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An easy answer to the title of this article is, “As often as it takes to get good.” Unfortunately, a vague response to a serious question is rarely much help to the person looking for some guidance with their practice routine.
Determining goals to set for yourself on the drums and committing to a structured practice routine will help you decide which one of my recommendations on practice time dedicated to drum rudiments is appropriate for you. Remember, it will be structure and goal setting that will enable you to get the most out of the time that you put in.
Here’s an excellent article on structuring your practice time and setting goals.
Try the Stick Control Book to Practice Rudiments
Drum Rudiments for Beginners
As a beginner, you want to establish good habits right from the start.
A beginner should practice the rudiments for a minimum of 10 minutes every time they are practicing on their drum set or practice pad.
Although 10 minutes might not seem like a lot of time to work on building strength and speed in the hands, that’s not the point when you’re just getting familiar with the instrument and the technique required to play it well. I suggest that you practice single strokes, double strokes, flams, and paradiddles with their variations.
As you work down the list of rudiments, you’ll find that a clean double stroke and accurate flam is necessary to proficiently play more difficult rudiments such as a flam accent, drag tap, or any of the rolls.
I’ve asked many of my beginning students to practice five times a week, and it’s usually a hard sell. Time constraints and the fact that the drums might be a curiosity rather than a passion results in me asking the student to get on the drums at least once every two days.
The best-case scenario is the student starts off practicing three times a week, enjoys making progress, and wants to practice 5 times a week. I hope that a similar scenario will take place in your early drum studies. By practicing rudiments for at least 10 minutes every other day, you’ll give your hands a chance to start developing the muscle memory necessary to execute a clean rebound and play even single strokes.
Stuck in a Rut
Every year it seems like I meet a few intermediate level students who feel as if they’ve hit a wall with their hand technique. These students are usually adults who were self-taught or haven’t had a lesson in years and need a new perspective on their playing.
If you’re an intermediate level student and you’re unsure if your fundamental hand technique is anywhere close to where it should be, I recommend taking the time to watch Ed Soph, Professor of Jazz Studies at The University of North Texas.
Once you’ve become comfortable with a stick position that enables you to get an efficient and even sounding stroke, approach the rudiments like a beginner and try to get in at least 10 minutes every other day.
Intermediate Students – How Long Should I Practice Rudiments in One Session?
For intermediate students, I recommend they practice The 40 Percussive Arts Society International Drum Rudiments for a minimum of 20 minutes, 5 times a week.
We’re shooting for 20 minutes because that’s the point in which your hands should start feeling some fatigue.
Now that you’re working towards building strength in the hands, you need to push the tempo, but without sacrificing accuracy consistently. Drum rudiments not only help you develop hand speed, but improve your time as well.
Here’s a link to the rudiments.
Warming Up Before Practicing the Rudiments
Here are a few single stroke warm-ups to do at the beginning of each practice:
- Set your metronome to a comfortable tempo between 40 and 60 BPM and play eight 32nd notes per click for 60 clicks.
- Using the Moeller technique, alternate groups of three, six, nine and twelve between each hand at a comfortable tempo.
- A nice warm-up from Peter Erskine:
How Should I Practice Rudiments?
Practicing with a metronome is essential for a drummer to get the most out practicing the rudiments. Playing single strokes, double strokes, and paradiddles at a slow tempo with an even dynamic level on all strokes will help make your playing feel solid.
When pushing yourself to execute a difficult rudiment such as a Flam Drag(#30) at a quick tempo, you’re going to need a metronome to stay precise.
When practicing rudiments or anything else on the drums, sing the quarter-note pulse out loud. Singing the quarter note aloud not only adds another challenge to the task of mastering independence, but it forces you to concentrate on your breath and breathe a little deeper.
More air in the lungs is a good thing. You are also likely to take note of the quality of your posture if you find it challenging to take in enough air to keep singing the pulse.
Once you’ve become comfortable locking in your rudiments with the click and singing the quarter note aloud, take the click off of the quarter note and set it to the half note. You will continue to play your exercise at the same speed, but you’ll now have half as many clicks supporting you.
I like to take this challenge one step forward and set random mute on my metronome app. I use the metronome app Time Guru. There are plenty of apps out there, and you can always use Google’s metronome if you don’t want to put another app on your phone.
Purchase a practice pad so you can schedule a practice session at home or in any other noise-sensitive environment. Although I prefer the feel of a snare drum and the dynamic range that it offers, I have to say that some of my most productive rudiment practice sessions have been on a practice pad. There are no distractions with just a pad in front of you, and you can clearly hear how well your strokes are lining up with the metronome.
Advanced Students – How Many Times Per Week Should I Practice Rudiments
This section is for advanced students. I’ve already given suggestions for beginner, and intermediate level students that I believe are the minimum amounts of practice time necessary to see substantial progress.
If you consider yourself an advanced student, you should practice The 40 Percussive Arts Society’s International Drum Rudiments 5 times a week until you can play all 40 rudiments easily at a tempo of at least 80 BPM.
The next step is to practice Alan Dawson’s Rudimental Ritual every day of the week for two weeks. If you’ve never practiced the rudiments seriously, and you can accomplish these two steps within 6 to 8 weeks, you will notice a remarkable improvement not just in your snare drum playing but around the drum set as well.
It’s understandable if you burn out after such an intense workout on your hands. Take some time off, but get back to a routine where rudiments are at least a part of your warm-up for everyday practice.
From Exercises to Musical Applications
Whether or not a rudiment can help you make great music depends on the application of the rudiment and your musical sensibilities. Practicing the rudiments is going to prepare your hands to do things that you might be hearing in your head right now but can’t do yet.
An enjoyable way to build your proficiency with rudiments and apply some musical phrasing at the same time is to play through Charley Wilcoxin’s book Modern Rudimental Swing Solos for The Advanced Drummer.
Even if you don’t consider yourself an advanced drummer, you can still get a lot out of the book by playing slowly with attention to detail. Choose a solo from the Wilcoxin book and substitute the solo for the rudiments that you would typically practice during that session.
How I Spend Time Working on Rudiments
I’ve been playing drums for just over 30 years, and to this day, I still try to make rudiments a part of my daily practice routine. After all of these years I need to mix it up a little bit to keep it interesting.
Rather than playing through Alan Dawson’s Rudimental Ritual every day, I try to create some of my own exercises around the drum kit using rudiments. Also, I’ll sometimes reinterpret Ted Reed’s Syncopation book with some of the more difficult rudiments being applied to the written rhythms.
Here’s a list of several books that I enjoy working out of that support and improve my chops on the rudiments:
- Stick Control by George Lawrence Stone
- 14 Modern Contest Solos for Snare Drum by John S. Pratt
- Modern Rudimental Swing Solos for The Modern Drummer by Charley Wilcoxin
- Master Studies by Joe Morello
- Syncopation by Ted Reed
I no longer look at drum rudiments as some dry pedagogical tool like I did when I was in my 20’s. I hope that after you spend a fair amount of time practicing rudiments, you’ll see that they are present in everything you do on the drums and that improvement with the rudiments will help you reach the goals that you have set for yourself as a musician.
Otto Huber is a San Francisco Bay Area based drummer and educator. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Percussion Performance from Northern Illinois University in 1993. He performs regularly with various Jazz ensembles and his own group The Midnight Blue Organ Trio. You can learn more about Otto here: https://ottohuber.com