Drum practice and performing are two more of the 5 things every drummer needs, to become a professional working drummer. If you didn’t already read about the first two things, I encourage you to check out Part 1. The first two things to be a professional drummer are:

  1. Have a deep passion for drumming and all things rhythmic
  2. Find a good drum teacher

#3 Develop a sincere love for drum practice

The third thing you’ll need to become a professional drummer is lots and lots of drum practice! I’m gonna tell you straight up. I LOVE to practice. It just feels so good mentally and physically. Let me ask you a question now.

“What does practice make?”

Well, you know what people say, of course.  “It makes perfect.”

I only find one tiny problem with that answer. There’s no such thing is perfect!! It’s unattainable. It’s unrealistic. The word is misused! even so, we use it all the time in drum practice.  We often talk about how we must strive for perfection in our playing. “When I play it perfectly, then I’m going to be satisfied.” 

There have times when I have played things perfectly in drum practice and on gigs. Sometimes it was cool and it felt good. A lot of times though, it was like getting an A+ on a Math test. I was pleased but it wasn’t deeply satisfying.

Drum practice does not make perfect.

Perfection is not the goal of drum practice

Please keep in mind that perfect is not the goal of drum practice.  The real aim of practicing is to get better at drumming so you can do more things on the drums. The more you can do, the more opportunities you’re gonna have and the more fun you’re going to have! Isn’t that the point?? We wanna have fun, F-U-N, fun, fun, fun, right?

I want you to have this mindset every time you practice. Think instead, that every bit you’re doing in your drum practice routine, will increase the fun in your life. Your goal is not to be perfect, your goal is to have more fun! If you can think this way, you’ll learn so much more during your drum practice routine. You’ll also move more quickly toward becoming a professional drummer.

The real goal here, is always fun!

No pressure for drum practice

You might find this interesting. I never have pressured any of my hundreds of students to practice. There’s no pressure at all. I just let them experience the rewarding feeling they get from practicing. They experience such joy when they can do something new. It’s a real feeling of accomplishment.

My students also learn that practice is ultimately going to lead to more opportunities for them to play drums. All of that becomes the motivation and they’re motivated from inside. I don’t have to lord over them every week asking, “Did you practice?”

My job is to hold the door open. It’s my students’ job to walk through it. So they have to do the work to become a improve their drumming. I can share the information with them. I can teach them what’s going be valuable in the real world of music and drumming.

It’s my student’s job to work on things and when he or she works on them, they get so excited. They want to practice again and again and again because they are seeing progress. It’s 100% fun!

How much drum practice is enough?

A question I get from my students a lot is how much they should practice. My response is always the same. “How much fun do you wanna have? The more you practice, the more you can do. The more you can do, the more fun you’re gonna have!” That’s just the way it works.

My drum practice setup during my Berklee days around 1992.

So, when I was young I practiced easily, three hours or more a day. Now I have a family with much less time for drum practice. Maybe you’re like me with a family. Maybe you’ve got a high-pressure job or some kind of work that requires a lot of your time.

If your time is limited, you can set a goal to practice at least 45 minutes a day on a very specific topic. Something like swing triplet fills on brushes, or Jazz coordination exercises, for example (see the videos below).

The main thing is to really focus during those 45 minutes. That’s the key, because your brain is going to retain a lot more. You’ll learn faster too, if you focus your drum practice. Going in there and trying to cover too many things in a short period of time is not helpful for your learning.

The amount of time is important but the quality of the learning each time you practice is more important. Every focused minute of drum practice is a step closer to becoming a professional drummer.

If you want to learn drums really fast, check out my blog post, LEARN DRUMS FAST.

Concentration is key

Another thing that’s key is concentration. You want to really set aside time where there’s very little or no distraction. 45 minutes is a magic number because 30 minutes is too little. 1 hour can seem kind of long when trying to balance other responsibilities we might have. 45 minutes helps us feel, “It’s okay to take this time for myself.”

I was always thinking about what other drummers and musicians were going to think about my playing.

Another aspect of concentration is not letting your mind wander. During the first 10 years of my practicing, I was always thinking about what other drummers and musicians were going to think about my playing. It was so distracting. It’s amazing that I was able to retain any information!

My goal at that time was playing at a certain level where I was going get respect from the audience or other musicians. Maybe they’d say, “Wow, Von you’re such a great drummer.” I think a lot of us do that because we’re insecure on our instrument in the beginning.

Now, when I sit down and practice drums, I don’t think about any of that. I think about what I want to learn and why I want to learn it. Maybe I have a new musical situation I’m diving into or I’ve got some charts I need to work out.

I’m able to accomplish so much in 45 minutes now because my concentration is focused. It’s incredible. Being older, I have fewer brain cells. So whatever brain cells I’ve got left, I’ve got to make sure I’m using them carefully!

#4 Get mileage on your playing

The fourth essential ingredient to become a professional drummer is to get mileage on your playing. Perform!

I had a lesson in the early nineties with great Jazz drummer Jeff Hamilton. I talked about him a little bit in the first blog post of this series. He told me that I was playing good but that I needed more “mileage on my playing.” What he meant was that I wasn’t playing enough with others. I wasn’t performing enough and I didn’t really have a consistency in my playing that you hear in drummers who gig a lot.

Consistency is king.

Jeff had a really good point. Consistency is king. Things like the spacing between your notes, dynamics and the timing of your feet and hands paint an aural picture of your playing to the listener. If your timing is off between your ride cymbal and your high hat, for example, it’s going to sound kind of amateurish.

The more you play out with other musicians, the more these small but significant details will iron themselves out. Playing in the practice room is important but you also need to play outside with other human beings to really develop your consistency on the drums. Performing is essential to become a professional drummer.

Kansas City Jazz jam session around 1989
With great Kansas City drummer Tommy Ruskin

Get out there and play to become a professional drummer

After we get through this difficult time of dealing with Covid-19, I encourage you to play music with friends, family, at jam sessions, your respected houses of worship, school music programs or anywhere else that you can gain experience in performing with people.

Every town usually has at least one Jazz jam session. Many times there are also jam sessions for other things styles of music like Funk and Rock. Look around and see what you can find. If you can’t find a jam session, make one and invite your friends to play! You can always create playing opportunities for yourself.

Sitting in at a gig in Honolulu, HI around 1991.

Performing provides so many benefits for your drumming development. In every live situation, there are subtle timing, dynamic, rhythmic, harmonic, melodic and sound mix details your brain is integrating.  For example, if you’re on the stage and can’t hear the piano player so well, you’ll need to adjust your volume lower to hear the piano.

Sometimes the electric bass player is too loud. In that case you’ll have to tell the bass player, “Could you turn your amp down a little bit?” (For advice on giving feedback to other musicians about their playing, check out my post BECOME A PRO DRUMMER PART 3.

For more about how to listen on the gig, check out my blog post DRUMMING GIGS. LISTEN TO GET MORE.

Your brain is amazing!

In a live music situation, there are many things that you have to navigate on the bandstand. For example, if the bass player doesn’t turn his or her amp down, you will have to adjust your listening to focus more on the other instruments that you can’t hear so well.

For Von Baron, many hours of practice opened up opportunities like this.
Playing in a larger space in Japan.

Sometimes when I’m playing in a big space, I have to adjust what I’m playing accordingly. If the sound tech is great, I can play naturally. I don’t have to play bigger because I’m playing in a bigger space. If I’m playing in a small club, obviously, I’m going to play with more dynamics. These are also things you will learn by performing.

Your brain is going to take in all of the details of that live situation and process them to help you connect your drums to the music. It’s pretty extraordinary that the brain can do that!  So that’s how you get the mileage in your playing. Your drumming is going to become more consistent regardless of where you’re playing or who you’re playing with. The best thing is just get out there and play!

Always be on the lookout, for opportunities to play the music you enjoy and also any other kind of music that comes your way.

Good time and feel are essential to be a professional drummer

The two most important qualities in solid drumming are good time and feel. “Time” is being able to stay in tempo. Good “feel” is making the groove and the music feel good. Both of these are going to really develop as you play with others. Always be on the lookout, for opportunities to play the music you enjoy and also any other kind of music that comes your way.

This again comes back to having a solid drumming foundation with the help of your TEACHER (BECOME A PRO DRUMMER PART 1). Embrace new musical opportunities and music you’ve never tried before to expand your abilities.

Playing with tracks can help too!

Due to Covid-19, many of us can’t yet play regularly with other people. So now is a great time to work on your drumming mechanics in your drum practice routine. As a way to support your drumming during this difficult time, I have created some great drumless backing tracks. They’re available on my website VONBARONSTORE.COM.

They can help you develop your time, feel and Jazz comping too. Jazz comping is short for “accompanying.” It means, playing rhythmic figures on the drums that align or complement what the other musicians in the band are playing. Playing to recorded music in no way replaces playing in a live music situation with other humans but it is a very helpful stepping stone.

That’s a wrap

That’s a wrap for Part 2 of this three-part series. In Part 3 of this series, I share about the 5th thing you need to become a professional working drummer. It’s Attitude! When they say “attitude is everything”, you better believe it, especially in music. I think this may even be the most important of the Five things you need to know. I hope you’ll check it out. Thank you so much for reading and be safe out there! KEEP ON DRUMMIN’!

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