You’ve all heard that practice makes perfect. But practicing the wrong way can reinforce bad habits. Instead, practice meticulously in slow tempos and with core elements.
Marching percussion is nothing if not cool. But the groups and individuals that we’d all like to emulate are much more than just cool: They’re musical, precise and the greatest word of all—“clean.” And clean drumming is achieved by perfecting the basics … rudiment accuracy, stick heights and quality of sound … through smart practice.
All practicing is not created equal. In fact practicing the wrong way can just reinforce bad habits. Make sure you always move your feet and understand where every downbeat lies. Play in front of mirrors. You’ll be shocked how quickly you notice that little finger coming off the stick when it’s staring right back at you. And most importantly use a metronome. It is vital to be rhythmically accurate at slow tempos. Don’t attempt higher tempos on rudiments, exercises or music until you’ve mastered it slower. This is when you build sound quality and accuracy that will really set you apart as the tempo is increased.
In determining what to practice, my advice is to pick a rudiment or phrase, and break it down to its core elements. Don’t just practice flam drags. Rather, practice accented triplets, making sure you’re getting two distinguished heights before adding on flams. When you added the flams, did the inner beat heights change? Then take the flam off again and just add the drag. How are the heights and sound quality? Only then should you consider combining the flam and the drag into the same rudiment.
And as you build your rudiment vocabulary and progress as a marching percussionist, apply the same methodology. It may be cool to play “book reports,” “grandmas,” or other rudiments with crazy names, but only those that play them rhythmically accurate with strong sound quality will find perfection. And ultimately that’s what we’re all after.
About the Author
Lane Armey is the marching percussion arranger for Homestead High School in Cupertino, Calif. Over the past 10 years, he has worked with various groups including Northwestern University, Marian Catholic High School and the Bluecoats Drum & Bugle Corps where he was percussion caption head in 2003 and 2004.