A Guide to Effective Drum Practice

A well-structured drum practice routine is critical to becoming a better drummer.

Sometimes it’s hard to find time to practice, so you need to squeeze the most out of every single minute you have drumsticks in your hands.

Today we’re focusing on 7UPPERCUTS drummer Callum Rollo’s drum practice routine, to get an in-depth look at how to maximize the time you spend at the kit and with your practice pad.

If you’re wondering how to practice drums effectively, these tips will get you there.

How To Practice Drums

A Guide To Effective Drum Practice

By Callum Rollo

Everyone knows just how crucial practice is to the development of any skill. We’ve heard it our whole lives from parents, coaches, and teachers – ‘Practice makes perfect’.

Of course, for most of us, perfection is not a realistic end goal when it comes to playing the drums. It’s hard enough to try and squeeze in some playing at all, around jobs and otherwise busy existences, and when you do it’s often used as a form of random improvisation (playing along to songs you already know, or simply jamming with your band). All of these things are really valuable and should be encouraged.

However, with some simple targets and structure, you can create a drum practice schedule that is fun, elevates you as a player, and fits into the context of your life.

Today we’re covering exactly that: Here’s how to take your drum practice to the next level, to become a better drummer.

If you’re practicing aimlessly (i.e. sitting down to practice drums with no idea about what you’ll actually do), then not only is your time going to be used far less efficiently, but you’re also going to be in danger of falling back into familiar habits.

There can always be time for just jamming out and flowing on the kit, but it’s so much more productive if your drum practice has a clear purpose.

To avoid wasteful practice, you need to create a schedule with structure and intention.

What your own personal routine consists of will depend on your own requirements, weaknesses, and goals, but I like to divide mine up into 4 main categories:

  • Technique and timing
  • Rudiments
  • Songs I need to learn/practice (projects and gigs)
  • Improv/creating

These broad categories never need to change, and they act as a guide for a balanced and focused routine. I’ll provide examples of skills that each category covers, and some exercises I’ve been using recently to work on them.

Drum Practice: Technique and Timing

As I’m sure you understand, technique and timing are the fundamentals of drumming. Although they gather residual improvement from the other categories, for me they require specific attention and maintenance.

As a young player, I was blessed with some natural ability, but not so blessed with my work ethic and attention to detail. As a result, I developed some bad habits that I can slip back into if I don’t work consciously on them.

In the past I’ve focused on things like loosening my grip, maintaining my posture, and leading with my left hand. But most recently, I’ve been doing exercises to improve my bass drum technique, dynamics and timing.

Example Drum Practice Exercises

Bass drum practice

For my recent focus on bass drum technique, I’ve been using exercises modified from Drumeo’s “5 Minute Single Pedal Bass Drum Workout” lesson.

I noticed in some recent recordings that I tend to lose some control in my right foot in high tempo tracks. Tension sometimes creeps in due to poor technique, and as a result, my consistency suffers.

These bass drum exercises allow me to isolate my focus on various placements of the bass drum at different BPMs (Note: metronome accompaniment is essential!).

I even went as far as to video my foot technique during these exercises at slow and fast tempos to try and identify the problem. If you’re ever struggling to overcome a plateau, videoing yourself can be an excellent way to pinpoint problems.

It became clear that at higher tempos my right foot becomes rushed, and is far from the relaxed state it finds itself in at lower ones. I’m able to work on consistency of note placement and dynamics by repeating these exercises at slower tempos while fully concentrating on technique and timing.

Grip & Posture Practice

If I’m working on some little details like a minor grip or posture adjustment, or simply looking to play in a more relaxed manor, this is when I’ll practice songs I know by heart and don’t have to think about.

It allows me to really analyze my flow in more detail as I know exactly how everything should sound and feel.

Weak Hand Practice

I’d also like to share a pretty straightforward practice method for developing your weak hand – practice drumming with your weak hand!

Take a simple song that you know note-for-note (for me, these are songs like ‘Back in Black’ by AC/DC and ‘Last Nite’ by The Strokes) and play them with your left hand leading.

If this isn’t something you do regularly, it will feel weird and a little disheartening. However, once you’re used to it, you’ll find it not only refreshing but also an invaluable tool to develop your independence.

To take it even further, I’ll occasionally set the whole kit up left-handed, and switch my feet around too.

Rudiments: Critical To Any Drum Practice Routine

Book: Stick Control: For the Snare Drummer: George Lawrence Stone
Stick Control: A classic book that has helped countless drummers take their game to the next level.

An article about how to practice drums wouldn’t be complete without a section on rudiments.

Although not quite the be-all and end-all of playing the kit, drum rudiments are vital building blocks for improvement, offering the chance to add variation and depth to your playing.

Many people neglect to practice their drum rudiments because they find them boring, difficult, or don’t understand their relevance.

I know as a young player, I just wanted to smash out punk rock grooves and loud fills. I didn’t listen to the old guard’s insistence that I should sit in front of “Stick Control for the Snare Drummer” by George Lawrence Stone with a drum pad and a metronome – but they were right, I should have.

Example Drum Practice Exercises

I have a simple warm-up routine that I use before gigs. It usually consists of single strokes, double strokes, paradiddles, and swiss triplets, so these days I tend to look to alternative combinations in practice.

To prevent being overwhelmed by exercises and lacking focus, I allocate some of my drum practice time every week to two or three rudimental routines.

To do this I use an app called ‘Drumate’ for inspiration. This app contains all the standard rudiments and you can set the tempo to whatever you like. You also have the added bonus of being able to hear the rudiment being played while you read and play along.

The way I use the app (other than to note which tempos I can play each rudiment at) is to put a few rudiments together and practice moving between them in time.

This week, for example, I’ve been practicing moving between double paradiddles, six-stroke rolls, and double stroke rolls.

Once you’ve got the feel at a comfortable tempo, you can sit in front of the TV and continue drilling it without the visual and audio aids. When it starts getting easy and boring, that’s when to lead with your left hand instead, or start dropping in different accents to change the feel. I find that taking this type of practice to the drum kit opens up a whole world of possibility with regards to instrumentation and creativity.

Rudiments In Your Drum Practice Routine

There are many creative ways you can incorporate rudiments into your drum practice routine.

Take this example from online teacher Rob Brown:

When I came across this lesson, it struck me as a particularly fresh way to approach the subject. It’s great practice for moving between different feels and getting tighter with the metronome. It’s also easy to trade in different patterns to create your own unique drum exercises.

Don’t forget, everything that can be done with your hands is possible to do with your feet too! Find a tempo that works and drill it. If this isn’t something you usually do, you’ll see some incredible beginner gains.

Songs I Need To Learn/Practice (My Projects & Gigs)

I like to make time specifically to practice songs for my ongoing projects.

My band 7UPPERCUTS has been around for a couple of years now, so I know most of the songs pretty well.

Weekly band practice generally covers what I need in this regard. Before a show I’ve been known to run through the set alone at home – at least some of the more tricky parts, new songs, or fresh transitions that we are adding to the show.

Recording, on the other hand, is a different matter for me. Even though I know the songs perfectly well, I like to be meticulous with them at home before I go into the studio.

Example Drum Practice Exercises

Practice For Recording

I’ve spent the past week getting a few tracks finalized for a new EP which I’m going in to record soon. This has consisted of playing along with scratch guitar and bass tracks with a click, and noting down my final decisions on my part.

I also play along as if I’m recording drums, which for me, means concentrating on striking the middle of the drums cleanly, playing with less force than I do live, and making sure my dynamics are where I want them.

As I’ve progressed, I’ve started to think more about how I build my parts. For instance:

  • Do my drum fills make sense in the context of the song?
  • Am I overplaying?
  • Am I playing consistently and with intent?

This type of conceptual thinking has been a valuable addition to my drum practice routine when it comes to recording.

Band Practice

I’d also like to take a moment to discuss how I approach band practice, as I count it under the “projects & gigs” category in my drum practice schedule.

I personally don’t drum with a click when my band plays live, so I think it’s imperative that I do when we rehearse for shows – kind of like I’ve earned the freedom of playing without it live, and can do so confidently.

7UPPERCUTS tends to take some basic ideas for new music into practice, and we develop them as a band through old school jamming and collaboration. I like to be vocal about how I feel the song, how I imagine my drum parts will sound, where I think I need to play fills etc.

But while actually jamming, I’ll keep it simple and groovy so we can establish a general song structure to work on. This also allows my bandmates to start imagining possible melodies, hooks, and progressions during the jam. At this point, I just need that general song structure in my head so I can take it home to experiment with rhythm and add all my ribbons, bows and sparkles.

Improvisation/Creation With Drum Practice

Improvisation and creating new ideas are by far my most favorite parts of drum practice.

If I don’t structure my practice routine like I’ve already described, I naturally gravitate towards just ‘playing how I feel’ and seeing what comes out.

This can feel really therapeutic for me, as I find it easy to get into a flow state while doing this. I can even surprise myself with new developments in my game, as a result of progression in the other areas.

For example, rudiments and sticking patterns I’ve been working on may begin to crop up in my improvisations, or various voicings of song parts I’ve been learning may come to mind. It’s also cool to notice how my work on technique and timing is affecting the fluidity and sound of my drumming.  

Example Drum Practice Exercises

Linear Drumming

Linear drumming is a playing style in which no drum or cymbal is hit simultaneously, and it can be a really useful exercise for improving one’s fluidity around the kit.

It also allows you to find new sounds and combinations, which is a great way to escape the repetitive ruts we can all fall into.

Getting Inspired

I also look to some of my favorite online teachers for inspiration when it comes to creativity.

If I come across a fill idea that I like for example, I’ll take into my improv drum practice and try and apply it in different contexts – within a groove, with personalized instrumentation or sticking, or in a different tempo or time signature. I may also use it as the basis of my personal jam session – basically a theme to build a solo around.

That’s what I’ve been doing this week with this pattern as taught by The Orlando Drummer.

Once I had drilled it at different tempos and got it down exactly as he suggests, I began moving it around the kit, breaking up the pattern, adding some different accents, and simply expressed myself using this idea as a base. It was, in fact, the catalyst for the creation of a cool fill for one of the songs I will be recording soon.

Expanding Your drumming Repertoire

The improvisation/creation portion of a drum practice routine is also a great opportunity to jam on a new style you want to learn and develop.

Most of the work I do on the drums is in a rock context. It’s my favorite style of music to play and listen to.

However, there is obvious value to be taken from learning different musical styles, not least the ability to incorporate ideas into my rock playing.

Growing up, I had very little exposure to Latin music for example, but since studying Mark Kelso’s “Introduction to Brazilian Grooves”, I’ve found myself using Bossa Nova and Samba rhythms as the theme my creative jams.

It’s been an excellent way of adding new flavors and perspectives to my playing.

Putting It All Together: Building An Effective Drum Practice Schedule

Your ability to put a drum practice schedule together is dependent upon not only your motivation, but also on time and ease of access to drums.

Not everyone has a studio set-up at home, for example. I personally have a Roland Td-11 (which is now out of production, replaced by the Roland TD-17). The TD-11 is a great option for me in my living situation, since I need a way of playing drums at low-volume.

I am very aware though, that it’s not a perfect replacement for a full acoustic kit, so in addition to band practice, I’ll find at least one other evening to visit the studio and practice alone.

As I mentioned previously, rudimental drum practice for me takes place on a drum pad in my living room. I actually enjoy having a few different environments to practice in: It not only keeps things fresh but also aids me in structuring my schedule.

Whatever your goals are, it’s crucial that you create a balanced drum practice routine to achieve them. By laying out the areas of playing you want to improve, and choosing some particular exercises to do so, you can create a clear roadmap to improvement.

In the absence of a teacher or mentor, I recommend using the plethora of excellent educational material available online. What’s truly important is that you create a logical process, trust it, and execute it consistently.