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A Practice Guide for Drummers

"How should I be practicing?"

What an AWESOME, and difficult, question trying to answer in a blog post. This is a huge topic that we musicians seek answers to, and develop a method for, during our whole musical life. It's a never-ending journey! So, in this post I want to share some important tips/tricks/advice on the matter of practicing with QUALITY and INTENT.

If you're interested in learning more about practicing techniques, how the brain takes up information, how to plan and evaluate your practicing etc., you can become a member of The Drum Set Revolution. In the membership area at The Drum Set Revolution, we are super nerdy about this stuff. You can become a member, here: https://www.thedrumsetrevolution.com/sales-page-offers 

1) SET GOALS & WRITE A PRACTICE SCHEDULE. Know your goals and practice accordingly. That is the key to developing on an instrument. You should start with deciding how much time you want to practice. Now take a look at how a typical week looks like for you. Write down how much time you have left to practice. Think of it all. You need to sleep, work, take walks with the dog, hang out with your family etc. Then you’ll get an idea of how much time you ACTUALLY have to practice. Be honest with yourself.

You will feel lazy and watch movies ones in a while. Now ask yourself if the time you are going to practice will be enough to reach your goals. If ”yes”, continue to the next step. If ”no”, remove some of your weekly activities and practice more. OR lower your goals.

Next thing to do is to write down exactly WHEN and WHAT you are going to practice. Write down the days plus exactly what time you will practice. But how should you know what to practice? Analyze your goals and ask yourself what skills you will need to develop to reach those goals. Then set a practice schedule that will help you towards your goals. Quite logical, isn’t it?

To avoid that you lose focus, hang your practice calendar where you see it every day. How about framing it and hanging it over the TV? If you find yourself with some extra time to practice for a while, don’t add more exercises. I strongly recommend that you instead practice your current exercises longer. At least until you know that the extra time isn’t going to disappear again next week.

2) DON’T PLAY WHEN YOU PRACTICE. DON’T PRACTICE WHEN YOU PLAY. I’ve lived by this rule since young years but recently also heard the phrase from Thomas Lang.

This is extremely important and can save you years of practicing. If you find yourself ”just playing” when you practice, it’s not really practicing. Just as you don’t want to practice when you’re playing a gig, (you are performing, NOT practicing) you absolutely don’t want to just play when you practice.

One thing that will help you focus is to use a timer when you do an exercise. If you plan to do an exercise for 15 minutes, you simply put your timer on 15 minutes. I have noticed that often when I feel unfocused it’s simply because I don’t know exactly how long I should do an exercise. But more on that later.

3) FOCUS ON THE WEAKNESSES THAT YOU NEED TO DEVELOP TO REACH YOUR GOALS. Think of your practicing as reducing your weaknesses instead of adding strengths. Because if you don’t have any weaknesses, shouldn’t you in theory, be able to play anything? It also becomes obvious what you should practice on when you think of the obstacles you have to overcome in your playing.

5) WORK ON YOUR MOST MENTALLY CHALLENGING EXERCISES FIRST. I like to schedule my practice sessions like this because I’m more fresh and able to concentrate in the beginning of my practice sessions. And this applies to all humans, of course. This will lower the risk of feeling like a wreck before the last exercise in your practice session. It will also guarantee that you develop as much as possible.

6) WORK ON YOUR MOST PHYSICALLY DEMANDING EXERCISES LAST. Imagine if you burned out your muscles in the beginning of your practicing sessions. After that you would be exhausted both physically and mentally. I like to play my physically most demanding exercises at the end of my practice sessions so that I can push what’s left in me to ensure that I have given it all.

7) PRACTICE THE WAY YOU WANT TO PERFORM. Have you ever experienced that you could easily do something in the practice room just to find out that, for some reason, you’re having a hard time pulling it off on a gig? One reason is probably that you haven’t practiced with the same intensity as you want to perform.

8) PRACTICE UNTIL YOU KNOW IT INSIDE OUT. This an extremely important rule that I broke a lot when I was younger. I felt the need to learn more so I eagerly jumped to a new exercise before i really should have done so. Good musicians practice until they get it. Great musicians practice until they can’t get it wrong.

4) BRING A TIMER & A METRONOME TO YOUR PRACTICE ROOM. A metronome will be one of your best friends in the practice room. It serves you like a gentleman. Always reminding you when you’re not spot on with your timing.

If you also bring some sort of timer/alarm clock with the metronome, it’s an unbeatable team to help you focus on the right things. I can’t even begin to explain what a difference these two tools have made in my practicing, and therefore playing. They are both there to remind you what you really need to do and will constantly remind you of it. 

9) ANALYZE & CORRECT YOUR MISTAKES. Be very critical with yourself while practicing and remember that you are doing this because you want to get better. So constantly analyze and correct your technique and timing. If something feels or sound wrong; correct and master.

10) KNOW WHAT YOU WILL WORK ON BEFORE ENTERING THE PRACTICE ROOM. This one is tied together with your practice schedule, but I think this is extremely important. Know exactly what you should practice on before you walk in to your practice room.

When behind the drums, you will want to change things, play things that you feel are right at that moment but totally missing the big picture. So once again, also write WHAT you will practice when you write your practice schedule.

11) USE EAR PROTECTION. This one is so obvious that it shouldn’t need mentioning. But there are still many drummers out there that play without ear protection. Imagine what would happen if you get such a bad ring in your ears that you can’t even listen to music. I know of people that this has happened to.

12) WARM UP. As human beings we have hundreds of muscles. Think about that for a moment. Several hundreds. Therefore, doesn’t it make sense to give your body a fair chance to perform at its highest level by warming it up?

Because we use both hands and feet when playing this lovely instrument, I always warm up with exercises that use both the hands and feet equally much. I always start really slow, as well. For me, how I warm up has a massive effect on how good my practice session turns out.

Warming up is a perfect opportunity to play slow and focus on playing with great technique, so that you train your brain to play like that for the rest of the session. Warming up is also a way of telling your brain that it’s time to focus. It becomes a ritual.

Think of it like this: Have you ever tried to do something very physical demanding without warming up? Well I have. And it does not feel good. If I skip warming up when hitting the gym my body simply isn’t ready to perform at a high level. It’s the same with drumming. It can be good to think about what we are doing here. We are HITTING and STOMPING on things! (What’s wrong with us, btw?)

So my advice for warming up is: ‣ Use all of your limbs equally much. ‣ Play slow. ‣ Don’t play strong strokes. (You don’t want to play strong accents when warming up -your body isn’t ready for it.) 

13) PLAY TO MUSIC & WITH MUSICIANS. As a musician it is vital that we can listen and communicate with other musicians while playing. So don’t forget that part. I would recommend that you have some play time in your practice schedule. It’s very important to play to music and other musicians.

Just imagine if you learned a language but never actually have a conversation with anyone. We need to put what we learn in a context to fully understand and speak a language. The same applies to music. Not to mention that it is extremely fun to play to your favorite songs and to play with other musicians!

14) REMOVE DISTRACTIONS. The most obvious example here is the phone. It’s a dangerous device that constantly is screaming for your attention. Someone calls, someone text you, someone writes a post in social media. Danger! Remove all distractions and you are left with (all together now) focus.

One of our times biggest challenges. I have read different studies about how long it takes to get back to the same point in a task after you have been distracted to do something else. I’ve read that it takes everything from stunning 10 minutes, to super-stunning 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the same point in a task.


Isn’t this a huge reason to remove all distractions? You will also experience a calm, wonderful feeling of joy when realizing that you don’t need to constantly check your email or look at funny pictures of spoiled cats. If you’re not focusing on things that move you away from your goals, doesn’t it mean that you actually are moving closer to your goals?

15) SING/COUNT WHILE PRACTICING. I’ve heard so many world-class drummers mentioning it: Sing when you are practicing. “Why should I sing?” Because when you, for example, can sing the quarter note when practicing something, you will have a clear understanding of where you place all the notes and what parts you understand and what parts you need to work on. You will notice it right away.

I also recommend that you sing other subdivisions out loud when practicing. If you are practicing a sixteenth note groove, try singing ALL the sixteenth notes out loud. This will give you a subdivision foundation that will make you understand what you are playing and where you are actually placing your notes. Not just where you think you are placing your notes. In some exercises I do, for example 4-way interdependence exercises, I also like to sing each limbs part.

After practicing something like that it will be crystal clear to you how all of the different limbs are interacting with each other. Besides from getting better timing and understanding of what you are playing, singing is an excellent way of getting rid of boredom during your practice sessions, because you constantly have to concentrate. 

 Some drummers that recommend singing/counting while practicing: Benny Greb, Virgil Donati, Dave DiCenso, Mike Mangini, Dave Weckl. Isn’t that a strong enough argument?

16) USE ALL OF YOUR SENSES. If you only focus on learning something by using one sense, let’s take hearing as an example, you are making it very hard for yourself. You will be able to learn much faster and to more deeply ingrain what you’re practicing, if you use all of your senses.

See, hear and feel everything you play.

Ask yourself how it feels in your body when you play something. How do you sit? How are your hands angled when you feel in ”the zone”? Also use your sight. This is often overlooked. If you’re having problem with the left hand in a certain groove, use you’re eyes to analyze the motions and correct them.

Your eyes are also great when it comes to planning ahead. If you’re going to play a fill down your toms, use your eyes to look at the drum you are going to play on next. Then you’re setting yourself up to play relaxed and being prepared.

When you practice by using all of your different senses you will also have a great back-up when you are performing. You will not always be able to clearly hear what you are playing (because of that new rig that your guitar player has bought) but then you can rely on how it feels to play a groove.

17) RECORD YOURSELF. One reason why legendary studio musicians like Jeff Porcaro and Per Lindvall sounded/sounds amazing is because they always listened/listens to what they had/have recorded. That’s the way you do things in the studio. Record, listen, record, listen…

Musically speaking, I probably don’t know anything else that can be as mentally hard as listening back to something that I have recorded and absolutely hating it. But it’s an invaluable learning experience. And I always feel better after I go through the process.

Nowadays you can use very cheap tools to record yourself. You don’t need an expensive studio. How about recording what you play with your cell phone? It works great!

If you want to analyze your playing even further: Download an app/program that allows you to slow down what you have played. That will make your timing errors VERY apparent.

Please do not be too hard on yourself in the beginning. Remember that when you slow things down every mistake you hear will be exaggerated. 

18) PRACTICE SLOWLY. This is maybe my biggest ”secret”. Well, I don’t want to call it a secret because I always talk about this. By practicing in slow tempos you will give yourself the opportunity to hear all your mistakes MUCH clearer.

Since I began practicing slowly for long times without stopping, my technical abilities have probably improved more during one year than it did in several years before. No joke.

I have noticed that it’s super-easy to analyze the dirt in my technique that I need to remove, when practicing slowly. If you’re playing fast, you simply can not analyze your motions good enough to see all the flaws.

Your groove will also improve immensely when practicing slowly. You will be able to hear every nuance in your playing as well as hearing where your timing is off. You will also notice that it’s hard to practice at very slow tempos. You can’t take anything for granted. But you will also notice that if you practice something slowly, for a long time, your body will have no problem playing that part a lot faster. That’s because you have programmed your body and mind to play with the right motions and a good understanding of the part.

19) WRITE THINGS DOWN. The pen and paper are perhaps the most powerful tools we have. Be sure to write things down. Write down what exercises you are working on, the date and tempo. We all think that we will remember these things for a while, but we usually don’t.

When you write things down you will know exactly where you left off from the previous practice session. It will also be interesting for you when you look back and it will give you a chance to analyze your progress.

Don’t be afraid to also write down thoughts about your practice sessions and then ask yourself questions. Why did everything feel great at one point just to feel terrible at another? When did you progress the quickest and why did it happen?

When you do this you will se patterns emerging. Maybe you’ll discover that you are more focused at certain times of the day. You will also find out that your emotions have a huge effect on your playing and practicing.

When feeling happy you will have an easier time to learn. You will also have an easier time learning new material when you are practicing things that you really want to learn. Interesting things to know, indeed.

20) TAKE CARE OF YOUR HEALTH. Nothing makes any sense if you’re not living healthy so that you can enjoy life. Your health will also have a great effect on your development as a musician. The brain needs sleep to absorb what you’ve been trying to learn during the day. The body needs nutrition to build the muscles you’ve been working hard on to develop.

 FINAL WORDS. To me, these ”rules” are some of the foundation for my development as a musician. They give me the tools I need so that I know that I will arrive at the right place. I hope that this will act as a small guide to help you reach your musical goals. 

Groove on,

Richard Sandström


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