Building a Practice Routine
Updated: Feb 15, 2019
By: Asa Holgate
I've heard it said that anyone who stands outside a practice room should get the impression that the musician inside isn't very good. While not entirely true, there is something to be gained from that sentiment; ideally, a portion of your practice routine should focus on new material that is still out your reach from a technical standpoint and sounds to an outside listener as if you can't play. More on this later.
All musicians are faced with the task of structuring their practice to effectively maximize the amount of time they have available to dedicate to it. The following is a basic guide to making efficient use of the time you've set aside. My students eventually gain a more in depth understanding of how to further breakdown each section and prioritize the concepts within them as more and more material gets added (exponentially over a lifetime).
Warm Up (5-10 min) - This consists of rudiments or scales (mallet instruments) and technical exercises that you're already familiar with. The focus here should be on learning to relax, or maintaining and increasing control while maximizing efficiency of motion. Pay attention to your posture and the position of your hands and arms. Look for stiffness, or tension, and work to release this wasted energy to improve your overall speed and stamina.
Grooves and Etudes (5-10min) - These are drum set grooves/beats and snare drum or mallet etudes that you are also very familiar with. The focus should be on deepening your pulse, or "pocket", with the drum set grooves; this is more about the feel than technical execution. The same holds true for snare drum and mallet pieces; focus on timing and phrasing.
New Material (20-40min) - Here is where we come full circle to the opening statement. This time is dedicated to groove/beats, etudes, rudiments, scales, and technical exercises that are new to you. This is when an outside listener will hear you make mistakes, start and stop, and slow down your performance to grasp new concepts or techniques. This is the struggle from which growth comes, and it never sounds good to anyone. This is real practice.
The accompanying times above are a beginner's guide and not meant to limit practice time. As you grow as a musician in both your scope and ability, there will come a time where the completion of the above sections will take hours not minutes.
Now go practice!
Asa has over fifteen years experience as both a professional performer and instructor. He holds a Music degree from the University of New Orleans. In addition to teaching privately, he has served as percussion coach for the Youth Orchestras of the Lowcountry and a substitute Drum Instructor at the College of Charleston. He has performed at multiple festivals including Reno Jazz Festival, MOJA Arts Festival, Piccolo Spoleto Festival, and New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Asa has performed for theatre productions of West Side Story and Le Petit Prince, toured with rock bands, and spent three years traveling and performing aboard cruise ships in both jazz trio and show band settings. Since returning to Charleston, he has maintained a steady schedule performing five nights a week. Asa's lessons focus on building a solid foundation by teaching both reading and technique while working with students to create an individualized curriculum specific to their goals as musicians. His personal studies have covered a wide range of musical styles; Asa is a perpetual student engaged in a continuous pursuit of new styles and approaches to his instrument.