I have read that some well-known drummers claim to have practiced twelve to eighteen hours a day for years. This may be true in some cases but I can’t help feeling that in most instances it’s an exaggeration – a form of bragging designed to impress younger players. However, in order to be fair, let’s define “practicing.”
If you put on the headphones and wail away with your favorite records, you are engaging in a form of playing. As the well-known teacher Henry Adler once put it, “If you are playing the same things drums the day that you are playing at night on the job, you are playing as opposed to practicing.”
Practicing usually should be a program designed to intentionally develop specific skills and abilities. I will also suggest that there should be some “fun time” in your practice routine. There should be time for some creative experimentation.
Let’s assume that you have a balanced practice program that includes reading, technique, coordination and working on different styles, including practicing with records. How much should you practice? This is difficult to answer.
Consider your schedule. If you are going to high school or college, you will need some self-discipline to find practice time each day. If you are working at some sort of day job you will have to practice in the evening and/or on weekends. If you are playing in a group you will no doubt have to allow time for group rehearsals as well as personal practice.
The rule that I always used is a simple one: When you are playing in a group, practice less and devote most of your energy to playing. When you are not playing, practice a lot. Each person has to find a balance depending upon his or her own energy level and daily commitments.
If you are serious, an hour a day is the minimum. Two to three hours is better when you can manage it. If you are practicing for or more hours, there are some things you should consider. First, you must get a proper amount of rest. You must eat properly. You must get some exercise other than drumming. (Walking, riding a bicycle, swimming and jogging are all good.) If you do not take care of yourself, you just might burn out after months of extensive practicing.
I recently heard of a young man who dropped out of school at the age of fourteen so that he could practice the drums more hours. I really feel that this is not a good idea. You’ll need an education if you become a successful drummer. You must be able to read a contract and talk intelligently to an attorney or accountant. In fact, you will need an education just to be able to manage your life – whether or not you become a successful drummer.
Consistent practice over a long period of time yields the best results. Day-to-day intelligent use of your practice time is the key. Practice hard if you must but practice smart. Make sure that you are learning and progressing. If you feel stuck, seek out a good teacher. If you feel that you are not learning and improving with a particular teacher, find another one. Keep trying until you find a teacher who you feel is really helping you.
If you are going to practice a lot of hours, build up to it over a period of time. Start with an hour and gradually increase your practice time. Also, practice for an hour or so, then take a break. Have a snack or drink some fruit juice. Then practice some more. Taking regular breaks will help to keep you alert and refreshed.
Never practice when you feel ill. If you are sick, take care of yourself. Don’t practice because you feel guilty; the practicing can wait.
Above all, don’t become a “practice junkie.” By that I mean that practicing is not an excuse to be late or to avoid doing your homework. Practicing should never be an excuse for being irresponsible. Get to work, school, or rehearsals on time. Practicing should never be a way out of keeping commitments. Arrange your day so that you can practice and still take care of your responsibilities.
There is an old expression that says, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!” So, practice as much as you need to, but save some time to have some fun as well.