Developing A Productive Practice Routine

Photo of Chris AtchleyMany private drum teachers will tell you that the only way to become proficient at playing the drums is to practice, practice, practice. Although I believe this is mostly true, I also believe the absolute best way for you to improve quickly is by learning how to practice productively.

That is exactly what this article will help you do. By creating a focused practice routine, you will be able to see steady and measurable improvement while at the same time having a whole lot of fun. So, if you are ready lets dive in.

The first thing you will want to do is to sit down and evaluate some personal goals. What I mean is, ask yourself what you want to get out of a daily practice routine. For instance, do you want to develop your drumming into a hobby and just play for fun? Do you want to develop your skill level to the point where you can start or join a band with some friends and be able to jamb on some of your favorite tunes?

Or, do you want to develop this into a full fledged addiction with the goal of becoming the best possible drummer you can be and even get to the point where you can command a fee for your services? Any of these options are attainable for you; the trick is deciding what level of commitment you are willing to sign up for.

Depending on your desired path, I usually set my students up on a 30, 60, or 90+ minute a day practice schedule. So as you can see your world does not have to stop in order for you to reach your desired goals. To get you off and running, I will show you the basic concept in developing the 30 minute practice routine…

1.      CARVE OUT TIME FOR YOU TO BE ALONE: If your parents, kids, spouse, etc. are running around in the room you are practicing in, productivity will quickly go down the toilet! By minimizing any and all distractions, you will be able to quickly progress from one stage to the next.

2.    PROPERLY WARM UP: Spend the first few minutes doing some basic warm ups. If you have already signed up for the “Play Drums By Ear” video course, lessons #14 through #17 go into great detail on some fantastic basic to intermediate warm ups to help you get the blood flowing. If you do not have access to these video lessons, your goal is to stretch out the forearm muscles and get some blood flow happening.

Just like runners need to get warmed up before diving into a run, you will also need to warm up to get the most out of your practice time. If you do not have access yet to the “Play Drums By Ear” course, the best way to start warming up is by playing straight 8th notes to a metronome. With this warm up and with all the warm ups you use, start slow with the metronome and gradually increase your speed.

Again, this is greatly detailed in the “Play Drums By Ear” course under “Playing to a Click Track” found in the bonus videos section. I strongly suggest picking two warm ups and spending your first ten minutes on them. This is also a phenomenal way to introduce various rudiments into your practice schedule. Many more intermediate and advanced warm ups include rudiments.

3.    PICK ONE THING TO FOCUS ON: What I mean by this is to again, stay focused. In this section of your practice routine, you want to pick one “thing” to try to develop a certain level of mastery on. This could be anything from a beat in a certain style of music such as rock, funk, or swing, to a rudiment you want to learn and add to your bag of tricks.

For instance, in the “Play Drums By Ear” course lesson #43, I explain in great detail what the rudiment known as the “Paradiddle Diddle” is, how to develop the speed of this rudiment, and finally how to implement this rudiment into your beats and fills. Whether you are focusing on the “Money Beat” that I talk about in the course, one of the multiple variations you learn in the course, the exercises you learn in the “Beginning Fills” section, or a rudiment the principles are the same.

In step #3 you want to practice what ever you have chosen to the click or metronome to develop a clear understanding of what your hands and feet are doing in addition to slowly developing a proficiency at multiple speeds. Start slow and gradually increase your speed. This section should take another 10 to 15 minutes.

4.    IMPLEMENT WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED: In this phase of your practice regiment, you will get to put what you just learned into use. For instance, if you just spent 15 minutes going over lesson #27, Triplet Exercise Variation 8 and feel relatively comfortable with the concept, now you will want to spend some time adding it to what ever beats or fills you desire.

If you wanted to add this to the original “Money Beat”, you would start the click track and play the “Money Beat” for three bars and then use lesson #27 to create your fill. You could use it just like I show you in the video lesson, or even better you could get creative and change it up to make it your own. This section would be the last 5 to 10 minutes of your practice time.

5.     JAM & HAVE SOME FUN: The most important thing to remember is that learning to play drums should be an extremely fun experience. If it is not, then you are doing it wrong! After you have focused on one aspect, developed it, and implemented it you should let loose and jam.

This could be practicing different beats or different styles, creating your dream solo, or plugging into your cd or mp3 player and jamming along to your favorite tunes.

*A quick side note, I have found that it is extremely beneficial to video your practices. You will be amazed at what you learn when you take a step back and watch yourself. Some of the things you think sound amazing when you are playing them turn out to be less than terrific when you see them on video. Likewise, some of the things you think you are playing horribly sound amazing when you see the video. By watching yourself on video you are effectively putting yourself in the audience watching you from their perspective. It is a phenomenal way to really get an understanding of what does and does not sound good and help you focus on what you should spend some more practice time on.

Remember, this was a walk through of a 30 minute practice session. If you were to do a 60 minute session, it would look something like this…

2. Pick 3 to 4 warm ups and spend 15 to 20 minutes developing them to a level where you can play them clean at various tempos.

3. Split your time into two 15 minute sections each one focusing on something different. Grooves, exercises, rudiments, etc. all would fit in here.

4. Spend the rest of your time (10 to 15 minutes) on implementing what you just learned into beats and fills.

The 90+ minute version would look something like this…

2. Take 30 minutes to work on your warm ups. At this level you want to dive into intermediate and advanced warm ups that will develop your understanding and capacity to play many rudiments at a rapid pace.

3. Take either two 20 minute sections or three 15 minute sections to focus on two or three different but specific items. This is where you really dive in and work on adding to and perfecting your tool box.

4. Spend as much time as you want implementing your new tools.

The whole point of developing a productive practice routine is to make tremendous improvements in a short amount of time. You could simply “jam” all day, every day and I promise you will not advance and get better. This will result in you getting extremely frustrated and eventually calling it quits; believe me I have seen this happen hundreds of times with the most promising of students. Remember this; nothing motivates you better than progress!


Leave A Reply (15 comments so far)

  1. Gail

    Sounds like a good, practical way of approaching, how to practice. I’m still working on lesson #18.

  2. Lesson #18 already? Great job Gail! Keep it up!

  3. Anita

    I have only had 2 lessons that i have paid for and looking at your vidio has truly help me.
    You are great and i am praying that i could learn how to play the drums. So i could play at the
    Worship Team at Church i am 58 years old. And that is my dream.
    Family members look at me like i am crazy, but i could not do this when i was young I got married very young had 4 kids right away, and the rest is history!!!

    Blessings Chris

  4. Anita… you are not crazy, YOU CAN DO THIS!!! My entire “Play Drums by Ear” course was designed for people just like you. One step at a time, we can get you there! Talk to you soon.


  5. barbara layton

    I have not signed up yet. But where is the advertisement for #1

  6. Hey there Barbara,

    I can certainly send you a link for the lesson, but I have a few different advertisements. Do you remember what the lesson was? My main ones are “The Money Beat”, “The Cure For The Common Fill”, or “The Garage Band Survival Kit”. Let me know which one you saw and I will send it to you again. Talk to you soon.

  7. casey

    Anita – I’m 50 and I just started playing drums 8 months ago. It’s what I wanted to do since I was a kid but my mom made me take piano lessons instead. So, now, I’m having the time of my life playing my drums. Keep drumming!

  8. casey

    Chris — Thanks for this article. There’s so much to learn and so little time — sometimes I get so overwhelmed about all the grooves, fills and songs I want to learn I don’t know where to start. I really need a more structured practice routine. I think your tip about focusing on one thing is spot on.





  10. Chris, I am a 73 year old woman who wants to play the drumes for fun. While in Florida I only got to take 6 lessons. I bought myself an acoustic drum set for now with snare, 3 toms, hi hat, ride and one other symbol. It is the Alesis DM^. I thought that I woould be able to carry it in my motor home but it is too large. I will have to leave it here in Georgia where I am for the summer. Will your drum lessons be valuable to me?

  11. Karen… ABSOLUTELY! My course was designed to get you up and playing quickly, no muss-no fuss. Besides if you try it and don’t think it is for you I have a 60 day 100% money back guarantee! Keep me posted on your progress and I will talk to you soon.

  12. Jim

    Hi Chris, I purchased your package but I am not sure where your lessons are on practicing to a metronome. Jim

  13. Hey there Jim, the lesson is the first under the “Bonus Lessons” section. It is titled “Playing to a Click”.

  14. Jim Manolio

    I found the lesson thank you – hope all is well jim

  15. Mark

    Hey Chris,
    I haven’t bought your lesson’s yet but I like what I am seeing.
    Perhaps you can help me with a situation I have just got myself into.
    Myself and my mate Bob have done a couple of gigs at party’s and they went well.
    So I have just now secured a gig at the local markets. I thought this would be perfect training ground for us to develop a whole show.
    You see we have only enough songs for 2 sets, the markets go for 3 hours.
    We don’t want to autorepeat so we need to add about 1 hour of songs for this gig.
    We have 3 weeks to get it down. The type of music does not have to be difficult.
    It’s a passing crowd and we don’t get paid (busking) so there is not a lot of pressure.
    But we need quite a few songs to fill in.
    I thought some country – western, slow blues, covers of 70’s and 80’s and just simple, easy listening music.
    Oh, Bob plays guitar and sings. I am on the skins.
    What do you think?