On Practice

My high school jazz band had 3 drummers, me included. And mostly, all we did was sit around waiting for the ‘good’ songs, namely, latin or funk. Those songs were peppy, exciting, and full of room to improvise and show off.

Then came the ballads, and none of us wanted those.

It’s important to note that we were not assigned songs, but rather would somehow negotiate amongst ourselves - a kind of war of wills with a dash of good old fashioned game of chicken.

Midway through the year, I snapped to the idea that, the more I played, likely, if I focused, the better I would be come. So, when ballads came up, I began to volunteer.

In fact, I volunteered for any contentious song. And several weeks down the road, I was getting better, and my fellow drummers began to grow jealous of how much time I spent on the throne (it is actually called that).

I learned that not only did focused practice help, but, because playing slowly was harder, the ballads actually did more to improve my playing skill.

Afterward, I ended up losing my monopoly on the ‘boring’ tunes and everyone started upping their game, but it stands to reason. Practice may not make perfect, but when the willing are willing take on the crap practice that no one wants because it’s not sexy, the willing get better.

I would later realize that this idea of ‘always learning’ is corroborated by a number of studies and books.

If I had written those books, I would have called it ‘un-sexy’ practice. But I didn’t write those books, and so it’s all lumped into one large pot of focused practice. Though that may be, I believe it’s important to recognize that perhaps the majority of focused practice might actually be un-sexy.

Do I have data to back up my claims? No. Just anecdotes. But it makes sense, because you do too.


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