Practicing Practice, or Creating New Habits

Please wish me luck. I’m about to perhaps foolishly drop a great deal of money on an online drumming course that promises to improve your technique in 26 weeks-which translates into six months.  This isn’t an impulse. I’ve given it a great deal of thought, and although I’m not a fan of online lessons, I think this program is exactly what I need.

Each Monday, I’ll receive a new video lesson that touches on some aspect of technique, along with direct instruction of what and how to practice, and how to know when that skill is accomplished. Very specific, with nothing left to question. I won’t be casting around wondering which book or exercises to use. According to the company who created this system, if I follow the directions and put in at least twenty minutes each day, I will see results.

I  don’t believe for one moment that it’ll give me great hands or nimble feet by the time the summer breezes come wafting through the window.  What it will do, however, is establish something that has eluded me for a long time: the drumming “habit.”

If I’ve learned something over these past few years, it’s that I need to practice practicing. That is, I need to incorporate drumming into my everyday routine and make it a part of daily life.  I wish I could say why I haven’t. Am I just a late-blooming, lazy drummer who lacks motivation?  Some things in life really are that black and white. But I’ve reached a point where the reasons don’t matter. They become excuses. The only definite cause I can point to is that I haven’t yet molded the practice of drumming and music into a “good” habit.

Will six months be enough time to establish this new habit? According to some studies, twenty-one days is all you need in order to form and habituate a new behavior.  Others calculate the time to be around two months, or sixty-six days.

Psychologists like Ian Newby-Clark, however, are reluctant to give us a number. In his 2009 Psychology Today article, he noted that the time it takes to create new habits will vary, based on a number of factors. “Tweaking” behaviors, rather than starting from scratch with brand new ones, will make for easier change. Most crucial, perhaps, is the concept of “payoff.” If a habit is instantly rewarding and automatic, it will be harder to extinguish and replace.

Hmmm. I had to think about that one. Have I been rewarded for not practicing daily? In the logical sense, no. While I can still go out and play with bands in public, I can say with definition that my lack of a daily drumming practice has kept me from realizing my full potential as a musician. I still can’t play jazz with any credibility. I watch drummers execute very interesting and complex grooves and fills and still haven’t reached the level of being able to do them. My hands and feet still get tangled up.  My drumming speed isn’t where I’d like it to be.

But in a twisted way,  avoiding daily practice has, in itself, been the reward. After all, if I don’t play everyday and challenge myself, I never have to feel the pain of coming up against my inadequacies. Avoidance removed the discomfort of making mistakes, of striving and falling short.  As I’ve learned recently, our brains crave pleasure and try to avoid discomfort. Improvement takes patience, time and courage. It’s not easy. It’s not supposed to be.  So while I hope to further understand more about those complex emotions that hold me back, I’m not going to dwell on them. Not now.  I’m going to start that course. I’ll just take it day by day.

Please wish me luck.

Happy New Year, everyone!


2 thoughts on “Practicing Practice, or Creating New Habits

  1. Jessica good luck!!! and your blog is very cool! i’ll be a full time resident of Lucerne on the 15th and on the 16th ill have a set of drums permanently set up where I can play and practice whenever I want which I cant do in orange county so i’m pretty exited. what I’ve been working on in the last 6 months is a six stroke roll it hasn’t been easy but dammit it never is with me but i’m gonna get it! but I think its cool that you’re doing this online course im sure you’ll do just fine and be an even better bad-ass than you already are!-jose


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