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Getting More Out of Transcriptions Part II: Practicing two different ways

Happy Holidays, folks! Here's a concept I've been itching to write about the last few months but haven't gotten around to it yet. Hopefully this will help at least somebody out there guide their practice sessions a little bit better.

For starters, if anybody isn't familiar with "right-brained" and "left-brained", all I'm referring to is the creative side (right) and the logical side (left). I feel like all of us lean in one direction or the other, but to get the most out of your limited practice time, you'll need to learn to use both. So let's describe what each type of person might do in a practice session and you can see if one of these sessions sounds familiar to you:

Right Brained

This kind of practicer might sit down at their drumset (or whatever their instrument is, I play drums) and just "jam" for a while, improvising around the kit and having a good time before getting to "work". Once they finish (or get bored) of soloing, they might put on some of their favorite music and just play along for a while. They might even learn some grooves or solos note for note through observation and work on it that way. After jamming along and figuring out stuff they like, they might end the practice session here.

This is a very organic way of learning the instrument, and would probably result in a much more musical player than somebody who's PURELY analytical. The downsides to this kind of practice is that it leaves many stones unturned and might not be the most efficient way of getting better.

Left Brained

This kind of practicer would probably have the bulk of their session revolve around very academic types of exercises. I was probably a lot more leaning into this kind of practice until the last few years. I remember practicing "Stick Control" exercises in groups of 5, doing metric modulations that I thought were hip, and working on all sorts of polyrhythmic stuff. I was also working a LOT of technique on a pad. Truthfully, I think most of that practice was wasted time. A left brained practicer might even do things that are technically good ideas, like transcribing the solos of the artists they like, but might go about them the wrong way. For instance, I would often stay up all night writing down solos of the players I loved, basically treating it like a dictation assignment from a sight singing course. Eventually I might play it once or twice, never with the recording, and never memorizing it. Without doing those two things, transcribing is a bit of a waste of time since none of the things you'd like to get in your playing can actually get in. A player who's strictly left brained in their practice might be able to explain a lot of the little details about the music, but just don't sound exactly right to the other players in the room.

Using Both Sides

So here's a way to use both during your practice session.

First and foremost, you should have about 40% (that's a totally arbitrary number but I think it sounds fair) of your practice session devoted to a "Daily Routine" of sorts. For a trumpet player, that might be long tones, flexibility exercises, scales, and etudes from all the classic books in the pedagogy of that instrument. For a drumset player, here's what that might look like

1. 10 Minutes of a hand warm-up

Tommy Igoe's Lifetime Warmup is about as good as you can get, but the Rudimental Ritual or some stuff from Stick Control would do just fine

2. Coordination Exercises

New Breed if you can stomach it, I hate that book usually. These days I'm doing a few pages from Beyond Bop Drumming- one page of the 8th note comping and one of the triplet comping. You could also do something from 4 Way Coordination or some syncopation exercises you like

After this "mechanical" type of drilling, use the other 60% of your practice for diving into recordings you like. This is what's missing for a lot of people, I think. I once asked a good friend of mine what he was working on and he listed about 8 different books...and after all that book work he still didn't sound like a "real" drumset player! The divide is obvious! Go right to the recordings as much as possible, regardless of what genre you like.

For instance, I'm checking out Lewis Nash's solo on this video. The solo starts at 8:12

The first step of course is to learn it note for note, hopefully without writing anything down at first. This is the right brained side of the practice. It's like a baby learning to speak, he just blindly repeats what he hears over and over. After you can play it with the recording and nail it (which is a really, really long process) you can start to dig a little deeper.

So here's a phrase from the solo I really like

Part of what makes this phrase so cool is that it's a 5 beat phrase and the accent on the left hand on the middle partial of the triplet on beat 3 kind of tricks the ear a little. It also just flows so nicely on the kit.

After getting the phrase down exactly as you heard it, it's time to have a little fun with some variations. The easiest variation is to just start the lick on a different beat. Instead of starting it on beat four (yes I know there's technically a pickup with the bass drum) lets start it on beat one.

Try shifting it to every other beat, too. You can see which each one looks like in the PDF of all of these variations.

Another idea would be to put the phrase into 16ths

After putting into 16ths, you could add a bass drum between each group of 3

You can the take that exact phrase and count it as triplets, add rolls to the non accented notes, or combine any of the variations we've done so far. The possibilities are seriously endless.

I feel like making exercises from REAL musical examples is a wonderful way of using both types of practice. This method of digging into a musical phrase is great because you get a lot of extra "bang for your buck" and build your vocabulary a lot faster.

I hope this was helpful for somebody! Thanks for reading!

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