A Drummer’s Practice Routine That Still Works

Carl in action

Carl in action

Let’s say you’re the world’s greatest drummer! You got it all together. There’s not one thing you need to practice……errhh…Scratch………………….   WRONG!!  ………………. We interrupt this type of thinking for a word from reality. There is no such thing as the world’s greatest drummer or anything else for that matter.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many talented people doing their work very well. I recognize the fact that in all fields there are those that rise to the top. We see them on recordings, on tours, in the magazines, and on TV.  The awards are given and accolades abound. What seems to be the most consistent in gifted and successful people is that they keep striving to do better. They have a hunger to know and do more. Some might think they’re “driven”; which can be a bad thing if the rest of their life is messed up and out of balance. But I see in most cases an honest desire to be faithful with what they’ve been given.

Most talented people I meet admit that what they have is from the Lord. Even in the secular world you hear the term “they have a gift”. Although some don’t acknowledge the Giver. Ah,,,, yes,,, that would be another article.  Anyway,,, I believe we all know we’re given gifts and talents.  The big question is HOW do we develop it?

For drummers and all musicians coming up with a routine that works for you is very important. You don’t have to practice eight hours a day to see results, but you have to do something. You can’t leave your instrument alone all week and hope that by the weekend you’ll magically gain new skill. So let’s look at a routine I’ve used that seems to help.

Through years of studying and teaching I’ve found a mixed routine gets the best results. I know we often start learning an instrument, especially drums, by just getting a kit; turning on the music; and “slamming” away. This is fun, but there’s so much more.

There are five areas of a study that always help the growth of a musician.

1.    Rudiments & Theory

2.    Reading Music

3.    Listening & Copying New Music

4.    Groove Exercises

5.    Soloing/ Improvisation

The incredible thing about this is that no matter how long you’ve been playing this routine really works. When I was younger I would get bored because teachers wouldn’t let me play songs or experiment. It was just the practice pad and the book.  As I got older just playing tunes didn’t seem to solve all the problems. So as a teacher & student I started mixing up my lessons and practice time, and “voila” my playing improved across the board. In other words my technique felt better, my concentration was stronger, I had a bigger vocabulary of music, and I seem to be able to stay more motivated.

Now I know this is my thing.  It’s not a doctrine just a concept. You won’t hurt my feelings if you do it different, or if you have something that works better. But if you don’t know what to do, start with this routine and see what happens.

Here’s how it goes. Let’s say you have one hour each day to practice. Divide it into five even sections. You should at least have fifty minutes. For those of you who can go longer just spend more time on each section.

1. Rudiments/ Theory – I usually start on a practice pad, but it quickly develops into a whole drum set exercise. This is a warm up time. I’m thinking strictly of hand technique, posture, breathing, feet placement, etc. etc. It’s all about the mechanics of playing at this point. I set my metronome or drum machine to a random tempo and just start playing simple rudimental patterns on a pad. Use one tempo for at least 4 to 5 minutes, and then stop & pick another speed. So in a 10 to 15 minute period you should play a slow, a medium, and a fast set.  Also, be sure you start with “your normal volume” with no accents and then gradually work in variations as YOU make it happen. I often tell the students… “Don’t let the sticks play you”.

You can use the 40 International Rudiments starting with single stroke rolls, doubles, paradiddles, flams, drags, etc. etc. (There’s a free download of the rudiments at www.pas.org) Books such as “Stick Control” by George  Stone or “Master Studies” by Joe Morello are great too. Focus on one idea or mix them up. It doesn’t matter. The goal is to be in control of the sticks & pedals.  Be relaxed, but deliberate about what you are doing. No tightness or tension should be felt in your body. After getting comfortable on a pad then try the patterns around the whole set. You can also add your feet by playing basic patterns such as counts 1 and 3 on the kick and 2 & 4 on the hi-hat, or anything else that helps develop your control and stamina.

2. Reading Music-  Oh, you say, “NO, NOT THAT”…  “I CAN’T READ MUSIC”.  Well, you don’t HAVE to, but it can be an awesome tool. Even learning basic music skills will add to you ability to learn new musical ideas quickly. If you’re just beginning get a teacher and start with a first level snare book. If you know how to read get some new material and expand your horizons. It doesn’t matter what age you are do not be afraid to learn.  Even seasoned players continue to attend clinics and seek out teachers to help them move on to the next level.  “NO FEAR”  Oh,, and did I say USE A METRONOME.

For this time slot I’ll work on a snare drum study and some set books that challenge my current level of playing.  Always mix up your routine so that you feel inspired.  I use a snare studies book to play rhythms not only on the snare, but to play them around the kit so I learn how to interpret patterns creatively. The set books are more “part” specific. Although I still create variations once I’ve got the written parts figured out. I’ll write the tempo I’ve set my machine to at the top of the page so that when I come back to it I can try a different speed. That can be very good training because sometimes we play music at different tempos for different artists; even the same songs.  Imagine that!!!!!

3. Listening To & Copying New Music– This is what we all love to do. It’s probably how you started the learning process. You hear tunes that inspire you, and you want to do what that drummer was doing on the recording. But wait,,,, there’s more !! Don’t get stuck only playing what you already know. If you can play something well then it’s time to move on.  Challenge yourself with NEW tunes; lots of NEW tunes.

This doesn’t mean you can’t go back and learn old music. Just what’s NEW to you.  GOT IT?!!  Build a huge vocabulary of music into your playing!!

I will first listen to a song setting at the kit. Then I might play “air drums” along with it. Maybe take a few notes. The idea is to truly copy what you hear, not just “jam” along without concern for what the drummer played on the recording. I’ve had students do that a lot. Copy what you hear as if you have to reproduce it for that artist. And yes I’ve had artists ask me to play what was on the recording many times. Even the exact fills!!  Once I’ve “got it down” then I might start incorporating my own ideas.  Tomorrow….. a new song!

4. Groove Exercises – This is so important! “Groove Is Everything.” – (quoted from my friend Abe Laboriel). Play a variety of grooves in 8 bar phrases. Pick one from 4 types of drum feel: 8th notes, 16th notes, triplets, or shuffles. Use one at a time for now. You could mix it up later. Set the click at one tempo for 5 minutes. Play a pattern for 7 bars without changing anything; do a fill somewhere in bar 8; and then play variations on the idea in each 8 bar section. Your focus is on precision and the feel of the groove. Start as simple as you need to and add ideas as you feel comfortable. Always concentrate on the pulse (the quarter note) and the feel of the subdivision of the pulse (8ths/ 16th/ triplests/ 32nd notes, etc.).

5. Soloing/ Improvisation– Playing a solo can be frightening. If you’re rather new to your instrument I recommend working hard on the other three areas. Build your technique, stamina, and vocabulary first. After a year or two start working on solos. Now I know drum solos are a rare thing, but the idea of being creative within a song can be developed by practicing this.

I think of solos in two ways. One, is “free style”, the other is “song form”. Both are very useful and important to develop.

In free style soloing I think more in colors and emotions and less about groove or time keeping, although that may be part of it. I try to paint pictures and think as if I’m playing to a movie rather than trying to just play a pattern. I might get a new student to loosen up with this concept by just standing by the kit and throwing a hand full of sticks at the set. Then just start hitting things!!  Soft or loud; slow or fast; it doesn’t matter just create!  Play the drums with your hands; use a mallet & a brush; a stick & a triangle beater; etc. You got the idea. Just discover what sounds you can get out of a drum set and any percussion instruments you are using. Anything goes!!

WARNING,,, please don’t do this at random on the next job. In a musical setting this should only happen for a reason. Remember the music rules, NOT YOU.

Song form solos  should be practiced with a machine. You could literally think of a song while you’re doing it, but the idea is to just use a fixed form. For instance play a groove for 4  bars and then play a solo for 4 bars. Do that for three minutes or so; just like a song. Then try 8 bars of a groove and 8 for the solo and so on. You could sing a song to yourself and then continue singing while you solo over the same phrases. (EX.- Try singing “Ancient of Days” or “The Happy Song” while soloing.) That is a very interesting way to develop a musical approach to soloing. What you’ll find is that your fills in general will have a more musical flow.

The primary rule in soloing is ‘DON’T STOP”! Don’t second guess what’s happening. Just keep going. Everything you play may not be awesome, but the idea is to get your “creative juices” flowing. In general playing solos allows your mind, body, & spirit to loosen up and start to express what’s in your heart. Drumming seems to become less mechanical and more spiritual which I believe should be the goal for all musicians.

So, there you have it. A way to systematically develop your musical skills. Well at least one of the ways.

Blessings to you and Happy Practicing!!


Let's have a chat over a cup 'o jo.

Let’s have a chat over a cup ‘o jo.

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About Carl

Carl has been a professional drummer & percussionist for over 30 years. He has played on over 80 Integrity Music projects; Maranatha Praise Band recordings 7 thru 10, & numerous other Christian, Pop, Country, Jazz, & Commercial projects.


  1. Thank’s Carl.
    I need to get into a set schedule. I’ll give it a go.

  2. Kelly owen says

    Thank you Carl! I love your approach and the details of your articles! It’s very helpful as I teach my students and confirmation as a teacher! Your very inspiring & you help my creative side with pouring into this next generation! Blessings to you & your precious wife in this new year! Kel

    • Hey Kelly, Thanks so much… it’s good to these things are helping people. I am humbled & honored. Lord bless you as you continue to bless others. Peace, Carl

  3. Hi Carl,

    I can’t tell you how much I’ve appreciated your articles! I feel like I’m one of your students already! Oftentimes in worship sets our worship leader wants to repeat a chorus with all instrument voices dropping out except drums, and I’ve found myself going back to the same ideas I’ve used before just for the sake of comfort. I never felt confident soloing and didn’t really know how to grow in that area before. Thanks for introducing this practice routine! I’m looking forward to applying it so I can bring lout more creativity when it’s needed. God bless you!


    • Hi Doug, Thanks so much… I’m so glad you’ve been encouraged with the articles. And the practice routine is a great starting place. Use it as you find it helpful. // / Yea, during the “break down” moments… drums & vocals,, etc. … sometimes I do just play the groove and let the vocals carry it… at other times I start to react more & play drum ideas around the melody ( a solo)… Just go with the spirit of the moment. (* The Holy Spirit that is.) Never feel pressure to “perform” — let it be a genuine expression of your heart. Blessings on your drum & worship journey. Peace, Carl

      • Mike Walker says

        I have to say that if you feel like you have to perform in a worship service prepare to crash and burn!! I’ve done it and it isn’t pretty. But, if it comes from your heart and is meant to worship the Lord and help lead others into worship it is much more fulfilling. A lot of times we just have to get out of the way and let God take over. When we do that surprising things begin to happen in our playing. We suddenly have the ability to do things we couldn’t normally do and in some cases can’t repeat ( wow, that was cool, I wish could do it again). Keep up the good work.

        • That’s right Mike. It’s always about keeping our attention on the Lord, AND drawing other’s attention to HIM as well. Even as we serve the leaders and the team, we are moving as one to bring glory to the One. Peace & Blessings, Carl

  4. Bill Brown says


    This is exactly why I consider you to be a mentor. You take time to bless us with your lessons, ideas and motivation. Thank you. This is exactly what I have been looking for, a format of practice. These are great ideas that I will add to my practice routine. Thanks for the rudiment website. I really don’t take the time to surf the web and find these simple free web resources. God Bless you and Leann. I look forward to your next post.

    • Hi Bill, thank you, too. It’s a blessing to know this stuff is helping. It’s my honor to serve & try to present tools that will help drummers in their journey. Keep up the good work. Peace, Carl

  5. What?? No world’s greatest drummer??? You only say that because you’ve never heard ME play…..


    • OH, sorry,,, I was mistaken… LOL… 😉 There is something to be said for “confidence.” blessings bro. Peace, Carl

  6. Hi Carl,

    Thanks a lot for the great article! I liked the way You arrange your practice time – One of My favourite drummers Chris Coleman has a similar approach, except he splits his time up into 3 equal segments which he calls “revelation, incubation, manifestation” (theory and rudiments/technique and co-ordination, indepence etc/ musical application).. Are there any books that You would recommend for developing groove?

    Will You ever be in South Africa again? I sawe pictures on your facebook of a mission trip out here, I’d love to meet You and catch a lesson (or just chat Drums and God) if You are ever out here again!

    All the best,
    – Shaun

    • Hi Shaun, Thanks for your note… yea,,, I love Chris’s stuff. – The goal is to find a routine that keeps you going. OR even change it up as you grow. / At least having some structured ideas to approach your practice time will help no matter what you do. // Not sure when we’ll be in South Africa again… would love to hook up then. Just stay tuned to my itinerary. OR… we could do a SKYPE lesson. If you’d like. That’s as close to doing something live without actually being there. Blessings, Carl

      • Shaun Struwig says

        Haha, I would LOVE do a Skype lesson but unfortunately our Internet in South Africa isn’t fast enough.. If that ever changes I’ll definitely contact you to set something up! 🙂


        • Hi Shaun, Yea,,, sorry ’bout that. Let me know when your service is available. Keep checkin’ out resources on YouTube & other great drum web sites. Blessings, Carl

  7. Jack Castillo says

    Great article. What books would you recommend for snare drum studies and set set studies to improve my reading ability? I’ve used Podemski’s book; are there others that you can recommend?

    • Hey Jack, The Podemski book is great… for snare drum I would just keep mixing things up. Maybe the Anthony Cirone book; or any of the Garwood Whaley books… Choose one that always pushes your reading limits. *Play one time on the snare — then repeat it playing the patterns around the kit or percussion set up. **It’s a great exercise in “phrase interpretation.”*** // Set books– the classics are good, but there’s always more — Advanced Techniques For The Modern Drummer by J.Chapin / Advanced Funk by Rick Latham: Studio & Big Band Drumming by Steve Houghton; *for the basics– the classic – Realistic Rock by Carmine Appice. // OK… that’s just a short list… you could also look up top 10 drum books on google… some of these are in there… and more. Blessings on the journey, Carl – REMEMBER – “PRAYER, PRACTICE, & PREPARATION”

  8. Great wisdom, Carl. Your words can be easily applied to wind or string instruments. Hope you don’t mind if I pass this on to my students who are being restored or who are expanding from reading to improv. This is a great plan that will work if you work it!

    I used to buck against routine and let my creative nature run riot. But I’ve learned. Structure doesn’t kill creativity. Proper structure releases creativity. Thanks for not only reminding us of that but of giving us a peek into what that might look like.

    • Thanks so much. Yes, we can be structured in our practicing to help release better musicianship overall. I also mix things when I feel in a rut. Sometimes I’ll emphasize a certain area. But these five groups are a good starting point. Thanks again. Peace, Carl

  9. Ralph Pace Jr says

    Hey Carl, Great work on your article, great info!!! Blessings, Ralph

  10. Great teaching Carl. Thank you for the free professional teaching & inspiration at developing our GOD given gift. It is a great lesson in helping me put structure in my drum practices just like putting structure in my Bible studies. Let the peace of our Lord & Savior Jesus be with you & your family always.
    Thank You,
    GOD Bless You,

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