Developing Speed: Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Lots of drummers, whether they are just starting out or have been playing for a while should stop and consider their speed. Most drummers want to be able to play fast, but how do we get there? This article outlines key processes which drummers should engage in to increase their speed.
Believe it or not, the key to playing fast is actually to take everything as slowly as possible. Why is this? Playing slowly allows you to concentrate on exactly what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it, without having to spend brain power on keeping up with the metronome. This allows you to establish good technique. Once you have a handle on your technique, you’ll find it comes out naturally when you play faster. This allows you to keep playing tightly even when playing in the upper ranges of your speed.
What Should I Concentrate on While Playing Slowly?
Try to exaggerate all hits when playing new and unfamiliar rudiments and grooves. This allows you to really concentrate on how you’re playing. To help with this, it is a good idea to split up the different parts of the groove. Try working on one or two beats at a time. Once you can play each beat by itself, try combining them and seeing if you can get it to flow.
You could also try to isolate what your arms or legs are doing. Maybe start off with just playing with your left arm. Then you could add in your right arm as well, then your feet. Try playing with different combinations of limbs: start with maybe right arm and right foot, then left arm and left foot, then left arm and right foot, etc. Any combination will be fine as long as you are comfortable with it. Concentrating on particular limbs allows you to really focus on how you’re playing with them. You may for example realise that you’re gripping the stick way too tightly, but only in your right hand.
Never give up! With this type of practice, repetition is key. As a drummer, you’ll see repetition pop up all over the place in different grooves with different rhythms. You want to aim for consistency when playing these grooves. The overall goal is to be confident with your hits before introducing a metronome.
These processes train your brain to send the right messages to your limbs at the right time in order to get all of your hits in the correct spots, and build up your coordination and confidence behind the drumkit. After you are feeling solid with all your hits, start a metronome at 60BPM (beats per minute). Try playing the groove or rudiment at different speeds, focussing on locking in with the click. You should try playing everything you are working on slowly. Rudiments, grooves, warm-ups – they will all become more natural and refined if you work on them slowly.
Have you ever noticed that you are a bit tense as you are playing? You are likely gripping your sticks too tightly, and are not getting the right bounce off the drum. Remember to keep in mind a few technical practices while playing. The initial strike of the skin/instrument produces the sound, but a correct and comfortable technique will also produce a good deflection off the drums. This is critical to producing a good sound and a set up for your next hit.
Your stick control and technique is everything when playing the drums. While there are many different stick grips (matchstick grip, traditional grip, french grip, or german grip) you need to be comfortable with the grip you are using. As you play, you may end up adopting different grips. This is good, and is recommended as you are learning more about your instrument. However – I implore you to spend time to ensure you are playing your chosen grip correctly. This will help release tension while playing, and will hold off any injuries.
I often only teach with matchstick grip. With your matchstick grip, remember to grip your drum sticks so you are comfortable. Thumbs on the number/size, wrap your hands around the stick, and grip so there is a bounce off your fingers. When your fingers come into contact with the stick, it will hit down onto the drum or practice pad when you strike. While playing with this grip, it is common for people to unroll their wrists. Make sure you are conscious about keeping your wrists rolled and match both hands together.
Remember when you are playing the drums, it isn’t always about bashing the drumkit and free play. Of course it is fun to hit the drums and go crazy at times, but it is always recommended to focus on rudiments. Being confident with your grip will allow you to release tension, and play longer and better.
The Evil Metronome
The metronome is a tool which beeps or clicks on every beat of a bar. It is used by musicians to practise and play with so they can focus on disciplining themselves to stay in a strict time. Metronomes can easily be changed to suit the player’s need. It can be sped up, slowed down, and the time signature can be changed. It is also a great resource to keep record of your speed so you can track your progress as you train to play faster.
Metronomes aren’t only used while practising. Lots of drummers and performers use metronomes in recording sessions and live performances. The metronome is useful for the drummer in a recording session to help stick to a strict tempo. It is also prudent to use the metronome if a song’s time signature changes. It ensures that the whole band will definitely stay 100% in time when they come to record their part over the drums. In a live sense, performers use metronomes for the same reasons. The metronome can also be synchronised to an electronic score, and changes with the score as the performance progresses.
Don’t be afraid of the metronome! All drummers worth their salt have spent many hours honing their technique with one. While learning a new rudiment or groove, start slow, and use the metronome to guide you as you increase in speed. Take this slowly, maybe increasing only in 5bpm increments. This allows you to check your technique and check for tension as you are getting faster. When used correctly, the metronome is your key to playing fast.
Hopefully now you feel confident about how you can increase your speed. Remember – start slowly and build up speed gradually, always concentrating on your technique. Watch for tension and make sure you are confident with whatever grip you play with – this will facilitate good technique and prevent injuries. And remember, the metronome is your friend! Drummers around the world use metronomes in both their practice and performances, and used correctly is the key to playing fast.