Size Matters

A few years ago I made a resolution to learn the piano. The plan was to start a daily routine of practice and self improvement until after X number of years I would become a competent/excellent/world changing pianist.

The Honeymoon

As is the norm with the early stages of any such pursuit my schedule of practice and self improvement began well. The novelty of gaining the basic coordination skills required to play a simple tune drove me on to spend numerous hours in front of the keyboard. As I loaded my microKORG onto the luggage belt at the airport for the family holiday it was fairly clear…the obsession was in full flight.

The Reality

Six months later and the keyboard was back under the bed gathering dust. Sound familiar? After numerous such instances I started reflecting on how to go about applying myself properly when a new interest came, and inevitably, went. The best place to look would seemingly be the one thing I have stuck at over the years. The drum kit.

Back to the Start

Young and clueless

So at 13, watching enviously as my brother unpacked his new Premier kit, why did I pick up a pair of sticks and (vitally) not put them down? What was the difference in my approach when it came to the drums when so many other interests had fallen by the wayside?




A Question of Scale

The micro approach

On reflection, one of the solutions here seems to be about the scale of the approach. Giving proper attention to the micro rather than the big picture or the macro. The big picture, whilst also being the very thing that inspires at the beginning, can stifle progress and eventually become fatal to the whole pursuit. The sheer size of the journey ahead seems insurmountable. Addressing the task in small (or even microscopic) chunks, whilst less instantly gratifying, can lead to real progress. So far, so glaringly obvious. Right? No pain, no gain and all that. Well actually the point here is about how specific and exacting you’re willing to be. It’s the difference between spending an hour a day working on your ‘jazz’ playing, or an hour a day on left foot independence with a right hand ostinato. Applying the requisite levels of patience, commitment and diligence that this method requires can set you on the path to tangible improvement.

In Practice

26 and still Cluless

So what does this mean for your day-to-day practice plan? Identifying where your weaknesses lay is the first port of call. These may be broad issues such as ‘I don’t have a good feel’ or a more specific concern: ‘I dont have enough control over my ghost notes’. However large or small the problem, it should be addressed in a precise way. An hour working on ‘feel’ might be fun but is essentially just an estimation of the problem. Try and find an exercise that addresses the issue head-on and practically. If your ‘feel’ isn’t right, record yourself playing along to a classic drum groove then listen back. If you hear any flams or inconsistencies from the original recording, adjust your playing accordingly. If ghost notes are the problem write out permutations of paradiddles, split the hands between snare and hats and keep the accents on 2 + 4.


Time to spare 

Dedicating the necessary amount of time and effort to each problem is also a key requirement. I’ve been working on an

Alan Dawson – Guru

Alan Dawson single-stoke roll exercise for over 2 years! The aim not being completion of the exercise but instead maximising the benefits you garner along the way.

Applied in the correct way over a long enough period, this ethos can bring real improvement. Maybe next time I sit down at the piano i’ll try and remember to find enjoyment in the small challenges. Then the big picture will take care of itself.





Filed under Opinion Articles

3 Responses to Size Matters

  1. Hi Sam, I dig your vibe, man – can’t help myself with the hipster patois! – and this article really speaks to me.

    I tried several instruments as a kid, but it was drums that ‘took’, aged 13. I must confess I’ve often been a bit slack, practice wise, and I’ve subsequently spent almost as much time playing various guitars as I have drums. I’ve also added bass and keys to the arsenal, including upright ‘bull fiddle’ and a Rhodes 54 (formerly owned by Mr Pescod). Whilst I don’t want to stop with any of these instruments, I do nonetheless want to really focus on improving my core drumming skills, and I’ve had persistent issues in some areas for like, well, forever!

    Occasionally I manage to shrink my focus down on to one or three of the various issues – bass drum control/stamina/speed; stick control & hand techniques (fast single-handed sixteenths, a la ‘funky drummer’ / samba jazz / speed metal are a real bugbear for me); and so on – yet still my awareness of the magnitude of my overall shortcomings seems to frequently crush the will to persist with disciplined focus.

    However, I do feel I have slowly been evolving towards the sort of ideas you describe above: writing out various permutations of exercises that might help, spending lots of time on them, etc. I also realise I need to do it with a metro-gnome more often: I tell mine I’ll always count on her, but she’s not always there for me!

  2. Mike Walsh

    Sam…thank you for the insights. Oftentimes, it’s the little reminders that time spent on something you CAN’T do is the most valuable. Also, keeping at something over the long haul yields benefits other than the expertise one seeks.

    Again, thank you for sharing.


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