Inspired Practice

Hard work is the key to musicianship while inspiration provides the fuel for effort.

Inspiration isn’t a replacement for disciplined practice. It is the element that makes that practice effective and fulfilling.

Suggested Sources of Inspiration

  • Playing with friends
  • Live performance
  • Listening to music
  • Watching videos
  • Reading interviews
  • Role models and heroes
  • Healthy competition
  • Goals and rewards
  • Health and well being

Goals and Discipline

“No complaints and no regrets
I still believe in chasing dreams and placing bets
But I have learned that all you give is all you get
So give it all you got.”
~Shirley Horn

If our goals are lofty our efforts must match them, or our goals must change. 

Natural Ability

“…the gift our idols possess is really more a matter of disposition than physical attributes. The gifted are the lucky few who have found something that they’re passionate about. So passionate in fact, that they’re compelled to investigate it whether anyone else is interested or not. Their temperament allows them to spend countless hours and years refining their craft by practicing the things they can’t do simply because that process is the thing they find most enjoyable in life. That’s the gift.”
~John Riley

Confidence and Individuality

Humility frees us from fear. Self-respect allows us to be humble. Respect others. Value your uniqueness. Nobody can be you as well as you can. You can never be someone else. Always be a student, never a master, then you have nothing to lose. With this approach, you are free to focus on enjoying music without distraction.

Practice Tips

  • The slower you go, the faster you get there. Take your time, don’t practice too fast. Get a slow flow going rather than short, inaccurate bursts.
  • Listening, counting, playing. Remember the order. Your ears and voice will help your hands know what to play and keep your playing musical.
  • If reading exercises, get them into your ears as soon as possible. Try to hear them, sing or count them, and internalize them.
  • Turn each exercise into music, make it your own. Even a simple drill can have life.
  • Relax, and breathe.
  • Take breaks at least every 40 minutes.
  • Change or rotate practice material frequently. Keep it fresh.
  • When you’ve decided what to practice, have faith and stick with it. Most material will seem dull until you’ve practiced it enough to be able to “make it your own,” giving it life.
  • Try to understand the realistic applications of practice material.
  • Don’t mix judging with practicing. While you’re practicing, stay focused.
  • Make sure you get good rest, exercise and eat well. Who would have thought taking a nap was practice?

Pitfalls to Avoid

  • Both overconfidence and under-confidence are ego-traps and distractions. Stay focused on the music.
  • Lack of faith in practice material can cause us to scratch the surface and give up. Have you ever thought “Hmm… I want to get better but I don’t really feel like this is going to get me anywhere”? Practicing almost anything in a focused, relaxed way, with a desire to improve, will yield positive results. Make a decision and move forward.
  • Lack of inspiration. Practicing without inspiration is like trying to carry your car to the beach. Find your source of inspiration and go to it. Do you truly want to improve? Why?
  • Lack of goals and not giving yourself credit for your efforts.
  • Scratching the surface, and thus not getting the reward of progress. Look back at progress you’ve made. What did it take to get there? Give yourself credit for your accomplishments and learn from your experiences.
  • Holding tension. Try to stay physically relaxed and focused. Be aware of your posture and technique.
  • Putting in the time but not focusing or truly wanting to improve.


Teaching is a learning process. It requires breaking down techniques and making them clear. Teaching is a constant process of reviewing and solidifying the basics. It encourages us to truly understand our technique and motivations for playing. It also reveals things we may be missing.

You are your own best teacher. Learning is the process of teaching yourself. If you lose patience, get frustrated and give up easily, this will be apparent when you try to teach. On the other hand, if you are patient and determined you will teach and learn effectively. Learn to teach well, and you will assimilate new material quickly.

What Works for Me?

I don’t ever remember not wanting to play drums. I think it’s natural for kids to bang on pots and pans. I played the snare drum in 2nd grade band but I couldn’t understand why this awesome tool of Viking destruction should play rudiments and 8th notes behind the woodwinds and strings. That simply didn’t make sense—and the band teacher clearly didn’t like what I was doing. So the snare drum magically disappeared one day.

In middle school I got another chance. A friend asked “Hey do you wanna be in a band? We need a singer.” Of course! Unaware I was shy and a terrible singer, I learned all of Iron Maiden’s first album by heart and showed up for rehearsal. This was serious. No more getting kicked around at school. I was going to be in a band. After about an hour of listening to me scream at the top of my lungs, the other kids said… “Hey, actually maybe you’d be a better drummer. And we need a drummer too.” So that was it.

What motivated me to practice hard was feeling included and feeling like practicing had a direct and powerful impact on my life. Next was having drumming heroes and reading interviews in Modern Drummer magazine. That enlightened me to the fact that these drummers worked hard, respected the history of the instrument, had idols of their own from previous generations, valued reading, rudiments, hard work—that it was a craft they worked on for a lifetime. From there, playing house parties and going to see live performances kept me motivated to study and practice until I decided to make it a career.

What works for you? Sometimes it might be as simple as learning to play through the music you love to listen to. It just makes sense. The key is to pay attention and stay connected to your motivators.

6 thoughts on “Inspired Practice”

  1. Hey, I like your basic jazz methodology for drums. Good approach. I’ve been in the game since…before baseball! I wish I’d had your simple approach when I was a kid. Back then, instructors only taught rudiments and reading.

  2. Hello there! I’m a new drummer/student and I’m 43 so needless to say nothing is coming very easily for me but I am super excited to learn everything I can 🙂 My teacher has me on lesson 11 (Syncopation) and this week you’ve been my life saver. I do better if I count along with somebody and since I only see my teacher on Tuesdays you were “it” this week. Thank you for all the info you have put out there 🙂

    1. I’m really glad to hear the lessons are helpful Debora! Let me know if I can answer any questions. Thanks for stopping by!

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