In addition to teaching thousands of drummers around the world on a weekly basis, I also love studying the practice habits of professionals. Not only professional musicians. Basketball players, musicians, chess players, martial artists…they all share some common themes when it comes to their practice habits. In my upcoming free live online drum lesson Deliberate Practice for Daily Growth, I will break apart how to begin to systematically implement the practice habits discussed here.

So what exactly is it that the pro’s do in their practice time that is so different? I have a list that is several pages long, but here are 4 of the practice habits that come up again and again.

1. They break it down and go slow

If there is one thing I find myself saying repeatedly to students, it’s this. You have to slow things down and break the concept you are working on down into small bite-sized pieces.

Kobe Bryant is known as one of the best basketball players of our time. Shaq wrote about Kobe in his book:

“You’d walk in there and he’d be cutting and grunting and motioning like he was dribbling and shooting — except there was no ball. I thought it was weird, but I’m pretty sure it helped him.”

Practicing without a ball??? But Kobe got it, and that’s why he is such a success. He broke the material down to its most basic form by removing the ball.

After you have broken the concept into smaller pieces, you work through the material at a painstakingly slow pace. To quote Sergeant Alvin York, who was a member of the “Lost Batallion” in World War 1 and led his platoon to capture 132 German POW’s, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast”.

Itzhak Perlman, one of the pre-eminent violinists of our time (as well as a skilled conductor and pedagogue), has this to say about slow practice:

“If you practice something slowly, you forget it slowly. If you practice something fast, you forget it fast.”

Going slowly allows us to process the information, ingest it, and remember it. The speed comes quickly after you have mastered the initial movements. I stress this constantly with my students.

In his book “The Art of Learning”, Josh Waitzkin says this of one of his original chess teacher’s:

“Bruce slowed me down by asking questions. Whenever I made an important decision, good or bad, he would ask me to explain my thought process.”

2. They have an intense passion for the game

It almost goes without saying, the pros have an intense passion and love for whatever field they are in. Great coaches, teachers, and mentors know that this is an important component of any endeavor and strive to instill that in their pupils.

Some of my students joke with me, because before a lot of my lessons, I say “I love talking about _______”. I didn’t realize how much I said it until they pointed it out, but it’s true! I love every aspect of drumming in a very intense way. If I didn’t, I would quit and go do something else with my life. Life is too short to be miserable.

Here’s a quote from an NBA scout in 2008 about Kobe:

“Allen Iverson loves to play when the lights come on. Kobe loves doing the s— before the lights come on.”

In the same year, Sports Illustrated reported that Kobe will keep random players after practice so that he can try out new moves on them. Similar to what he did to bench warmers in high school. That’s crazy intense passion for the game!

Josh Waitzkin also points out in his book that his parents sheltered him in certain ways “…because they wanted my relationship to the game to be about learning and passion first, and competition a distant second.”

You have to be in this for the love of the game, and no other reason, for your practice time to be as productive as it should be.

3. They don’t practice what they already know

While I was in college, I had a pretty crazy practice schedule. It wasn’t uncommon for me to get in 6, 8, or 10 hours of practice a day. Then, I had ensemble rehearsals and gigs to do.

While I was practicing one day, I had one of the drummers from the percussion department stop in during a practice session. He had been listening outside the door and wanted to know what I was working on…because it sounded horrible!

I totally agreed with him. It sounded bad. Really bad.

It sounded bad, because it was something I couldn’t play. It was new material, uncharted territory. And it was beating me up like a heavyweight boxer!

Antonio Sanchez is one of the most musical and versatile drummers in the game today. In an interview on, he had this to say about the topic:

“I can tell you what I used to do when I was practicing a lot. I used to work on my weaknesses and spend little time on the stuff I knew already.

Don’t waste time practicing stuff you already know. When one practices stuff that you haven’t mastered yet, it is natural to feel unaccomplished and uncomfortable but that feeling is an important step towards growth and mastery. It’s a matter of how you channel and harness that feeling that will make you develop and evolve.”

Josh Waitzkin (Chess world champion and Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands world champion) put it in even simpler terms:

“Whenever I noticed a weakness, I took it on.”

4. They take regular breaks and enjoy life

This one took me years to come to terms with. It’s very easy to take this to the extreme and take too many “breaks” in your practicing. That being said, across every professional field that I have studied, I have found the concept of taking consistent periods of rest from practice to be extremely common.
Here’s Antonio Sanchez on the concept of resting from practice:

“As of late not that many because I’m so much on the road. After many years of practicing I feel like I need to stop and step back and take a close look at my playing.

I feel like when you practice too much you regurgitate licks and patterns more than being in the moment. I think when you are a creative jazz musician you can actually practice TOO much. I felt like I had too much technique and hand reflex that would sometimes override the creative side of my playing. I feel like I have less chops than before but I’m way more musical and creative and mature and ‘in the moment’.”

Jascha Heifetz, who is widely referred to as one of the best violinists of modern times, is quoted in the book “Violin Mastery: Talks with Master Violinists and Teachers” as saying the following:

“I do not think I could ever have made any progress if I had practiced 6 hours a day. In the first place, I have never believed in practicing too much – it is just as bad as practicing too little!
I hardly ever practice more than 3 hours a day on an average, and besides, I keep my Sunday when I do not play at all, and sometimes I make an extra holiday. As to six or seven hours a day, I would not have been able to stand it at all.”

If you want to learn how to begin to integrate these concepts into your practice time on a daily basis, you don’t want to miss my upcoming free drum lesson. Deliberate Practice for Daily Growth will give you common sense steps to begin maximizing your practice time. If you apply them, you will begin to see progress in your playing on a daily basis. I promise.

Make a commitment to be a better drummer. Sign here up for this free live online drum lesson. Here are the details.

• Lesson Title: Deliberate Practice for Daily Growth
• Lesson Summary: A FREE online lesson designed to help drummers maximize their practice times to ensure daily growth in their playing
• Date: Monday, June 15th, 2015 from 12-1pm CDT
• Cost: The online event is 100% free
• Teacher: Stephen Taylor
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