There Are No Shortcuts by Roy Burns

Every so often. a well-known drummer says something like, "I don't read music. I don't practice. I just play!" But everyone has to learn. It's just that there are a lot of factors involved in the process. It's not simple and it takes time.

I've never understood how someone can brag about what he or she cannot do. If you don't read music, or can't read music, okay! But don't talk about it as though it is an asset. It's just one skill that you have not developed. It doesn't make you a bad player but it doesn't neceesarily make you a good one, either.

Many young players are in a hurry to develop their ability as fast as possible. There's nothing wrong with this attitude. It's part of being young and it's part of the burning desire to play music. However, if this desire leads to the concept of taking shortcuts, let the young drummer beware!

For example: If you can't read music, you can pretty much forget about studio work. This is not to say that you can't make an album with a group, because that happens all the time. However, if you can't read, you won't be the drummer on the Arsenio Hall show or the Tonight show. Chuck Morris and Ed Shaughnessy are both excellent readers as well as fine drummers. Yet even with their success, both are open-minded, both are still learning and both still have the desire to keep developing musically.

So don't think you can "save time" by not taking the time to learn to read. Sooner or later, you'll run into a situation where being able to read just might get you the job(Or, if you can't read, it just might cost you a job.).

Another so-called "shortcut' is the "radical practice" approach, such as practicing on a pillow.

A friend and ex-student of mine, who is a well-known physical therapist, feels that because of a pillow's lack of response, a certain tightening of the muscles is necessary to make the stick move. In his opinion, continued practice in this way would lead to a rather stiff technique, with and undue amount of tension as a result. My personal point of view is a more simple one. The purpose of playing a musical instrument is to produce a musical sound. Any form of practicing that does not take into account the sound being produced is for the most part a waste of time. So I still contend that, although practicing on a pillow won't necessarily hurt you, it won't do you much good either.

Yet another "shortcut" is the use of metal practice sticks. The theory in this case is that you will build up strength fast, develop muscles quickly and become a faster, more powerful drummer in less time. But some metal sticks are extremely heavy. The danger in this case is the possibility of a severe muscle strain. Also, the bounce and movement of a metal stick is nothing like a real drumstick. Plus there is the danger of developing a bone bruise, which can take months to heel and keep the drummer completely out of action.

A similar approach is to use oversized sticks for practicing. Huge marching-style drumsticks are recommended by some teachers. But for one thing, if the student is young, he or she may have difficulty holding the stick properly because of its size. Again, the additional weight may also cause some problems. Strength takes time to develop as you practice.

I've also noticed that extra-large sticks actually prevent the development of a proper grip on the drumstick. This is especially true for drumset players who use a somewhat smaller stick for playing. My rule is, practice with the same stick that you play with. If you have doubts, start with a good 5A of 5B size and stick with it. Avoid extremes and you will be better off in the long run.

It seems that only drummers think in such "physical" terms. They continually come up with unusual ideas to develop strength, speed or stamina. Weighted sticks, overly large foot pedal springs or practicing on pillows may be interesting to some but they fail to address the real problem. Drumming is not an athletic event. It is or should be, a musical event.

Vinny Appice is as powerful a drummer as I have seen and he developed his strength over a period of time, by practicing and studying. He didn't try to do it in a month. He didn't take shortcuts.

The only shortcut that I know of is simply to realize that there are no shortcuts. You get out ot something exactly what you put into it. You have to practice, learn, play and develop and this takes time. Remember, what you don't learn today, you may have to go back and learn tomorrow!