The Thing that Holds Most Drummers Back

Posted in Learn | Last Updated on October 4, 2018

Do you want to be a better drummer?

Do you want to have the ability to play difficult passages with flawless technique, great tone quality, sensitive touch, and extraordinary accuracy?

We all do.

But many drummers and percussionists set out to obtain these things using a terrible method that actually holds them back from achieving them.

It’s a method that I call “Polka-Dot Learning.”

You’re going to learn exactly what it is and how to avoid it in this article, but first, let’s talk a little bit about the process of improving your skills.

The Truth About Your Progress

You’re probably perfectly capable of playing the drums really well.

Not just kind of well – really well.

As much as our society wants to place someone’s ability level on their “natural talent” or the notion that they were “born with it,” the truth is that talent is not genetic. You’re not born with it, it’s not natural, and as long as you’re a functioning human being you have about as good a chance as anyone else to be great at it.

If you’re interested in learning more about the research behind these claims, I highly suggest the book Talent is Overrated by Geoffrey Colvin. It’s a great read.

Anyway, back to the point.

Let’s say that last week you practiced 5 out of the 7 days. (Hey, that’s pretty good!)

On the surface you think, “Hey, I practiced a lot this week and covered a lot of different things” but that’s where you get tricked.

You see, you think that you got a lot done, but really, you dabbled through a number of different things and didn’t get much of anything done.

This is what I call Polka-Dot Learning and it’s a style of learning that holds most drummers back from being as good as they could be.

What is Polka-Dot Learning?

Polka-Dot Learning is a style of learning that I believe is becoming more and more prevalent with the increasing number of resources online.

It occurs when you spend a lot of time learning new things but don’t spend much time actually practicing and mastering them. While it may feel productive, you never develop a comprehensive system for understanding and applying all of the information that you’ve learned. Instead of being able to do something really well, you’ve only taught yourself the basic concept of it but haven’t applied, mastered, or expanded upon it.

In addition to only understanding the basic concept and nothing more, when everything you learn is learned as an isolated skill set, it’s very difficult to make significant improvements in your playing. You may have a very good understanding of technique but when that information isn’t directly correlated with another ability it doesn’t do you much good. The process leads you to gather small dots of information and keep them very isolated from one another. An overview of your knowledge using Polka-Dot Learning may look like this:

Graphic representing Polka-Dot Learning system

As you can see, you have your jazz fill here, your rock beat there, your snare drum exercise over here, and your linear fill pattern over there.

While this looks like you have gained a great deal of knowledge and skills, you’ve actually put a cap the amount of progress you can make.

The Problems with Polka-Dot Learning

Once you’ve accumulated a decent amount of dots using Polka-Dot Learning, you’ll naturally want to start connecting them and bridge the gaps in your knowledge.

The problem is that since you didn’t learn things with a system in mind, there is no system to help you connect them. It’s likely that you have some areas where you’re missing dots and others where you have extra dots that don’t connect to anything.

An Image displaying the difficulties of connecting the dots in Polka-Dot Learning

In addition to lacking relative information that enables you to link your knowledge, Polka-Dot Learning also encourages the creation of very shallow dots.

As mentioned before, when you learn a new skill using Polka-Dot Learning, you typically only learn the most basic idea of it. This means that there isn’t a whole lot of depth to the concept that you learned making it very difficult to build on top of or expand upon.

All in all, the Polka-Dot Learning method leaves you with a very shallow and fragmented knowledge base making it very difficult for you to build upon what you already know and play at a high level.

So what’s the solution?

It’s a system I call the Blueprint Method

The Blueprint Method

The Blueprint Method requires you to think of your drumming the same way a building is planned, built, and decorated.

The first thing you’ll notice with the Blueprint Method compared to Polka-Dot Learning is that certain things have to be established in order for others to be structurally sound. In other words, you can’t add the paintings before the fifteenth story is built, you can’t build the fifteenth story until the first story has been built, and you can’t build the first story until a foundation has been built.

The planning and sequencing of construction is crucial in order to build a strong and stable structure and the same is true for your drumming.

If you build a house using Polka-Dot Learning you would start working on the kitchen sink for a bit, then start building a chimney for a few hours, then go over and construct a wall for a day, then come back and start building a closet for the second level.

This leads you to work do a lot of things that needs to be done but in the long run it makes it harder for you to piece everything together.

The Blueprint method on the other hand lays everything out in a sequential order and requires you to master one skill before moving on to the next just as you need to finish the walls before you can add the paint.

Putting things in perspective this way make it obvious that Polka-Dot Learning isn’t the best way to go about learning how to play the drums yet this is the exact way that many drummers resort to learning.

While it’s not impossible to improve your skills using Polka-Dot Learning just as it’s not impossible to build a house building things out of order and then putting them all together at the end, you’ll improve much faster and get a much better end product using the Blueprint method.


In this article, I just wanted to help make you aware of the Polka-Dot Learning method, demonstrate the dangers associated with it, and introduce the Blueprint Method.

We’ll continue to look more at the Blueprint Method in the future and detail specific ways you can use it and effectively improve your drumming.

Until then, reflect on the Polka-Dot method and determine if it is the system you’ve been using to learn new things. If so, how has it affected you? Are there any similar traits that you’ve found to be associated with it? Do you feel like the information and skills you’ve learned are shallow and scattered?