Tracking Your Progress

Did you get better at anything this week?

How close are you to where you want to be?

What's your goal as a musician? Is it to impress your friends? Play a particular piece of music for your own satisfaction? Be good enough to play in a band? (The bar for that last one is probably lower thank you think, but THANK YOU on behalf of myself and all of your audiences for taking it seriously.)

It's easy to lose focus and motivation - not only is the world full of distractions, it's full of better drummers than you. And they're all just a click away.

But! Here's the trick - there's only one you. If you look a little closer, you'll see that anyone who's achieved at a high level has specialized in something. No one can do it all. Dave Grohl can't play like Elvin Jones, who played nothing like Travis Barker, who sounds totally different from Questlove, who's great, but doesn't solo like John Bonham....... etc etc etc. All giants. All totally different. (All men. I know.......)

So the truly important question, over and over again is.... what are you after? Are you on track to get there? You can take inspiration from other musicians, but you're never going to become them, and you don't want to anyway. You're on your own trip.

It is with this in mind that I've devised a simple sheet to track your own progress. Because music is an art form, and art is creative and subjective, there's no simple set of rules or guidelines to becoming a certified drummer. You need to come up with them yourself. (It's not about "are we there yet." All achievement is temporary. As soon as it's done, it's just a memory. Then you have to find something else to do. Check out Hired Gun on Netflix if you don't believe me.) It can be easy to compare yourself to others, or jump from thing to thing and a month later, feel like you've just been spinning your wheels. A simple system with a tiny bit of accountability will help you stay on track.

Click here to download the sheet (or just take a look and make your own). Happy trails.

Ryan Brown

Shoutout to CKDU. Great station. Been listening all day. Tuned in for news and let it roll. Quality programming. Friends, in-depth reporting and cool music. I thought I was going to shut off the Celtic show but I'm hooked.

TBH I haven't listened in a while. I kinda forgot I could. Was away, not really listening to radio, got a kitchen radio used primarily for CBC and aux jack (also The Wave). Recently "discovered" I could tune it in. Favourite thing of the moment. Check it out!

88.1 fm


Ryan Brown
The Zone

This is where it all happens. Time doesn't exist here.

If you're like me, your life is full of distractions. The idea of carving an hour out of my day to practice an instrument (check out a new record, go to the gym, do laundry, deal with the constantly-growing stack of paperwork, read a book, start a new TV series, cook a meal etc) seems impossible. But I'll easily burn an hour on the couch, reading articles that people have posted to Facebook, without realizing it.

Yet once I start something, I don't want to stop. I practiced DJing for 4 straight hours the other night. Nobody made me, I just wanted to keep getting better. I had no interest in starting Netflix series "This Is Us" (who has 10 hours to sit around watching a show they've never heard of?) but my wife insisted I might like it. 20 minutes in, I was hooked. Same applies to the drums. Stick Control in particular is one I never seem to get around to. I can play well enough (never mind my wrist problems), and it's probably not a make-or-break thing today. But every time I sit down with it, I'm left thinking "wow, I should do this every day!!" Over time, this stuff shapes not only our ability, but our attitudes - what's too much work, what's impossible, what's easily accomplished.

I watched the documentary "Chasing Trane" on Netflix last night. It follows the major events in John Coltrane's life to illustrate how it affected his music. I love Coltrane's music. I don't listen to it a lot. I was excited to pick up "A Love Supreme" on vinyl at a great price from Rough Trade records in NYC when I went there in 2015. I may have spun it 5 times since then. It's intense music, and I have this idea that listening to it will be like work I don't want to do. Plus, it's not today's music. It's not helping me stay current. But every time I put it on, I'm blown away by how great it is, how much I like it and how accessible it actually is. (Also: I actually believe that if something exists and is worth knowing, about, it's just worth knowing about. Doesn't matter when it was made).

Anyhow, in the documentary, his friend Benny Golson is talking about how in the early days, Coltrane practiced constantly. He would practice in the bathroom between sets at his shows. Neighbors in his apartment building would complain about the noise, so instead of stopping, he'd practice silently, just his fingers on the keys. Kamasi Washington opines in the film that when you do this, you're developing a deeper relationship with the instrument, like it's a part of you.

Other musicians of note who've had this tendency at some point during their lives, off the top of my head: Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Kurt Cobain, Bruce Springsteen. Seems to be a good habit. In each case, it's someone who had way more focus and persistence than those around them. That's why their achievement stands out. Hendrix would play constantly, was always carrying his guitar, would go looking for jam sessions after his gigs. Prince and Springsteen both burned out recording engineers with their determination and loooooooong sessions. Because they were chasing something. (Their exhausted engineers were just putting in a day's work). Cobain refused to get a job and would spend all day writing, recording, playing, drawing and studying successful bands. The results speak for themselves. (I realize that this list is all men. I hope that's more because of the industry's historical bias than my own, but in any case I assure you that people like Annie Clark or Beyoncé have a much more intense work ethic than you or I, and that it's motivated by higher aspirations). 

OK, but what does this have to do with you? Here's my advice: If you feel like you don't have time to practice, just do it for 5 minutes. Get into that zone, just for a few minutes. When the time's up, you can be done if you like. But don't be surprised if eventually you want to keep going. Continue taking 5 minutes whenever you can. Make sure that during that time, you have no distractions and are 100% committed to what you're doing.  Be diligent and consistent about this tiny goal. And watch it grow.


*thumbnail credits: By Jjb91 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Ryan Brown