How to Practice Effectively

1. Decide what you want to do.

2. Find out how to do that thing.

3. Train yourself to do it.

That's it. Simple, but not easy. Most of what we do in drum lessons revolves around #2 and #3, but both are pointless without #1. And the whole thing is pointless without a focus (although I don't think "pointless" necessarily means "bad').

In his book "Talent Is Overrated," author Geoff Colvin studies high achievers across different disciplines to see what makes them stand out. His conclusion: "deliberate practice." He found that the top achievers were not necessarily the people who put the most time in; they were the people who had a clear goal and worked very intentionally toward achieving it.

When people start out on the drums, goals are often vague ("to learn"..... "to get better"... "to be able to go crazy".........). I like to ask students why they think I'd make them practice something as boring or annoying as a paradiddle. I often get answers like " do it right?" Not wrong exactly, but the reason you practice the paradiddles is: to develop your hands! And your mind! But if there's no clear connection between the task you're given and your own goal, there's not a lot of motivation to do that task well, or even at all. Paradiddles are boring and annoying.

Mostly, our education is: here's a task (or idea). Learn it. Complete a test. If you pass, congrats, you know that thing. That doesn't really work long-term with music. There are skills and styles you can learn, but you need listeners and for them it's mostly about feeling. Great technical players often make boring music, "poor" technical players are among the most celebrated musicians of all time. Of course it's all subjective and there are lots of examples of the opposites being true. That's the point. Everyone plays and experiences music differently. Creativity is an essential part, and creativity, by definition, can't be taught.

It's easy to sit down with an instrument, play it for a while and tell yourself you're practicing. You're definitely putting time in. It's probably fun. Nothing wrong with it. HOWEVER, if you're not working toward something specific, you're also probably not improving your skills; you are maintaining them. If you want to improve something, the more specific the better, because then you can really dial in what you need to do in order to get there.

For best results:

- Decide exactly what you want to be able to do. This can mean a long-term goal broken down into steps, or it can just be "what do I want to improve this week?" but in either case the point is to stick with a task until you nail it.

- Find out how that thing is done, make sure you understand it, set aside some time to train yourself to do it.

- Get a metronome. People (self included, sometimes) like to think it's a torture device designed to suck the fun out of music. It's just a tool that helps you focus.

- Set a timer. Play your thing with the metronome for one minute, then stop. See how it feels.

- Figure out how much time you can consistently devote over several days. Doesn't have to be much. Each time you practice, work on your thing for a set amount of time, then give yourself permission to be done.

- Repeat, as often as possible. Take breaks. If you have a bunch of things you want to accomplish, divide the amount of time you have by the number of things you want to do and practice accordingly - let's say you have 20 minutes, 3 days a week and 4 things you want to learn. That gives you five minutes on each one, then you're done. But it's a much more focused five minutes than most people actually get around to.  You're probably not going to master your task in one week at this rate, but you will make actual progress. And in the end you'll get there faster.

- Feel good about having put in the time and energy, and about accompishing something.

The best thing about this approach is that it's addictive. You don't get burnt out or frustrated because it's not drudgery. You may get to the end of your time limit and decide you want to do more. Great! Do it! Also please remember: exercises don't have to be boring. You're in complete control of how you play things - when things seem boring it's often because we're taking a very limited view of how we're supposed to (or allowed to) approach it, and as a result, play boringly. Please don't do that to yourself or others. Make it sound great! Have fun!

Ryan Brown
Best New (local) Music

My favourite stuff out of Halifax this week: 

- Big Budi Band / Aquakultre's set from this year's SappyFest. Live hip hop jazz improv groove party music from some of Halifax's best. SO GOOD. Recording is a little scratchy. Do not let that deter you. Push play, drift away.

- Tara Thorne (Dance Movie, The Coast, CBC) being interviewed by James Boyle (Halifax Pop Explosion). Lively convo about Dance Movie's new record (prod by John Goodmanson - Bikini Kill, Death Cab for Cutie, Sleater-Kinney etc) and whether pursuing the music "industry" is a worthwhile or even necessary goal for creators in 2017.

Ryan Brown
R&B with Yogi Horton

This is so great. Session drummer Yogi Horton was new to me; a quick search reveals that he's best known for his work with Luther Vandross but also Aretha Franklin, David Byrne, Hall & Oates ... full list here. In this video he takes you through decades, styles, techniques and MOVES! What I love about this video is that he incorporates ideas like tuning, motion and artistic decisions into it; things that often get lost when people focus on technical aspects but are vital to the making of actual MUSIC for and by humans.

An hour long and it's free! You don't need to track down a copy of the VHS any more. YouTube is amazing. Thanks to Tim Jim Baker for the tip on this one.

Ryan Brown
New! Live! Radiohead!

Radiohead just released 8 full-length live concerts from 2016. They are one of my all-time favourites. I am frequently impressed with how they bring their studio creations to the stage. Also - first impressions are so funny. Kind of a polarizing band. At the Osheaga show, after watching Thom Yorke for the first few minutes I thought "geeze, what a grump. you're a rich, famous musician. why so sour all the time? can he not sing any more or is he just not trying?" then realized - he's saving his energy so he can put it all into the performance. He's warming his voice up.

Admittedly I do get tired of the gloom, but man. What a band. Check the video above to see their Osheaga set and draw your own conclusions. For more:


Ryan Brown
Anyone and anything can make music

Merriam Webster defines a musical instrument as  "a device (such as a violin, piano, or flute) used to make music."

How about a device such as a flower pot, radio or plunger on a garbage can lid? . 


Ryan Brown
Classic Trax: Communication Breakdown 3 Ways

Timeless wisdom from almost 50 years ago.

This is a good one to learn because the sections are clear, they repeat and there's only a few of them. It's always helpful to check out different versions when learning a song - it gives you insight into how the artists themselves think of the material and how you can make it your own, what's essential and what can be left out. Live versions especially - you'd be surprised how often recordings that sound really hard to play get re-arranged for performance by the original artists, to make them easier (looking at you, Bieber/Jack Ü).

The first video below is the original studio recording with the band lip (and instrument) synching along for TV; the other two are live versions. When watching, make note of:

  • what stays the same
  • what changes
  • which parts of the song the drummer is accenting
  • which parts of the song the drummer hangs back and just plays the beat
  • dynamics - what's loud, what's quiet

Have fun! 

Ryan Brown
1st Valerie song gets written up in The Coast!

"Ryan came in to the band in February/March. I’ve gotten to play with him a few times and was really into his approach to drums so it was a no brainer to ask him when we had a vacancy on drums."


Read more about my lovely bandmates here, listen to the song The Coast called "propulsive, smooth with a side of grit [and] pleasant shades of Kevin Shields" below.

Ryan Brown
Upcoming Shows

Mixed bag of stuff coming up for May/June:

SUN MAY 21 - DJing for Bluenose Marathon - The Vic, Halifax NS

FRI MAY 26 - drumming with Valerie - Radstorm, Halifax NS

THU JUN 1 - drumming with Valerie - Gus' Pub, Halifax NS

SAT JUN 17 - drumming with Beauts - The Capital, Fredericton NB


Also working on new solo material! Peel your eyes and ground your ears for shows/recordings/news (actually, hold onto your eyes and ears, you'll need them. you won't need a hat, so don't hold onto it. peel and ground it, then use your eyes and ears for music and images)

Ryan Brown
Perfect fills every time

Picture this: you're behind the drum kit. Onstage. In front of 40,000 people. Backing up Celine Dion (my personal fantasy, you can substitute whoever you like). It's the middle of the show. Things are going great. The band is on fire and the crowd is LOVING it. The whole, massive room is moving to YOUR beat. Each song is bigger the last. You're unstoppable. You're in the middle of a brand-new, unreleased track. It's amazing. Celine's (or whoever's) best work yet. People are losing their minds. So you decide you're really going to wow them. You're just coming out of the verse and heading into the epic, shout-along chorus. You know exactly what this moment needs. A huge drum fill to bring the whole crowd to their feet.

So you go for it! Your hands are racing around the kit - snare, toms, cymbals, it's all a blur. You're a savage demon! No, a beautiful angel of cosmic light! No one has ever seen anything like this before! You can FEEL the faces being melted. You bring it to a triumphant climax with a sublime, euphoric cymbal crash. You finally look up from your drums, a master of the universe, surveying your domain.

And what do you see? The bass player is staring at you and frowning. Your singer (whose name is on the marquee, posters, T-shirts and tickets) is trying to amp the crowd up, but something's not quite right. The dancers have fallen out of sync - one actually fell offstage. You glance down at your phone, sitting beside your floor tom. It's blowing up. Good, right? But what's that sound..... are people laughing?

Looks like you got so caught up in your fill that you didn't notice how long it was. Can't have too much of a good thing, right? Well, in this case, you appear to have confused the entire band. You played right through the chorus, over top of the big shout-along line and everything came to a grinding halt. Check your phone again - what do those notifications say? "Fail"? "lolllllllll"??!


Whew! It was all just a dream. Here's a quick exercise to help you avoid that nightmare scenario:

Fire up a metronome in 4/4 time. It can be an app (that's what I use) - what's important is that it has a different sound for beat '1' of the measure (like this). Play a beat along with it. Throw in some fills. They can be anything you want. Just make sure they resolve in the standard spot - with a crash on the "1" of the next measure. Not "in the same general area as the 1", right on it. Ideally, you should hit it so precisely that you can't hear the click. 

And that's it. Your fills can be as simple or as wacky as you like - what's important is that you come out of them exactly where you need to. It matters, because in a live situation, other people are depending on you to do just that. Keep at it and you'll develop a solid sense of where those downbeats are, no matter what you're playing. Over time, this will allow you to play weirder and more adventurous fills, secure in the knowledge that you'll always land in the right spot no matter what. You genius!

Ryan Brown
Halftime show

A post shared by @learndrums on

Breaking down one of those trap-style EDM grooves for a student. If you want to take this a step further, throw in some triplets on the hi-hat. Quarter notes on the metronome = 60bpm.

Ryan Brown