The Secret of Single Surface Practice
Posted in Learn | Last Updated on October 4, 2018
Do you ever feel frustrated because no matter how much time or effort you put into practice, things just don’t seem to be improving for you?
If you have, don’t worry: you’re not alone.
But contrary to what most may think, the solution to improving your drumming isn’t always to just practice more. After all, spending more time practicing something that isn’t working will typically only leads to more frustration.
Instead, the solution is to practice smarter.
And in this article, I’m going to teach you about a style of practice that will help you do just that. It’s something I call single surface practice and is one of the most effective ways to improve your drumming.
Let’s get started.
What is Single Surface Practice?
Single surface practice is the process of practicing an exercise on one drum or surface with an intense focus on your technique fundamentals, rhythmic accuracy, and musical consistency.
It allows you to identify your weaknesses, isolate them, and then master them at a foundational level so that you have a true understanding and ability to play whatever it is you’re playing.
The two most common surfaces to use for this type of practice include snare drums and practice pads.
These two surfaces are great for single surface practice because most drummers already own one or the other and if you don’t, they are relatively affordable to purchase. In addition to their ease of acquisition, both surfaces are articulate and provide you with accurate feedback in regards to what you’re playing.
How to Create Single Surface Practice Exercises
Since single surface practice is a style of practice, there are thousands upon thousands of different exercises that you can practice. Rather than trying to make up a bunch of rules that would potentially classify a single surface practice exercise, let’s just walk through an example of a legitimate problem you may have in your drumming and then address how you could overcome it with single surface practice.
Step #1: Identify Your Weakness
Let’s say that you are a drum set player and you’re playing a sixteenth note fill with an accent pattern on it but the accent on the “e” of the beat always throws you off and causes you to lose control of the tempo during the fill.
But don’t worry, we’ve all been in there and single surface practice will help you out!
Step #2: Establish What You Need to Improve
Most drummers in this situation would resort to playing the fill over and over again. The biggest problem with that is you don’t really fix anything – you just continue to play it poorly and develop bad habits.
So after you’ve identified your weakness (in the case it is accenting the “e” of the beat), you need to outline the specific things that you need to get better at to solve the solution. In this case:
1. You need to play consistent sixteenth notes in time as you accent the “e” of the beat
2. You need to have a deep understanding of where the downbeat is so that you can maintain tempo throughout the fill.
Easy enough, right?
Note that this list can be as little as one item or as many as five. Try to keep your lists short for each practice session of a single surface exercise so that you can really spend time focusing on one thing at a time.
Step #3: Create a Simple Exercise
The key word is simple because that’s exactly where the beautify lies in single surface practicing.
An example of a perfect exercise to practice for this particular issue would consist of one measure of sixteenth note taps followed by one measure of sixteenth notes that have an accent on the “e” of each beat.
Yes, it sounds easy and it sounds simple. But you’ll quickly realize that instead of being overwhelmed by moving the notes around the drums and playing the entire fill, you’ve completely isolated the core issue in a much more approachable way. This gives your mind an opportunity to focus on solving the issue rather than being distracted with other things going on.
Step #4: Practice the Exercise Slowly
Now that you have an effective exercise to practice, start practicing it slowly.
Remember, this style of practicing is all about solving issues in your playing and developing strong habits so that you can continue to build on them.
Use a metronome and really wrap your mind around the exercise itself and develop consistency in playing it at a high level. Take your time not only working on the focus points of the exercise but also checking in on your technique, tone quality, and other essential aspects of your playing.
Step #5: Increase the Tempo
A good trick is to practice it at a slow tempo until you can play it perfectly 3 times in a row.
Once you can do that, bump up the tempo 2 bpm and repeat the process.
Doing this will ensure you get a lot of good repetitions of the exercise and develop great habits along the way of speeding it up.
Step #6: Return to the Original Music
The goal in step six is to apply the knowledge and skills you gained from the single surface practice back to whatever you were doing originally.
Depending on the original music, you may need to spend some time isolating the measure where the particular accent occurs and build it back up, but use your own discretion to do that and sequence the full musical excerpt back together.
In time, you’ll be able to play the part with confidence and ease since that “trouble spot” is no longer a trouble spot!
Everything takes time to learn, but single surface practice helps you reduce the time it takes to improve something by refining it to its most basic form, mastering it, and then building it back up to its original form.
Single surface practice is an extremely efficient way to rapidly improve your drumming skills and finally overcome issues that have frustrated you for years. It’s relatively easy to work into your practice routine because just 20 minutes of it will go a long way. Try to incorporate some single surface practice into your routine this week and see how it goes!
What’s something in your drumming that has been giving you problems and how can you use single surface practice to improve it? Leave your answer in the comments below!