each person gets to play or try each part. Many people do not like playing the dunduns (dununs/djundjuns) in traditional west african music or the clave or politos in Afro Cuban drumming because they think they are boring parts. However, by learning these parts you can truly know the piece inside and out. That is what we are going for!
I hope these suggestions and tips help you rapidly improve your drumming style. If you have any tips you would like to ad, please feel free to mail them to me here and we will add them as well!