Published in the Percussive Arts Society Rhythm Scene Magazine, February 2019
Do you feel pressured to practice multiple hours a day? Do you ever feel defeated after hours of practice? Then, this is the right blog for you. Feeding yourself negative messages after hours of practice can wreak havoc on your self-esteem. Instead of beating yourself up, no pun-intended, learn how to practice smarter, not harder. Implementing a practice mindset will set your practice sessions on fire and send positive messages to your brain which will further propel your abilities as a percussionist.
When I was in graduate school, I practiced 8 or more hours a day and wore that as a badge of honor. Little did I know those hours were being wasted with countless repetitions that would prove to be ineffective in the long-term. It wasn't until many years later that I learned a more effective way to practice which was focused on quality rather than quantity. Once I came to this realization, it was as if I had gained a sense of renewal and joy in practicing. I began to have fun and leave my practice sessions with a positive attitude which kept me on track for success.
The following practice tips are ones that I have personally used and learned about from the book "The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle. This is a book that changed my practice mindset and will transform how you approach teaching and learning your instrument.
1. Set practice goals
2. Set aside a consistent practice time
3. Track your goals
4. Practice music in small chunks (slow to fast)
5. Use a drum machine or a metronome
6. Have fun with the process (i.e. play around with challenging passages by:
-playing a part backwards
-playing a part in a different style from the original
-playing in a different rhythm than written
Sometimes taking music out of its original context can break the monotony and allow your brain to stretch in new ways which makes it easier to learn challenging passages.
7. Have a positive attitude
8. Set practice limits for each goal
9. Visualize music
10. Listen to professional recordings
Musicians are often guilty of obsessing over a passage until they get it correct. If you spend hours on one thing, you are wasting your time and practicing bad habits. This is a sign to slow the music down to a tempo that can be played correctly. Once you are able to play it correctly 5 times in a row at the slow tempo, it is time to bump the tempo up by two metronome clicks. This technique will shave hours off your practice time and will be more productive as a result. It will also be mapped into your brain correctly the first time which is also scientifically proven.
Now it is time to go and practice! Get your practice mindset in place and soar! Best wishes to you on setting new practice goals in 2018! If you would like to be held accountable for your practice, post a small recording and show your work at #drumsmarllc on twitter or instagram. I look forward to hearing your progress!
K. Michelle Lewis
K. Michelle Lewis is passionate about music education, empowering students to create, and strengthening community through Community Drum Circles. She teaches Music at Bloom Elementary School in Louisville, KY. Ms. Lewis is the Adjunct Professor of Elementary Music and Percussion Methods at Indiana University Southeast. She is the Director of the Louisville Leopard Percussionists Middle School Percussion Ensembles that focus on creating and performing music of various genres. In addition, Michelle maintains an active percussion studio, DrumSmart LLC, where her students have achieved many honors. Michelle received her Bachelor of Music Education from Morehead State University and a Masters in Percussion Performance from Rutgers University. She has studied percussion with Frank Oddis, She-E Wu, and Dennis DeLucia. She currently performs with the Voices of Kentuckiana, Brass Band of Louisville, and the Louisville Pipeband. She is an education endorser for Salyers Percussion in TX.
Do your middle school percussionists seem like they are off in another world? Do they lose mallets, forget to bring instruments to the performance, or look at you with a blank stare?
You are not alone. Percussionists are a special breed of musician that require more attention than wind players in the band. By attention, I am speaking about music that is challenging and commensurate with their abilities. For example, middle school band literature that is chosen for concerts is often too easy for the percussionist. This causes many problems during class including behavior disruptions, disinterest in music, and a negative attitude toward playing percussion.
Often times, band directors fail to organize their classrooms and rehearsals in a way that sets the middle school percussionist up to succeed. The diagram below is an accurate description of the time that is taken away from the aspiring percussionist. How can we change the weight of the amount of non-playing time to more playing time for our students?
How do you set up your classroom environment so that your percussionists will succeed? Here are some ideas for ways that you can organize the percussion space in your room that will eliminate problems before they occur. I have also included ideas for challenging your percussionists so that they do not get discouraged by easy music that isn't helping them grow as a musician.
1. Organize the percussion area with instrument assignment charts
2. Organize the percussion cabinet to include areas that are labeled
3. Post and track progress of the rudiment of the week
4. Offer percussion ensemble opportunities for students (This could be at school or with a community partner that offers middle school percussion ensemble)
5. Include the Percussion Ensemble on the Concerts
When percussionists are set up to succeed, they will follow the structure that is set before them. There are a lot of great resources for middle school percussion ensemble pieces being written today. I have used several pieces of literature from Drop 6, Row-Loff Productions, and TapSpace that are of excellent quality that serve to educate and inspire the percussionists who are lost in the middle. If you have questions, suggestions, or ideas to further inspire the young percussionists, please email me at email@example.com.
What can you do to change this graph to include more playing time for your percussionists?
Growing up in Louisville, Kentucky in the early 80's I always thought that my only options in music would be as a band director. While this was a good plan at the time, I became very passionate about performing when I went to college.
I was very fortunate to perform with an excellent high school band that afforded me with many performing opportunities. After graduation, I joined the Morehead State University Wind Ensemble, Percussion Ensemble, and Drumline. For two years, I went on tour with the MSU drumline who ended up as the Percussive Arts Society International Drumline Champions. During the 1996 tour in Atlanta, I performed for the PASIC Marimba Individuals Competition for the first time. I had no idea what I was getting myself into... I was just having fun playing the marimba.
After the individuals competition ended, I felt accomplished. I played "Wind in the Bamboo Grove" by Keiko Abe with passion and really felt good about my performance. After the scores came out, I was in shock. I was a 10th of a point from winning first place!!!
All of my hard work paid off. The sacrifices I made throughout the years were now worth it. I spent so many nights in the practice room that my friends stopped asking me to go to parties. They knew what my response was going to be. "I am practicing." Those three words were my mantra, my safe place, my passion.
Upon graduation, I landed what everyone thought was a "dream job" teaching percussion and directing a band as an assistant director in Victoria, Texas. It was an amazing experience that I would not have traded for anything. I learned more about teaching on the job than what I could have ever learned in college.
While I was teaching, I had many opportunities to perform with the Victoria Symphony as a percussion substitute. I also played drum set with a Big Band, a Dixieland Band, and a Country Rock Band that toured Dallas and Houston. Everything seemed to be going as planned until the performing bug hit me.
I started preparing auditions to go back to college for a Master's Degree in Percussion. This was a tough task since I had been out of practice for about 3 years. Luckily, my practice habits of undergraduate school had prepared me well. The challenge was on and I was going to meet it head on.
In the fall of 1999, I was accepted to The Rutgers University Mason Gross School for the Arts to study percussion with She-e Wu and Dennis DeLucia. I remember feeling shocked and surprised that I was accepted to this prestigious university. Being from the state of Kentucky, I felt very intimidated. Somehow, I gathered the confidence to be myself and play with passion when I went in for my audition. After it was over, I was relieved. All the preparation and sacrifices had once again paid off.
Much time has elapsed since those days, and many teaching and performing experiences have been had since then. In addition to these teaching and performing experiences, I have been involved in the administrative side of music which has also aided in my view of how to become successful in the music business.
During my time as a student, teacher, curator, and performer I have experienced 3 easy steps to help you fulfill your dreams in the music business. I call them the 3Ps. They are Professionalism, Preparation, and Passion and they are totally FREE.
1. Professionalism-This takes doing things that no one else wants to do. It is called being a leader and leading by example. Professionalism is making sure that you present yourself in a positive manner at all times.
- How many times have you heard a musician argue with the conductor? If you want to argue with the person that hired you, consider yourself off of the call list.
- Do you ever get to a gig and something doesn't go right with the rehearsal? Complaining about it to everyone around you isn't the way to get hired back. No one likes a complainer and that is not professional.
- Be on time, be responsible , and be helpful. No one likes a slacker! People hire people who are genuinely nice and have it together.
2. Preparation- This takes focused practice, planning, and grit. Downright hard work.
- Do you ever get to a gig and the person next to you doesn't know their part? Take note to see if that person is at your next gig.
- Do you spend more time practicing than you do with humans? Having goals for your practice and doing it consistently with focus will help you prepare for any gig. If you are a good time manager, it is possible to have a focused practice session and have human relations.
- Are you practicing smart? Quantity vs. QualityJust because you practiced 8 hours doesn't mean that your practice session was more effective than the person that practiced 4 hours. Focused practice in smaller chunks, repeated over time is more effective than a crappy 8-hour practice session. You know your attention span is not that good!
3. Passion- Do what you love and love what you do. If you are not in love with what you are doing, it will show.
- When you do what you love as an occupation, it doesn't feel like work.
- If you have a job that you do not love, it is time to locate a new job.
- When you can't stop thinking about something you care deeply about, that is passion.
If you can be professional, passionate, and prepared in everything that you do, you will be successful in music and in life. Best wishes to everyone that is in the pursuit of a dream. May all your dreams and aspirations come true and bring you happiness for years to come.
K. Michelle Lewis