Developing rhythmic accuracy. If you can’t sing it or count it you probably can’t play it correctly. James Chapin in his “Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer” wrote:
“More musical and inspirational perhaps is the method of playing one of the two component rhythms (in these exercises the cymbal rhythm) and singing the other, solo line, until the sound of the two parts is familiar to the ear. Then try to play the solo part, and if it is not successful, repeat the process until anything sung against the cymbal rhythm can be played with equal ease.” – James Chapin “Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer” p. 3
I think this is a good approach to all drum set playing and practicing. I remember my first drum teacher made me count every exercise out loud before he would let me play it on the snare drum. Not just a constant 16th for every beat. I could say ONLY the syllable that would be played. Like: “1 ah e ah 3 & 4 e”. I think you get the idea. Well of course I hated it. I just wanted to play the snare drum long enough to be able to play the drum set like a rock star. But in hindsight that teacher did me a big favor. He really solidified my rhythmic understanding and sight reading. I will forever be indebted to him.
So try singing or counting the rhythm BEFORE you play it.
You can use any syllables that work for you. I like to use the 1 2 3 4 for the beat; 1& 2& 3& 4& for the division and 1e&ah 2e&ah 3e&ah 4e&ah for the sub-division. Sing a measure or two and then try playing (echoing) it on the drum set. Put on a recording and try playing the rhythm of the “melody” that the singer or soloist is performing. You should get to the point that you can hear (sing) a rhythm in your head and then subconsciously can play it. That is the point of improvisation: To be able to play on your instrument what you hear in your mind without having to consciously think about it. So for developing rhythmic accuracy sing it or count it before or while you play it. Vocal quality doesn’t matter. Rhythmic accuracy does.
Own It and Commit
I am frequently practicing really cool time patterns or fills in the practice room. But then when I get out on a job I go back to the same old ones I’ve played for years.
What I have been doing lately is look away from the music and play them by memory. I know it sounds silly, but I try to imagine myself playing the patterns with a group – particularly a bass player. Sometimes I will play time for a few measures and then incorporate the fill I am working on. Or play the time pattern groove and work in a fill in between. Just something to instinctively play the pattern or fill I am working on. Sometime I even sing or count the pattern to get the melodic line in my head. I find most of the time I play what I hear or imagine in my head.
So lately I have been trying to OWN the time pattern or fill I am practicing. Slowly but surely I have started incorporate them into my performances. But there is still much more work to be done.
You may also want to see: Practice with Pomodoro Technique