Sunday, July 10, 2011

Practicing vs. Rehearsing

Had another e-mail come in that I thought you guys would like to see...

Got a question!
I love the new material you always post. How do you (or more importantly how would I) go about balancing new practice material vs getting ready for the upcoming gig?

Love the beat displacement vid. I play hip hop and I never thought to do that. I am always looking for a different way to use the kick and snare since that is so important in that genre. Do you have the written music for that or is it in the book? If it's in the book don't bother, I am buying it here soon.

ps July 22nd you are at the NAMM in Nashville?

What's up Jason...

So sorry it took me a day or so to get back to you. I wanted to make sure I had enough time to fully answer your question...and a GREAT question it is!

I struggled with this so much while I was in college. I was playing in a ton of groups and going to school at the same time. It seemed like I was always having to learn new material for a gig as well as keep up with the ensembles I was in and my private lessons (I was taking from two separate teachers. Not only did I have to keep up with my drum set studies, I had to practice the vibes, marimba, and tons of auxiliary percussion). I actually found a few ways to have it all work to my advantage. I would learn what needed to be learned for the gig, keep up with my lesson studies, challenge myself in new ways, and make money with it all at the same time.

First things first...THE GIG IS THE MOST IMPORTANT!!! The whole reason we get into playing in the first place is so that we can take those skills and entertain (hopefully at least) people. To play with other musicians, to create...not to sit in our basement and hack out cool licks by ourselves (although I have just as much fun doing that). Whatever material has to be learned for the gig comes first. Period. If rehearsals with the group you're gigging with takes away from your practice time, that's just how it has to be. When you get onstage, you should know the songs backwards and forwards.

Now, that being said, I think you can do both at the same time. Practice for the gig as well as further your skills that is.

For a long time I separated what I practiced in my personal practice time from the gig material. I had the stuff I practiced and I had the stuff I played on the gig and never the two would meet. Thinking back it seems so stupid to do it that way. I just never thought to incorporate practicing for a gig into my practice sessions. The only reason we practice is to learn skills that will make us better on the gig. Your gigs and the material you learn should regularly mix with the material you have fun practicing.

It started while I was playing in NOLA. I was playing at least 5 hour shifts, sometimes 10 hours...6 days a that's alot of playing! Needless to say, it was alot of the same material, and not overly challenging material might I add. I would practice for 2 or 3 hours before I went into the gig. It dawned on me one day that I had the perfect situation to try out alot of the stuff I had been practicing. I would take a fill idea I had been working on, or a groove idea, and I would look through our song list. I would find the best place to stick the fill in..."I'll play this fill going into the 3rd chorus of Jungle Boogie", or whatever. Or maybe it was a groove that I would stick into a solo section of a song. In other words, I was using the gig to apply the skills I was learning in my practice time. This is one way I made the most of my time.

The other one takes a bit more creative thought, but is alot more fun and has endless possibilities.

Take 3 or 4 songs that you'll be performing. They are now going to be put on the table to be dissected. First, find out what tempos they are played at. Write those down. Next, pick your regular warmup (if you have one...and if not, now's a great time to get one) or maybe just a section of a method book that you've been working on. Pick one of the tempos and instead of playing the exercise at the fastest tempo possible, play it at the tempo of that song. Make it groove and repeat it until it's perfect. I found that alot of the performance tempos I played at were slower than the tempos I was playing some exercises at. This allows you to work on the song indirectly. When you go to play that song, all of a sudden you'll have a ton of ideas start to spring into your head because you've been concentrating on that tempo all week.

Now that you've done that, pull the actual recording of the song out. Grab some headphones and have some fun! Put the song on repeat and play the exercise to the actual song. It doesn't have to make musical sense at the time, this is just practice. I've stumbled upon so many cool applications of things I had been studying just by randomly playing the exercise over a new song. "Oooh, I love the way that sits over that groove!", "Man, that sounds killer when I do that right before the bridge!".

We're just getting warmed up with this...

Ok, so we've practiced that songs tempo until we're blue in the face. Now lets dissect the song. Take the groove that you play to that song. Pull out a book like Gary Chester's "New Breed". Go to the section of bass drum exercises. Keep the hi hat and snare the same as they are in the song and play the bass drum exercises over that. Now keep the hi hat and kick drum the same as they are in the song and play the bass drum exercises, but this time play them with your left hand on the snare instead of the kick drum. Now keep the snare and kick the same as in the song and play the exercises on the hi hat...or tom...or ride cymbal...or rules here! Are you starting to see what I'm getting at with this?

Next, take 3 of the fills that happen during the song. Learn them as they are played on the recording. Then mess with them. Start them on beat two instead of 1. Just use the sticking for the fill and put every note on a different drum...Play the fill on the the fill between the left hand and the kick...again, it's a game, just have fun with it.

Grab some popcorn, I've got a story...

I picked the setlist out for my senior recital 6 months before it was to happen. Then, I went through each song and decided what concepts I wanted to explore. I took all 6 months and came at those grooves and concepts in every way possible. It was some of the most intense and rewarding practicing I've ever done. By the time I played my recital, I had a virtual encyclopedia of stickings, grooves, and ideas to pull from.

This is the way I approach it. When I do this, I'll get to the gig and what seemed like challenging music when I first looked at it was now quite simple. And I found I wasn't just "getting through" the gig anymore...I had endless ideas that I could try. And I knew they would all be in the pocket because I had been practicing those ideas to that song for weeks.

Another way...

Get out your practice log (and I know you have one)...decide on how long you have to practice that day and how long you have until the gig (i.e. a week? a month?). Spend half of your practice time working on the gig material, and the other half working on your own stuff. As long as you slot out a time frame, you should be able to learn it in plenty of time for the gig as well as expand your own stuff.

As far as the displacement glad it helped! And yes, that material is in the book. If you haven't checked these lessons out that I did as well, you should. I think you'll dig them too...



And yes, I will absolutely be at NAMM...and you? If you're there, let's hook up!


Glo said...

This is really useful Stephen. I too have struggled with this issue and this makes perfect sense. You really are king of common sensibleness. Thanks!

Stephen said...

Biggest compliment EVER! The King of Common Sense...I like it, lol. I'm not really, but I believe in the concept of common sense in everything you do. So glad it was as useful to you as it was to me.

-Stephen T.

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