I received a video topic request from someone recently, asking “what should a beginner practice…vs an advanced player?” We all know what the grip basics are, what the rudiment basics are, and we know the basic beats beginners can work on. But what exactly should a more advanced player focus his or her attention on in order to grow rapidly? Is there any crossover? What should EVERYONE practice? That’s what we’re breaking down today.
What Should a Beginner Drummer Practice?
A beginner should focus heavily on grip. After all, how you hold your sticks determines nearly everything about your playing. A small mistake here can wreak havoc on more complex skills you begin to work on later. Build a strong foundation by mastering good grip. Check out this video that breaks down exactly how to do this.
A beginner should be listening to a favorite band. Be jamming out to your favorite songs, playing along with your favorite drummer. Enjoy the music, and stay pumped about learning. The music is the biggest motivator, so don’t let learning drums be all about the “math” of learning rudiments and drum beats. Ultimately it’s all about the music.
What Should an Intermediate Drummer Practice?
I would consider a drummer to be at an intermediate status when they can play most basic beats pretty well, and they have good technique. Maybe they’re branching out into a few different styles, and from a fundamental standpoint they’re ready to play a cover gig. So what should this person be focusing on in their practicing?
On the technical side of things, work on deepening your coordination. Make sure your limbs are doing what they’re supposed to. Make sure you have command over your instrument as far as that brain-to-hands or brain-to-feet connection goes. Balance yourself out dynamics-wise. Make sure your kick is loud, snare can be heard, but cymbals aren’t too piercing. Always follow the “drum mixing pyramid” where the lowest instruments are loudest and highest instruments are quietest. This ensures that your overall kit sounds and feels great to the listener. This also makes sound guys love you.
On the musical side of things, be listening. As your coordination deepens, so does your ability to listen. Your brain needs to be able to handle multiple things at once. Drummers have a lot to think about at once, and the best drummers have a very large, powerful “CPU” that doesn’t overload easily. The only way to upgrade your “mental CPU” is to increase your coordination.
As an additional suggestion, I’d say to practice Latin beats. This will push your coordination, challenge you in new musical areas, and teach you some new vocabulary that probably wouldn’t have come naturally to you before.
What Should an Advanced Drummer Practice?
I would classify a drummer as “advanced” when his or her technique is at a high enough level that they’re never “bumping the technique ceiling.” In other words, you can play whatever you need to play from a technical standpoint without “locking up.”
An advanced drummer is also very skilled at whatever genres they play in the most. At this point, you understand at least a couple of genres deeply and can authentically pull off those particular sounds effectively. Your playing is super tight, well-mixed, and very “recordable.” You’ve reached advanced status when you can go into the studio, record a track, and sound great on playback.
But what should one practice to make sure they reach this level? Well, the best kind of practice is gigging. Play with people as often as you can. At a minimum, play along with records. Practice re-creating a feel or vibe from a recording. Get your time super solid, and make sure your dynamics are consistent. Check out this lesson video, where we prove that dynamics are more important than time!
Those are just the “technical” aspects of good advanced drumming, though. Ultimately it comes down to understanding songs really well. Know the melody and know the other parts. Base your parts (groove & fills) off of the melody so that you know that everything you play fits. A song is like a jigsaw puzzle, and all the pieces fit together perfectly. The only way to know if your parts are fitting is to pay attention to the melody. Know the emotion of the song. Make sure that your playing emotionally fits the overall mood. Be able to lead the band with your dynamic changes. Use fills to cue them into the next section. Be listening so well that you can cover for other people’s mistakes. Be hyper-aware of everything going on around you. Know that the “song is priority,” and your number one goal is to support the band and make the song sound great.
All of these things I just listed come naturally with experience. But the more you just sit back and listen to music, the more quickly you can accelerate these skills. Everything I know on the drums beyond technical stuff comes from music I’ve listened to. That’s where all the answers are. So if you’re working on leveling up to “advanced status,” listen to a ton of music! The great thing about this is that listening to music is fun. Who wouldn’t want to work on this?
Listening to music is also the key point that ANY drummer at ANY level can do. From the beginner who hasn't even touched a pair of sticks to the advanced, gigging pro, listening to music will grow your skills a ton.
I know some of this email lesson may have seemed a little abstract, but I hope the video-lesson links help to clear things up further as well. This topic would make for a great video on the channel (or even a video series), so let me know what you think and if you'd like to see that.
In the meantime, have a great week!