playing vs practicing

I played my drums for about a half hour today.

I also played my guitar for about the same amount of time.

I enjoyed both.

Was I practicing? Depends on your definition.

If you mean "consciously working toward a goal of improvement on specific skills," then no. I was not doing that. If you mean "the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to theories about such application or use" then yes I was.

Both have their place. One is about delayed gratification - working toward the effortless execution of something you want to be able to do, but can't right now. The other is about instant gratification - what we'd more likely call "playing", because it's fun. This can be where new ideas come from, and where you test out and tie together things you've been working on. It can also mean playing something you know really well, just because you enjoy it. While the discipline of "deliberate practice" definitely has its rewards, "playing" is the true point of it for most people.

You should do both. Just don't mistake one for the other.

Ryan Brown
Small Movements

I'm terrible at them.

I was jamming with a friend this morning, playing quieter music. 

This requires a drummer to either make his drums quieter (muting them with whatever), use softer sticks (brushes etc) or...... just play quietly. 

You do this by making tiny movements. The more distance a stick travels before it hits something, the louder it's going to be. The smaller the stroke, the smaller the sound. Simple.

My problem is also simple: when I try to make these tiny movements, I suck at them. They're laughably clumsy. Things I can play no problem at higher volume suddenly become very difficult, or else they're just way too loud and make no musical sense.

It's not that this is a particularly hard thing to learn, I just never spend any time working on it. There's no obvious benefit to doing it most of the time, so I don't. Then occasionally I'll wind up in a situation where it would be a useful skill, and what I can play is limited by my lack of ability.

We tend to ignore small movements because we're captivated by the flashy, exciting thing, or the adrenaline rush of playing loud. The payoff is less obvious. Whether 'small movement' refers to stick technique, or maybe you're making modest gains when you just want to shred, NOW! You could also apply this societally - a small group of people making noise is easy to write off as irrelevant. It takes a crowd to make us pay attention.

I think we ignore them at our peril. On the drums, the immediate downside would be that you have less dynamic range in your playing. A more long-term issue would be that you're not that in tune with the muscles you're using to play your instrument, and you get a repetitive motion injury. Or maybe you get frustrated because you're not as far along as you want to be, so you give up rather than push through. Or, you know, Donald Trump becomes the American president. Lol.

So does that mean I'm going to work on them? Welllllllllll...... it means I know I should...


Ryan Brown
The 20-Minute Practice Routine

Last week we looked at getting in tune with our goals. This week, we get specific. This is a quick and easy 20-minute practice routine generator - just fill in with your own material, go forth and shred.

"Why bother?" you may ask. 

The answer is: drums are too much fun to play. What do you do when you sit behind the kit? Practice rudiments and time exercises? Most people don't. More likely you play some beats, some fills, maybe throw on some music and play along. You know, have fun playing music. I do it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. You might even say it's the entire point of what we're doing here.


If you're looking to improve your playing, that's not the most direct route. Bad habits can creep in. You're probably going to stay in some kind of comfort zone and not get around to fixing the stuff that's holding you back. Most of us will spend way more time on the stuff that's easy for us (you can do it well and get to feel good about it) and skip past our weaker areas (annoying, frustrating, confusing, no fun).

So maybe today you have a half hour, you haven't gotten to play for a while so you just mess around for a while. Tomorrow you'll practice that stuff. Tomorrow comes and goes, the day just kinda got away from you. The day after that you meant to play but there are people around and your drums are too loud. Next thing you know it's a week later........ repeat.

It's kinda like exercising. Throwing a basketball around once a week is better than getting zero activity. It's fun and good for you. Just - you're not likely to build all of the necessary skills to play on a team that way, let alone a competitive league. If you want to dominate the court (or the kit), you'll have to work smarter and harder. We're going to start with smarter.

This is your secret weapon. Your personal trainer. This will force you to get organized and address all of the aspects of your playing, while making the most efficient use of your time. Because it's not even about how much time you put in. You can play every day for your entire life and never make it out of the basement. It's all about how you spend your time. With focus and commitment, you can do great things. This will get you started.

Click here to download.

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Ryan Brown