SEEKING ADVICE FOR PRACTICE USING A PRACTICE PAD KIT

CC Cirillo

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As background, for some reason I struggle with transferring something I’ve practiced on a pad to a real drum. Something about feel and rebound throws me off in the transition.

So with that foible confessed, I’m looking for some advice on the best way to approach improving myself just using a practice pad kit. The kit I’ve cobbled together (pictured) is DW pads profiled to match a one up/one down kit with a pad positioned for a ride cymbal, a dual sided/bullseye Prologix practice pad for a snare, and an actual hi-hat with a muffler in between the cymbals and an oven mitt to quiet where I strike. Bass pedal below.

Please bear in mind, I have no studio and like many of you I’ve been sequestered in the Great Lockdown of 2020. I have not played live drums with any of my bands since mid-March. And before that, literally, due to work/commute/family schedule and no place to practice, the only times I was physically hitting drums and cymbals was at a rehearsal or club date.

I want to use this continuing downtime to maintain my playing level and hopefully improve my chops, flow, timing, and musicality. (The last three being the most important to me, but I’d love to resurface with some panache.)
With some upcoming loss of income, I can’t invest in an electronic kit, or a laptop, or online lessons, or a lockout studio. I regularly pick up pointers from YouTube teachers like Rob Brown, but never watch shredders. I have a metronome and a LiveBPM app. I play by ear and have limited reading skills. My sessions are between 5 minutes to 15 minutes, stolen in between work calls and dealing with a demanding preschooler. Evenings and weekends are 100% for family time. My musical taste is wide, but my bands play rock/pop covers or originals that are a blend of rock, hip hop, blues and country. I’m an intermediate player who’s been off and on the throne for about 30 years. I know my limits and don’t scrape much guardrail.

So far I’ve been working on hi-hat off beat foot chups in straight 8 patterns and shuffles, parallel snare/cymbal patterns (a la the groove on Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll) and foot/hand triplet patterns. These are all areas of weakness for me. Progress is being made, and I can keep on doing what I’m doing, but I am wondering if any of you have advice specifically tailored to using and progressing on a fake kit. It really is a different instrument.

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CC Cirillo

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I should add that I am able to put in about three or four of these quick break sessions a day, which equates to anywhere between 25 minutes or an hour a day.
 

RhythmGJ

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The simple answer would be “whatever you would practice on a real drumset.”

Not intended to be snarky at all, but really, that’s it. If you need work on grooves, work on grooves. Need to learn material for when the gigs return? Practice songs. Chops? Try applying rudiments around the kit while keeping solid time underneath (kick and HH). Four-way coordination? Various HH patterns with the left foot to keep time while working on grooves with the other three appendages. With your stated caveat as a given, the only way to get better at anything is to practice. So the way to get better at applying your practice sessions on a pad kit to real situations on drums, would be to practice real drumming on your pad set. Then hit the drums whenever you can.

All my lessons with my teacher over the years were on a pad set. It used to throw me, but eventually the transition was easier. Then when I started apartment-dwelling, the pad kit became a must. Now it’s not that difficult to adjust for the differences.

Just Do It, as they say...


GJ

PS— One thing you could do would be to use an actual snare drum, and throw a Gladstone pad on it. That’s much closer to “real,” and if you ever get an opportunity when everyone is out to take that off and wail on the snare... well, it’s there.
 

RhythmGJ

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PPS— Hey! Are those 15” K’s? Or do they just look bigger in the picture?


GJ
 
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I want to use this continuing downtime to maintain my playing level and hopefully improve my chops, flow, timing, and musicality. (The last three being the most important to me, but I’d love to resurface with some panache.)
What a GREAT question. I'll offer a little background first. I think EVERY drummer has dealt with this issue of not being able to practice a lot on a real set at one time or another. I know I did at several points in my career. I am asked about this constantly by students.

I'll start with this, as a touring drummer for 15 constant years or so, it was only a pad and hotel pillows and the corner of the bed for me during most days. And I got a lot accomplished.

For "sheer" chops, all you need is a pad (or maybe even just a pillow, and a mirror helps.) Raw chops (to me) is about refining your grip (technique,) getting out of the way of the stick, and refining-economizing your motions to be able to play what you hear in your head with as little effort as possible. And that all starts on ONE surface, and it starts with slow deliberate movements. In time, those motions become internalized, get smaller, and your "chops" (technique) gets better.

Time? Again start with one surface practice. Nome, pad, sticks. If there are issues with that, then you have found a starting place. So start there, it will only be made worse by applying it to many surfaces. Running the rhythmic rates, reading, a simple rudimental regime, all practiced SLOW with a nome will improve your time concept, which will reveal itself on the set. Then take it to your pad kit.

By the way, I have one of those pad kits on my deck and when I use it, I actually hear the sounds of my kit as I play the pads. If you are in tune enough with "your sound," I think this can happen with anyone. Try it.

Flow? (That's a big buzz-word these days.) I would answer this and say that (I think) "flow" is a combination of time and movement around the set. Make sure your pad set is arranged as close to how your actual set is set up, and practice simple movements around the kit. Start SLOW, and do it in front of a mirror. Economize your motions and movements to create a smoother path around the set. Really get Zen with it, and relax. Eventually. Gradually. Get faster.

If you are talking about "time flow," that's a little different. I do this excersise with students. Start with a SIMPLE (backbeat) groove. And add ONE note (within the groove,) every four or eight bars. Build that up to (close to, or what feels to be) sensible maximum density. Then reverse the process (subtract one note every four or eight bars.) Do this with a nome, at different tempos, and different grooves as well.

Record yourself (even on the pad set,) you will instantly hear where you start to interrupt your time flow (time) with specific notes, ideas, or "licks." Then you know where and what the culprits in your "time flow" are (then you can temporarily eliminate them if you want.) Then you can (if you want to,) base a groove around those "culprits" and play them slowly and with a nome; Flattening out the speed bumps-culprits (which would ((I guess)) interrupt your "flow.") That might be a good way to start to identify (and correct) your "problem areas" with your "flow."

Musicality away from the set and playing live with other musicians? That's a little different. I would start by reading this whole interview.


At the end Vinnie is talking about the word "concept." I ask him this,

"There's that word again, concept. What does that word mean to you?

That’s my new word. It’s the word that everyone is going to be sick of hearing me use. What does it mean to me? It is the highest understanding of how you experience music. And it is accomplished by total immersion. In a way, it's beyond a cognitive understanding. It is an inner understanding of total immersion. Developing a concept is a long process. It starts by being able to understand what music represents to you as a whole; then, understanding what that music is saying to you. Only then can you, as a musician, begin to understand what you are within the music. And it has to come to you in that order, not the other way around."

Pretty deep, and pretty tough and self-revealing questions (I just added the underlines now.) In my opinion, VC is talking about developing (amongst other things) musicality. All of that work can be done with some INTENSIVE and interactive listening practice, and some serious musical self examination. Which you don't even need a pair of sticks for. Just some headphones and your iPod-phone, after everyone is asleep.

It's easy to get caught up on the fact that you don't have a set. But that's really no big deal, don't let THAT be a distraction. In my opinion, about the ONLY thing that you CAN'T work on away from a real set, is your "touch." And even "touch" begins with a decent amount of technical refinement on a single surface before you apply that work to the set.

In my road days, I used to work on all sorts of groove coordination stuff on a pad (one hand on the edge of the pad, and one hand on the pad) and move my feet as they were on a pedal during the day (tile floors help this,) and then play them the that night at soundcheck. Sure it's not as fun as practicing on your instrument, and pads do feel different, but A LOT can be accomplished away from your instrument.

After things get straightened out in the world, a good teacher (and occasional lessons) is never a bad thing to help guide you through your drumming life. Even Tiger has a swing coach (and he has had many) !!!

Good luck, hope that helps!
Great question,
MSG
 

EyeByTwoMuchGeer

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Being in a similar situation for vastly different reasons, I’d say work on subdivisions and dynamic variance around the kit, and do it at exceedingly slow but deliberate tempos. I found that playing grooves and chops on pad-type kits didn’t translate that well over to acoustic kits. A lot of grooves for instance are locked into the physical feeling of the sticks on the surface - like the “give” of cymbal sway, or the ability to dig into a floor Tom.

However, the subdivision and dynamic exercises aren’t typically dependent on the surface feel. A loud/forte motion on a pad will typically translate over to a real drum, and so will the subdivision cleanliness. Working these things slowly is also super helpful and not affected at all by the physical surface you are on. Focusing on playing as soft as possible with total control also isn't really affected by the surface, as you can't rely too much on lots of bounce and instead have to rely mainly on your hands or feet to control the stroke. Soft playing and slow playing really helps everything.

Also, in general, any time you can improve your dynamics and subdivisions, your overall kit playing will improve as well. You may not be playing more notes, but the notes you do play will be more powerful and authoritative.

Best of luck!
 
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