I had a very interesting music experience recently that really got me thinking about practicing. I went out to see a band play in Miami and was completely blown away by the drummer. He was playing with perfect precision, in a style that I had really never heard before. There weren’t a lot of dynamics to his playing. His performance was almost machine-like but it worked really well with the music the band was playing.
I went to talk to him afterwards to pick his brain for a bit. How was he able to play like that? How did he have such control? After talking to him for a little while, he revealed that he had been practicing drums for many years but he had only gotten his first drum set three months ago. I was shocked. I asked him how he practiced before he had even gotten a drum set. My jaw dropped as he demonstrated in the air how he practiced without a drum set.
He held up his sticks into the air and started playing as if there were a drum set in front of him. He was air drumming! This is how he practiced for many years. He had just completely changed my entire perspective on practicing drum set.
How To Practice Drums Without A Drum Set
After I thought about it for a while, it started to make a lot of sense. Many drummers will practice on a pillow to build up their muscles. Picture joggers who attach extra weights to their legs. They are making it more difficult for themselves to build muscles and making it easier for themselves when they do eventually take them off.
A drum or even a practice pad does a lot of the work for you. By striking something bouncy, the stick bounces back automatically, without applying any extra force or effort. When a drummer uses a pillow, there is a lot more resistance, so the muscles in the wrist and fingers have to do extra work to get the stick to come back up again. When practicing in the air, there is absolutely nothing causing the stick to stop moving down and start moving upward again. You must rely completely on the muscles to do that. This is why that drummer developed such amazing technical ability without ever owning a drum set.
Don’t Forget Your Feet!
You can get your feet into the action as well! The same concept can apply to working out the feet. A foot pedal will do a lot of the work for you. However, if you simply work out your feet in the air, you will develop muscles you never could by practicing on only a pedal. You can also work on hand-foot coordination easily without an actual drum set. Try playing one rhythm pattern with your feet and a separate one with your hands. There is so much you can do without even getting to touch the actual instrument!
Drums, The Real Thing
Of course, eventually you do want to be able to play on a drum set to test out your abilities and hear the sound you are actually creating. This particular drummer from that night in Miami did not have an extensive dynamic range at all, and this could be one downside of not getting to practice on the instrument. I believe that drummers should try both. Make sure you get your exercise, but remember, ultimately, we are making music so make sure you can hear what you are creating!