This week, “Speaking of practice…”, a guest post from drummer Robert Crawford’s drumbad blog.
I had a drum teacher named Bill Roth.
I took lessons from him when I was 15 for only about three months because for the 15-year-old me, he was old and said lots of weird stuff. I later went back to him when I was 24 or 25.
He ended up being not only the greatest teacher I could have asked for, he became a dear, dear friend. He was a humble and compassionate man in character and in his drumming; A deep and spiritual person. Just like the Guru on the Mountain except he was a drummer in Akron. Sometimes our drum lessons didn’t even include drumming or anything pertaining to drums. Often he’d stump me with some crazy Guru on the Mountain question. When I would come up with an answer, I’d ask if it was right and he would say, “I don’t know.” With his eyebrow cocked, like he really did know, but wasn’t going to tell you ‘cause you gotta figure that shit out on your own.
Anyway, he was a brilliant and perfect guide, teacher, person and friend. The only teacher I’ve ever had, school, music or otherwise who actually pushed for me to study with other drummers/teachers. Even recommending teachers to me. It eventually came to where I didn’t take lessons with Bill anymore. Which was a great thing because instead of seeing him for only 30 minutes a week in a tiny, little room. I saw him 3-4 days a week for hours. We became very close and he was definitely my Sage in the truest sense of the word. He passed away in 2000, and needless to say, his lessons in drumming, music and life will be with me forever.
One question in particular he asked me was, “If you could only ‘practice’ one thing. What would it be?”.
At first I looked at him much the same way he would at me, with my eyebrow cocked. Except I didn’t really know what the hell he was talking about. I said, “I don’t know.” and he told me to just think about it and let him know. But to keep in mind, it can be anything. Not a bunch of different things, only one thing and of course variations of that one thing. (a rudiment, a specific groove or even something you come up with on your own). But ONLY one thing.
I never did get the chance to let him know. Although he never brought it up again… but I did go on somewhat of a quest to find what this one infallible thing could be. So I started asking other drummers the same question. I often got the same answer, ‘That’s impossible’. Which I guess is not a wrong answer. After all, everything IS one thing, right? I don’t know.
Throughout this quest, two people’s answers stuck with me the most:
I asked Gregory Hutchinson when he was on tour with Ray Brown, and he answered immediately with, “The jazz ride pattern. With your right and your left hand. Because if you can nail that… whew!”. Then he walked away.
So I spent a lot of time doing just that. This was not the only thing I practiced but it was a big part of the time spent with my instrument because it really made sense. I mean not only the pattern itself, but working on ‘Swinging’. Because if a drummer swings, then he swings, PERIOD! In any style of music that he plays. “If you can nail that…” it translates into everything you play, always. Everyone can feel it and it is undeniable.
Then, after attending a Jack DeJohnette clinic, I got the chance to talk to him and I asked him the question. After holding his chin and thinking about it for a few seconds, he said, “I’m not sure, but I don’t think you would necessarily need to be at the drum set when you did it. You could do it sitting under a tree or painting.” Damn, Jack!! That’s why you’re so bad!! I thought to myself.
This is also something I’ve “practiced”: spending time with my instrument while not actually being at my instrument.
Because if playing music is what you “DO”-your passion, then your instrument is always with you. Much like that dear friend who is with you even when they’re not ‘with you’. Whether you’re sitting under a tree, painting, shopping, whatever you’re doing. It’s always on your mind in some way (and I’m sure your instrument thinks of you often as well).
Now in an attempt to not get too philosophical, let me just say that fortunately for us, we don’t have to choose only one thing to practice. We could, but we don’t have to. So practice everything. Practice one thing. Practice whatever you want. Just make sure you enjoy what you’re practicing. That is the most important thing. If you are practicing something you don’t enjoy, that is your fault. If it’s boring, that’s your fault, too, because you’ve lost sight of what you’re really doing… Spending Time With Your Instrument.
So go! Sit under a tree and practice! Paint a picture and practice! Even wash your dishes and practice! Your instrument will be right there with you.
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