I would like to present an anti-thesis to the question ‘how much should I practice’?
I’m sure you’ve been told to practise every day, and that you’ve heard stories of people who practice 3 or 4 hours per day.
Well, have you ever been told not to practise? That’s right, never! – well I did say this was an antithesis.
A certain group of educators believe that a student need not practise, not one bit.
How can this be?
Well there is good science to back up this theory. But let us first frame the conversation from the viewpoint of the common student.
If you are indeed a drum student, then you’re probably just like every other student in the modern world. You’re learning because it’s fun, you like drumming, you had a certain curiosity around it and, one day, decided to give it a try.
You don’t have huge ambitions of playing at Wembley Stadium or The Albert Hall, or dreams of being the next Ringo Star or Steve Gadd. In fact, you’re not even sure if you want drumming to be your job. Most probably, you don’t even know what you want to be when get older.
Yes, the only route to excellence is thousands of hours of purposeful practise, but, if you’re not going to be a professional, why train like one?
Now, that takes care of the 3 to 4 hours a day guys.
But what about what your teacher is telling you, “15-20 minutes per day, every day” … sound familiar?
First, let’s completely discount the fact that these days, children are so busy (and let’s not bring up an adult’s schedule here); what with the homework, the school activities, community clubs, sports, not to mention the digital distractions, all fighting for a child’s attention.
And that doesn’t leave much time for the intrinsic need for a social life, or connections with parents, or time to disengage.
We can all agree that these are very real issues and it’s very true that many kids simply don’t have the time.
But let us pretend, just for the sake of this thesis, that those issues are not a reality (as it was in the good old days of board games, books and boredom). OK, let us start by ranking the word ‘practise’ up there in the same league as ‘homework’.
Try it, get your kid in a good mood, then, right when he’s laughing his head off, tell him to go do his homework. I bet you’ll immediately notice his shoulders drop, his smile wash away and, and a pleading enter his voice as the reality sinks in. Well, I’d like to venture that you’d get the same response simply by changing the word ‘homework’ to the word ‘practise’.
So, the truth emerges that these kids just don’t want to.
Then, the resistance kicks in, the whining, the excuses, the battles. You know what I mean. At this point, some parents understandably give in. But some insist, for all the right reasons of course, but eventually end up causing the kid to hate the instrument and quit.
And what’s more – with the help of bad teachers – the natural love for learning is killed, for life. But that’s another conversation.
OK, so enough doom and gloom.
The antithesis also presents an antidote to all of this.
It says, never practise. Just play.
Replace the word ‘practise’ with ‘playing’. And furthermore, never tell the kid to practise. Instead take an active interest in the moments when she does play of her own free will. “Oh, you’re playing your drums darling? That sounds cool, what is it?” Or “wow I like that, did you make it up?” because they probably did.
You don’t have to lie, but praise what you do see instead of criticising what you don’t.
And here’s the science, this positive reinforcement is one way to provide ‘ignition’.
What is ignition? It’s positive experiences around an activity that burn brightly inside of us for a long time, laying the groundwork for deep practice later in life. It’s play based learning, and play is a child’s work.
Children aren’t interested in outcomes; they haven’t even developed the part of the brain (the pre-frontal cortex) that is responsible for projecting into the future and delaying gratification until the early teens. And it doesn’t fully develop until their mid-twenties.
That’s when they’ll practise, from the teens onwards, and even more so if they’ve had a lot of ignition around drumming.
Remember ignition is positive experiences. So, if you want to help your child, don’t tell them to practise, don’t even use that word, instead give them lots of positive experiences around music and drumming. Give them your attention and gentle praise when you see them playing the drums, whether at home or in class.
They’ll still get better, they’ll still improve. But more importantly, they are much more likely to stick at it. That momentum will compound all the benefits of drumming and keep the love for learning alive; which means they’ll be on the path to mastery.
In their own time, they’ll discover how rewarding and fun practising can be, and at a certain point, they will become intrinsically motivated to go play their drums.