Practice Practice Practice

Practicing sucks. There – I said it. I’ve never been one of those guys who practices 23 hours a day. I don’t practice the same beat over and over 10,000 times, and I don’t lock myself into a room to play rudiments for hours each night. Playing like that is completely boring, unappealing to me and, honestly, makes me want to jump out a window. I love playing – I just hate practicing!

But the truth is that unless you are a music prodigy, you do need to practice if you want to nail that cool fill-in, be ready for that upcoming show, audition, or if you want to expand your playing in general.

Where Do You Want To Be?

How you go about practicing somewhat depends on what you want out of yourself as a drummer. Do you want to be a drumming Jedi with endless solo chops, or are you content just being a simpler groove player? Are you all ‘punk rock’ and don’t care if you sound as drunk as you may look, or are you a perfectionist player? Do you want to be a master of many styles, or do you specifically just want to be a good industrial polka drummer? You just have to be honest with yourself about where you want to be.

Personally, I’m kind of in the middle: I have some chops and want to keep them. I’m interested in growing and learning more yet I don’t feel the need to constantly practice and try to be the next Steve Smith. I am generally happy with where I am with my playing. I just want to be able to consistently and comfortably play what I want I play.

Practicing Doesn’t Have To Be A Chore

Practicing doesn’t have to mean sitting there and playing boring rudiments for 17 hours straight. While practicing like that very well could help you improve at a much accelerated rate of course, you can find other ways to go about practicing that will still help you.

Here are some different ways I practice to work on some skills yet keep it fun and fresh:

Play To Your Favorite CDs (whatever those are…)

I have some wonderful headphones which not only have a line-in so I can plug in my iPod or CD player, but they have a built-in adjustable metronome! (Here’s a similar type of isolation headphones as an example. I believe Rod Morgenstein has his own isolation headphones available as well) These have been absolutely fantastic! I can hear the music and easily play along without having to crank the volume to 10,000 (or 11) and completely blow out my hearing. (Not to mention, it’s MUCH more convenient than trying to stuff your iPod/CD player headphones into soundproof ear muffs.) Playing to music with higher production quality will be better for you. Higher recording quality is more likely to be recorded to a clicktrack which will help your timing. Play to all different types of music – not ALL rock or ALL polka (?!). You’d be surprised how even a favorite album you’ve always considered “easy” can prove to be a challenge to actually play.

Play Your Favorite Songs But Play Your Own Parts Over It

This can be a lot of fun. For example, maybe I’ll play to GNR ‘Paradise City’ but put double bass under most of it. Maybe I’ll play a cheesy 80’s song but try to grind through it. Or maybe I’ll just play along to a simple song but will work on incorporating fast or complex fill-ins. Not only can some of this be good improv practice, but it also brings new life to your favorite practice songs.

Just Solo

Years ago, I signed up for the Guitar Center Drumoff competition. I had never done a real drum solo at any point, so I started practicing for it and found it was very difficult. I had always practiced my band songs, but not soloing.Practicing soloing really helped with me with improv playing. While playing a show years ago (after having worked on soloing for some time), I realized mid-show that I was able to think of some neat fill-ins on the fly and play them right into the song as if that’s what I always played. I’m NOT saying “Yeah – just learn to solo through EVERYTHING!” It was a Matrix moment when I realized that I could think of something on the fly and easily make it happen right then and there.

Practice Your Band’s Songs From Memory To A Metronome

I found this has had two big benefits for me. First, playing to the evil metronome showed me what parts I was speeding up or down. It helped me ‘reset’ how I played certain songs or sections. Second, playing to the songs from memory helped me to visualize the song. I’m sure you’ve heard of ‘visualizing your goals’ on late night infomercials or something. This was similar in that I was seeing the song in my head and not relying on monitors to know where I was. That is a VERY handy skill, especially if you’re playing metal where you’re usually playing at ridiculous volumes in tiny clubs with crappy-ass sound systems. If you CAN’T remember one of your band’s songs from memory, then go listen to those songs about 20 times RIGHT NOW. If you can’t remember the whole song, how can you possibly expect to remember it properly at the show with adrenaline and so many extra distractions?

Practice With A Friend

By far, the most improvement I ever saw in my playing was from playing with other people. I joined my first band the second I got my first drum set, and we immediately began playing and practicing. I went from not knowing how to play to playing little shows in high school within 2-3 months. Everyone brings their own style to the table; you almost always learn and grow musically with each person you play with. The guitarists in my old metal band had their own styles and strengths. It was a completely different experience playing with each of them individually. In fact, one guitarist and I would play random Van Halen and old Anthrax songs when we got together. He was probably the only person I’d ever played those songs with. Playing things you don’t usually play help you get outside of your own mental box and open your playing.

I have never said, “You don’t need to practice!” You certainly aren’t going to win the Olympics by sitting on the couch, eating donuts though.

You really SHOULD practice – it will make you a better player, and you’ll have more fun being able to play how you want to play. But if you’re like me and just aren’t into religious practicing routines, you can find other ways of practicing to keep up your chops and expand your drumming world while still having fun playing.

Become that Jedi with endless solo chops, prefect your groove, master many styles and be that industrial polka drummer. All you have to do is practice.

Oh…and Happy Halloween, everyone!

Morthona - Happy Halloween

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Pure Energy

What you eat can make a considerable difference in your drumming energy and stamina.

When I was on the swim team as a kid, our parents would load us up with Little Caesar’s pizza the night before an event – ‘for the carbs’. I started off my mornings before practice with Toaster Struddles or Fruity Pebbles. Before, during and after practice I snacked on Teddy Grahams and drank endless, large bottles of what was basically Koolaid. It was the same on race days. Looking back, it’s a miracle none of us fell into diabetic comas, let alone survived a meet! But we were KIDS then, so we had endless energy and high metabolisms which seemed to made up for any poor nutrition habits.

Skip ahead, many years later when I was playing with my death metal band, KEVORKIAN, on the East coast. It was very drumming-intensive music that took every ounce of energy and endurance I had to play. I was maybe 24-25, working a full-time 9-5 job, and not getting ANY exercise outside of drumming. Plus, I was a single guy who didn’t cook; I was living solely on pizza, Hamburger Helper, White Castle, and general Tso’s chicken. I started noticing that it was increasingly harder to play at my usual energy levels. Sometimes it was hard just to make it through certain songs.

Around that time I met my wife who was/is a terrific cook; she even ended up going back to school for culinary arts and graduated as a chef! I learned a lot about nutrition from her, and she helped me tremendously in changing my eating habits for the better:

  • I cut out soda and stopped drinking so much Red Bull on a daily basis.
  • I cut most junk food and snacks out of my diet.
  • I drastically calmed down on fatty, greasy foods like White Castle and General Tso’s Chicken and made those only ‘once in a while’ treats.
  • I cut back on red meats and started eating better protein, like chicken and fish, as well as good carbs and vegetables.
  • I even bought a juicer and was making vegetable/fruit juices almost every day.

The Results?
I lost 10 pounds or even more. I no longer looked puffy and sickly from all the greasy junk food I had been living on. I felt better. I noticed I didn’t have 75% of the stomach issues I usually endured. I was generally MUCH healthier, even when the people around me were getting repeatedly sick. And best yet: when it came to my drumming, I once again had the high energy and endurance I needed to play my best! I wasn’t struggling to keep up at practices any more, and I didn’t feel totally drained after the first couple songs at live shows. I was able to focus on the show and my drumming instead of worrying about how exhausted I felt or how I was going to make it through the next song.

As I see it, as you get older, you tire faster. There are more daily stresses to deal with, you’re probably working a full-time job or more and people generally get less and less exercise. I used to rollerblade several hours every day when I was a student in Boston.  That completely stopped once I got a car and started working full-time. Even the shift from part-time to full-time at my job took a noticeable toll on me, and I found myself much more tired at the end of the week. With musicians, it’s even more of a physical challenge to work a day job and then go play a high-energy, late show that evening. When you’re needing energy to play that show you’ve practiced so hard for, unfortunately White Castle and Doritos aren’t going to do it for you. Trust me, I’ve tried 🙂

So What Do You Do For Better Energy?

Pre-Show Dinner
My wonderful wife started making me chicken, pasta and vegetables for dinner before shows – a perfect combination of carbs and protein for high energy while still being fairly light and not weighing you down like heavy grease foods.

Sometimes, you have fairly limited options if you have to eat out before a show. In these cases, I try to avoid greasy, fast-food restaurants and instead look for places that have pastas, grilled chicken or other non-fried food. Even a Subway sandwich is much better than eating a quintuple-stack cheeseburger with fries at McDonald’s. Avoid the fried foods at all costs!

Protein Shakes
At some point, I started buying protein shakes. There is one at GNC that I like which has something like 50g of protein in it, and I drink one the day of any show I play. They come in chocolate, cookies & cream, vanilla, and other flavors so they don’t taste half bad either. The high protein is a great supplement for energy later on plus it is a good ‘reserve’ in case you don’t have very good food options later that day. You can even find some of them at gas stations so they’re usually not so hard to find when you’re driving through strange lands to a show.

Drink, drink, drink! Can’t stress that enough. However, not beer, liquor, energy drinks, McDonald’s shakes, or soda. LOTS of water or other more natural, lower-sugar fluids is best. Good hydration helps transport nutrients to your various organs, it gets oxygen to your cells, and it helps to protect your joints and organs. As a drummer, you are exerting yourself physically (even more at a live performance), and keeping hydrated helps your cells get rid of waste and helps to avoid stomach and other cramps.

If you are up until 4am bar-hopping the night before your show, you most likely aren’t going to play 100% the next day. You don’t need to go to bed at 6pm the night before, but just be mindful of how much sleep you’re getting, and try to get as much rest as possible the night before. Maybe pass on going out and getting trashed that night and save it for after the show – let your body rest and prepare.

Everyone is different. There are plenty of people who can play just fine while completely trashed, on no sleep, and/or on a steady diet of McDonalds – power to ‘em! But as I got older and busier in life, I realized that I needed to take some extra steps if I wanted to play my best and, for me, that’s what it’s all about: playing the best I can. I don’t think anything I’ve mentioned is any new, crazy concept,- it’s more common sense. When you watch the Olympics, you don’t see the top athletes closing the bar the night before or scarfing down a bag of chocolate donuts just before their events, do you? These are just points that I see a lot of drummers (and other musicians) commonly overlook. Drinking a protein shake before your show isn’t going to give you super powers, but I can almost guarantee it’s going to help you a lot more than Little Caesar’s and Toaster Struddles!

Go Left, Young Man…

I had started drumming in the later years of high school and had no prior music education. I had never been in marching band or any other school band project. I didn’t have any musician friends or family members. I had taken a few years of drum lessons when I first got my kit but I was mostly focused on playing in bands and (once I heard “Reign in Blood”) learning double bass as opposed to learning tons of theory, rudiments, etc.

When I started at Berklee, I quickly realized I was WAY behind most of the drummers there. There were kids who had been playing since they were four or five years old. There were child prodigies that played more than seven instruments who could drum better than I could, even though it wasn’t their main instrument. Almost everyone seemed to have played in a school band, a marching band, or a jazz band,and they all knew how to read music and play every rudiment. Then there’s was me, who had barely ever played a simple jazz beat up until that point, let alone Paradiddle Diddle Doobie Doobie Derps. (Yeah, look that one up…)

While I believe Berklee has diversified their programs much more in recent years, it was primarily a jazz-based school when I attended. A lot of the theory classes focused on jazz or used jazz for examples and lessons. There were jazz recitals and concerts, a jazz club down the street where many students played.  Jazz, jazz and MORE jazz – almost all the time.

I had a real hard time keeping up at first.  I was basically a garage metal drummer with only a few years of drumming experience. But I started learning and practicing my rudiments. I studied lots of jazz and had to learn it well enough to pass my semester performance exams. I was also exposed to lots of latin drumming, learning a good deal of that as well. At the time, I wasn’t thrilled about any of the jazz or latin training because I wanted to learn to be a death metal drumming Jedi. Honestly, I thought all the jazz/latin was a waste of my time; it wasn’t what I wanted to be playing.

Learning all of that stuff quickly showed me a lot of my own ‘drumming weaknesses’.  One of the biggest issues was that my left side (hand and foot) were WEAK! I’m right-handed, so like most people, I favor my right side when playing – and that was blatantly obvious when learning these new styles.

One of the great things about rudiments is that your left hand plays exactly what your right hand does. I practiced my rudiments religiously then. I would get hand cramps in my left hand, and I commonly had to stop and rest because it was so tired and sore.

Latin beats were REALLY hard for me at first because a lot of latin drumming requires total body independence: each of your limbs are often playing a completely different rhythm at the same time. It wasn’t as difficult getting my right limbs to play the rhythms, but it was almost as if I was a stroke victim when it came to playing the other rhythms with my left limbs.

After a few years, my hand technique had CONSIDERABLY improved. I could play all the rudiments well and even progressed into advanced rudiment classes. While not Buddy Rich by any means, I could play my way through a jazz or latin song and fool most people into thinking I was comfortable with it. My biggest realizations were when I went home and played with my metal band again. There were hard parts in certain songs that were no longer physically challenging to play. My double bass and drum rolls were smoother and more consistent than ever. My grinding greatly improved and was easier for me than it had EVER been. I had a whole new arsenal of tricks and fill-ins, which involved more left-side activity than I had ever thought of. I had definitely shed my skin…

By now, you may be wondering “Yeah, yeah…great I guess…what the HELL are you getting at?!”

I had never realized how weak and uncoordinated my left side was until I was ‘forced’ to pay attention to it. Focusing on working my left limbs was by far one of the most crucial elements for me in becoming a much better drummer. Yeah, so I’m not the world’s greatest jazz or latin drummer, and I might not be playing in any infamous marching bands soon. However, mastering my rudiments strengthened my hands – BOTH hands. It gave me more power, endurance, and control in my overall playing. Learning jazz and latin dramatically helped with independence but also brought more focus to my left side, opening up a whole new realm of drumming ideas that I had never considered. And my favorite part – strengthening and focusing on my left limbs brought me to a whole new level with my metal drumming. I hadn’t realized that it was my weak left hand that was making grinding and fast rolls so much harder. My weak left foot had been making my double bass sloppier and inconsistent, and it also gave me less control when playing intricate rhythms. My left limbs’ lack of stamina also had a lot to do with ‘the hard parts’ in songs that I commonly struggled with.

So What’s Left To Do?

There are a lot of things you can do to work on your left side to bring it up to speed with the right. Here are a few things I work on and keep in mind in order to maintain my left side strength (the same for lefty drummers of course, just obviously switch sides):

  • Play Left Handed. I’m sure you’ve seen some ambidextrous drummers that make it look so easy (but it’s NOT!). Try playing the high hat with your left hand and the snare with your right for a change when you practice next- fill-ins and everything. After you get the hang of it, try it out at a full band practice. It’s HARD, especially at first…but if you can get comfortable with it, your playing will be so much more consistent and you’ll have a ton of new ideas to work with.
  • Practice Your Regular Routines Right AND Left Lead. Play your normal practice routines but switch it up every few times and start with your left instead. For the double bass guys, start your DB beats with your left foot, or you can even practice playing your simple single bass beats but only use your left pedal/foot. If you get really good with it, you can combine it with left hand leads – play right foot lead double bass with left hand lead, play left foot lead double bass with right hand lead, play left foot lead double bass with left hand lead, etc. Even further, you can practice routines that alternate between your left and right: play a 16th double bass beat but put a triplet on the last eighth note which will start the next measure with your left foot.
  • Set Up Your Kit Backwards.  One of my good friends, Pete, is a lefty drummer. I’m a huge Phil Collins fan, and he’s a lefty too. It looks so funky to me, so one day I had the idea to set up my kit lefty. While it WAS pretty funky to play at first, it definitely opened things up. I had never played left hand crossover on the high hat before!
  • Do Normal Daily Things With The Other Hand. Comb your hair, brush your teeth, practice writing or throw rocks at your neighbors’ house with your left hand instead of your right. Anything you normally do right-handed throughout the day, try with your left instead. While this isn’t going to make you an ambidextrous player by any means, it IS going to make you focus on your left side more and get more comfortable using it. (If you work at a steelmill or woodshop, I may recommend that you pass on this exercise…)
  • Try Adding A Few More Elements To The Left Side Of Your Kit. Commonly, you’ll see most drummers with almost all of their cymbals, percussion, on the right side of their kits – their comfortable side – with very little on the left. Try moving a few extra cymbals or splashes over to left side. I used to play double rides – one on my right AND left.  That really made for some neat ideas, patterns, and fills. Work on hitting left accents, like the E’s & A’s of sixteen note patterns or the upbeat of eighth note patterns. Practice right and left fills which end on a left crash or high hat.
  • Chop Off Your Right Limbs. Extreme for some, but forces you to strengthen your left limbs at least. (uh…no….don’t do that.)

These lefty realizations were a huge breakthrough for me with my drumming, and I hope I’ve given you a few ideas or at least made you think about your left side more with your own playing. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some Triple Ratamacues that need my attention…


Whenever I watch other drummers get ready for a performance or read articles about ‘preparing for the show’, most of the preparation process seems to leave out a few things that are essential. While warm-up exercises and rudiment routines are important and beneficial, there are a number of OTHER important preparations. I will be exploring these crucial preparations in several articles, but this one will focus on stretching.

I swam competitively from a very young age, and up into high school. Before AND after each practice, we spent at least 15 minutes doing a variety of stretches to loosen all of our muscles. It was equally important to stretch AFTER practice to help our muscles get rid of the built-up lactic acid. And it was absolutely vital that we stretched before to loosen up and prepare our muscles for a workout.

Swimming is a great exercise because it utilizes almost ALL of your muscles, and drumming isn’t that much different. While stretching can be beneficial for any band member, I’d venture to say it’s most critical for drummers since drumming is more physical than other instruments. Have you ever started out playing a show totally full of energy and power, but by the end of the first song you’re out of breath and your limbs feel heavy or tight? Maybe you even get a stomach or hand cramp? When your muscles are ‘cold’ or tight, it takes extra energy to get them going to perform at their usual levels. As a result, you end up wasting a ton of extra energy trying to “force” them to perform. And if you get all amped up for live performances the way I do, you can end up really blowing yourself out as you hit harder, play faster and push your muscles that much further.

Taking 10-15 minutes to stretch before you play a show or practice can really make a difference in your playing and performances.  When you stretch, you improve the blood circulation to your muscles, preparing them for performance and exertion. Good blood circulation means that more oxygen is getting to your muscles, which is crucial during heavily aerobic exercise such as drumming.

Below are a few basic stretches that I do each time I play:

Drumming stretches - drummer preparation

One thing I’d like to point out is that you should never stretch yourself to extreme levels. Always go slowly and stop immediately if you experience any pain or unusual discomfort.

I know some of you are probably thinking “I’m gonna look like a total dork if everyone sees me stretching at the club before the show.” I’ve played a considerable number of shows in the death metal scene over the years, so I can understand not feeling like busting into lunges in front of your sometimes ‘too metal’ audience or friends. However, you can usually find somewhere away from the action to get a few quick stretches in: next to your car, outside the club, etc.

For me, I always focus on being in control of my own performance, not spending the whole show agonizing over a stomach cramp or worrying about keeping up with the next song. Stretching is by far one of the most important preparations in helping me play my best, and I think it could help you as well. (And it’s FREE!)

Happy stretching! Feel free to drop me a line if you give it a try.



One of my friends recently reviewed “Immortality In Culture” on his new music site, Thanks, Dan!

Kevorkian: Immortality In Culture

Immortality in Culture is what most bands want to accomplish in the studio. This 11 song album slams from the beginning to end, this albums a metal masterpiece. Drummer Chris Janus is a monster, if drummers were weapons he would be the Death Star, the guitar playing on this album is solid, heavy and good. I love to listen to heavy melodic players, and this album is just that, heavy and melodic. I can’t stop listening to “In the Name of the Father” this song makes me want to punch the air.

I recommend “Immortality in Culture” to all the Metal Heads.