“Music is not a profession. Music is a way of life – one that requires much professionalism.” ~ Daniel Barenboim
10,000 Hours of Practice
There as been a great deal of research done on how many hours of practice it takes to become an expert at any chosen profession. Anders Ericsson is credited with first suggesting the “10,000 hour rule” in a fascinating research paper entitled “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance.”(click on the title link if you would like to read it) While many researchers have reached the consensus that 10,000 hours is the magic number for true expertise, Ericsson’s paper actually discusses other important factors that can significantly affect the actual number of hours it takes, such as natural ability, and the quality of the practice time.
Wherever your opinion may land on the amount of hours it takes to become a professional drummer, most experts agree that it takes A LOT – many that I have talked to recounting a period in their lives (ranging from 4 to 8 years) where they practiced up to 8 hours a day. I can confidently say that it has taken me more than 10,000 hours to become an expert, and I would say that it is partly due to many hours of sub par or misguided practice. So if you truly desire to become an expert/professional drummer, be prepared to work hard, but even more importantly to work smart in order to get the most out of every hour that you practice. Make sure and read through all of the suggestions in Drum Fillosophy 101 to best improve the quality of your practice time, so that you can reach your drumming goals in hopefully less than 10,000 hours!
Shown below is an estimated breakdown of how many years it will take you to reach 10,000 hours of practice if you commit to practicing a certain amount of time daily:
- 30 Minutes a day —– 54.8 Years
- 1 Hour a day ———- 27.4 Years
- 2 Hours a day ——— 13.7 Years
- 3 Hours a day ——— 9.2 Years
- 4 Hours a day ——— 6.9 Years
- 5 Hours a day ——— 5.5 Years
- 6 Hours a day ——— 4.6 Years
- 7 Hours a day ——— 4 Years
- 8 Hours a day ——— 3.5 Years
Goal Minded Consistency
The two most important things you can do to reach your goals is write them down, and consistently work on them. I recommend making a list of your drumming goals, and putting it where you can see it every time you sit down to practice. Make each goal as specific as possible. For example, don’t just put “Jazz Drumming” on your list. Is it your jazz independence that needs work? Brushes? Trading 4’s? You may want to work on all of these, so include them all under the heading “Jazz Drumming.” Be prepared for your list to evolve and some times change entirely – hopefully because you can check something off after reaching a goal, but often times because your priorities will change. Regardless of why or how often you need to amend your list, acknowledging your goals with a list is crucial to staying on track and budgeting your practice time.
The consistency quotient of reaching your goals requires you to attack your goals daily. This may require you to prioritize and possibly limit the number of goals on your practice list depending on how much daily practice time you plan to commit. Another option if you have a disproportionate number of goals verses time, is to practice in a “round”. This is where you imagine your list as a circle, practice around the circle as far as you can, and then pick up where you left off in your next session. This can help practice routines from becoming stagnant, and also help you consistently hit everything on your list at least semi-daily.
Besides the hard work, and lack of instant gratification associated with practicing to become a professional musician, another significant factor for most people giving up is the inherent amount of failure necessary for improving. You must persevere and learn from mistakes and bad performances (which you would just assume forget). The whole process seems so bass-ackwards at times. In order for you to improve, you must first become aware that you – for lack of a better term – suck. There is no improvement with out sucking awareness, and sucking awareness makes you want to quit.
The solution? For me, I try to view each moment that I gain awareness (realize I suck at something) as empirical proof that I am improving (helpful for most of us who feel like we are never getting any better), as opposed to the more common (and more natural) assumption that I am getting worse. Hopefully you too can learn to view your drumming shortcomings this way, and use it as a motivational tool to persevere in those moments of perceived failure, that are actually more likely to be moments of heightened awareness. If outhustling the competition doesn’t lead to early success for you, then combining it with perseverance will certainly lead to outlasting the competition, and your eventual success!
Don't Just Copy, Steal!
I have yet to run across an accomplished drummer or musician who said they never copied anyone. On the contrary, most great musicians are quick to give credit to their musical heroes, and one of the best questions you can ask your own musical heroes is who did they listen to.
Listening to and copying your favorite players is the most natural and effective way to learn, because it is the way we all learn from birth. We watch, listen, and emulate – and just like babies, there will be a great deal of trial and error. Your music may sound like nonsensical baby babble at first, but with years of persevering emulation and practice, you will eventually speak music on the drums fluently.
I recommend that you copy as many drummers from as many different genres as you can. The pioneers of any genre of music are constantly building on the inspiration of their heroes and predecessors, and often those inspirations come from multiple genres of music. Somewhat ironically, it is this dedication to copying so many different great musicians (combined with your uniqueness) that leads to a fresh and original drumming approach/sound. To ensure your own originality, keep this T.S. Elliot quote in mind, only substitute the word poets with drummers: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.”
Putting some music on in the background can significantly enhance your enjoyment of any given moment, but being a great musician and drummer will require you to find time to listen to music in the “foreground.” This means studying music by listening intently to specific attributes of your favorite artists, which will provide essential insight that can’t be conveyed in words. I like to say that teachers and books can provide you with the how to drum, but dedicated listening to music can provide you with the why. Below are a few suggestions to start your active listening journey.
- When listening to your favorite drum grooves, listen to the bass drum pattern of the drummer and how it relates to the bass players rhythms. Does the drummer play the same pattern on the bass drum? Less notes? More notes? This will be incredibly informative for making good musical choices when creating your own grooves.
- When listening to Jazz drumming, pay close attention to when and where the drummer plays his swing pattern. When does he/she choose to be on the hi-hat, the ride cymbal, or brushes. This will make more sense if you understand Jazz song forms. Keeping your place in the form of tunes is also an incredibly valuable way to actively listen.
- When listening to rock shuffles or swing music, examine the drummers swing interpretation. Is it fairly straight, tripletized/rounded, or tightly swung closer to 16th notes? The amount of swing used in a swing based time patterns varies from drummer to drummer, and often varies as a function of tempo – the faster the tempo, the more the pattern is typically straightened out.
- Don’t always make your active listening about the drummer. Listen to your favorite songs many times, but each time focusing on each of the instruments individually. It will give you further insight as to the “why” of what the drummer played, and it will expand your understanding of any given genre, which may in turn lead to the desire (and competence) to compose your own music.