The Blueprint Method
Posted in Learn | Last Updated on October 4, 2018
In the last article, I outlined a style of learning that I call Polka-Dot Learning and explained how many drummers use it thinking that it’s effective but showed how it actually hinders their progress over time.
Towards the end of the article, I mentioned a style of learning that is far more effective than Polka-Dot Learning and is what I call the Blueprint Method.
In this article, we’re going to explore exactly what the Blueprint Method is as well as how to use it to improve your own playing.
Let’s get started.
What’s the Concept of the Blueprint Method?
The Blueprint Method resembles the process of constructing a house, skyscraper, or any other type of building.
Unlike the process of Polka-Dot Learning where you briefly work on a lot of different things and then try to connect the dots later on, the Blueprint Method embodies a set of procedures and checkpoints that must be completed in a sequenced order so that you can continuously and seamlessly build on what you’ve already learned.
This process takes much more forethought and planning compared to Polka-Dot Learning, but the benefit is that your work will yield greater results due to the fact that the information you’re learning and the material you’re practicing is sequenced in a way that will give you greater momentum and progress.
Here’s a brief overview of the major differences between the two types of learning we’re discussing:
Polka-Dot Learning is hasty and leads you to build items out of order. It gives the appearance that you’re learning a lot but leaves you with incomplete projects and a junk-pile of unrelated items that you have to piece together later on.
The Blueprint Method requires more time in the design and planning stage but guarantees a finished structure that is strong, secure, coherent, and functional.
Now that we clearly understand the concept behind the Blueprint Method, let’s talk about how to use it in your own playing.
How to Use the Blueprint Method
The Blueprint Method can be used on both a macro and micro scale.
In terms of a macro scale, the Blueprint Method can literally outline the necessary steps to take a drummer from beginner to intermediate, intermediate to advanced, or beginner to advanced playing.
In terms of a micro scale, the Blueprint Method can also be used for smaller items whether it be a specific rudiment, song, technique, or concept.
To put this in a little bit more perspective, an example of a macro application is building a new house on an empty plot of land or working through an elaborate renovation of an existing structure. An example of a micro application is having a house that is structurally and functionally sound but adding a fireplace here or a window there.
Since this method can be used to any scale that you need, here are the steps to apply it.
Step 1: Establish What You’re Going to Build
If you just start building without forethought (as with Polka-Dot Learning), you’ll waste a lot of time working before you realize you haven’t built much of anything.
The purpose of this step is to give you a clear idea of what it is you want or need to build. This way, all of your actions and decisions are guided towards helping you achieve that goal and not sporadic as with Polka-Dot Learning.
Step 2: Deconstruct the Structure
With the whole structure in mind (this can be a rudiment, technique, song, etc.), deconstruct it piece by piece into the most fundamental items possible.
For example, if I was breaking down an accented Paradiddle, I would break it down into these items:
- Alternating Sixteenth Notes at Forte (Right Hand Lead)
- Alternating Sixteenth Notes at Forte (Left Hand Lead)
- Alternating Sixteenth Notes at Piano (Right Hand Lead)
- Alternating Sixteenth Notes at Piano (Left Hand Lead)
- Sixteenth Notes with Double Stroke Sticking at Forte
- Sixteenth Notes with Double Stroke Sticking at Piano
- Sixteenth Notes with Accent on the Downbeats (Right Hand Lead)
- Sixteenth Notes with Accent on the Downbeats (Left Hand Lead)
- Paradiddle Sticking all at Forte
- Paradiddle with Accent on Downbeat
That seems like a long list of items for breaking down a Paradiddle and some of them may seem redundant (left hand lead vs. right hand lead, etc.).
However, take note that each item on that list is a fundamental aspect of the Paradiddle and is therefore important to master by itself. The Blueprint Method is by no means “quick and easy” but it is absolutely thorough and effective.
Step 3: Outline the Most Fundamental Items in Order
Now that you have your list of items, it’s time to prioritize them.
If you look at the list above from Step 2, I naturally listed them in order starting with the most fundamental. Take note that these difference can be very small and there are occasions where items may be equal and other occasions where items only have a slight difference.
For example, sixteenth notes with right hand lead are only slightly more fundamental than left hand lead, sixteenth notes at forte are only slightly more fundamental than sixteenth notes at piano, alternating sticking is only slightly more fundamental than Double Stroke sticking, etc.
The point here is to add a sequenced strategy to your items so that each one becomes an organized building block or a stepping stone to the next item on the list.
Step 4: Construct the Structure One Item at a Time
Once you have your list written out, begin with the first item and practice it by itself at a slow tempo.
Make it your goal to master the item and practice it until you can play it consistently well a handful of times in a row.
Once you have mastered the first item, move on to the second and repeat the process.
Note that the time for each item will vary depending on what it is. Some things may only take a few minutes for you to master whereas others may take a few weeks or even months. Most will take a few hours of very focused practice but don’t get discouraged if a particular item takes a bit longer and resist the urge to move on before you’re ready.
Remember, you want every item in your structure to be sturdy and capable of supporting the additions to come so don’t cut corners. The last thing you want to do is build a 30 story building and then realize that the support beams on the second level weren’t constructed correctly so you need to either re-do it all or spend additional time fixing a problem that would have been much easier to have just done right the first time.
Things to Think About in the Construction Phase
This particular phase is a very “micro” oriented process where you are focused on a very specific item. Generally speaking, it’s easy and healthy to get absorbed in the details during this phase.
However, it’s important to take a step back every now and then throughout this phase to make sure you understand how the particular item fits into the bigger picture of what you’re working on. Not only does this help you gain a deeper insight into the overall structure itself, but it also gives you an opportunity to cross-pollinate the information you’ve already learned.
Changing your perspective from micro to macro and then back to micro throughout this phase will help make your learning process much more efficient and holistic.
Step 5: Final Inspection
After you have worked through all of the items on your Blueprint list and have mastered each one, do a quick run through of everything on your list to spot-check it all. After you have spot-checked each individual item, practice putting the initial structure together as a whole.
As you work on playing the entire structure as a whole, remember that your focus should be on mastery. Practice slowly and with great detail. Develop a habit of playing every repetition to the best of your ability.
By the time you have mastered everything on the list and practiced putting all of the parts back together, you should have an extremely deep and thorough understanding of what you’re doing and be able to play the song, rudiment, passage, or whatever your item was at a very high level of excellence.
The Blueprint Method is a thorough and effective way to sequence and plans your practice time to achieve your goals and improve at a more rapid pace.
While the Blueprint Method may seem like more work, in the beginning, it actually saves you time in the long run and gets you better results. An hour of practice time using the Blueprint Method will get you far better results than three hours of practice using Polka-Dot Learning. Try it out this week and find out for yourself!
What do you think about the Blueprint Method? Is it a method and process you find helpful? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.