"Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration."

Why Thinking About Your Drumming Is Just As Important As Practicing

Thomas Edison was a great thinker and a really hard worker. And he was really successful. One of the most important inventors in history, without Thomas Edison we would not have the light bulb nor the phonograph. The implications of what he created are massive.

How can you achieve that kind of success as a drummer?

Let’s start with three of my favorite Edison quotes:

  • “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.
  • “”The best thinking has been done in solitude; the worst has been done in turmoil.”
  • “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that did not work.”


Clearly you have to work hard. But hard work in the wrong direction or in no direction at all can be a waste of your time. When Edison was trying the 10,000 things that did not work, you can bet that he was working on something specific.

And working on something specific is the result of thought. The thoughts result in a plan. That plan gets implemented by listening, transcribing, practicing, playing with others, forming a new band, looking for auditions, going to jam sessions and more.

So think about your drumming. Plan. Think. Visualize. Dream.

Sometimes the dreams you have as you sleep will tell you something about how you feel about your music, drumming or other important things in your life. Recently, I’ve been trying to open myself up to remembering and thinking about what my nighttime dreams are telling me. After all, it’s my sub-conscious speaking, .it could be important.

Recently I’ve had a few dreams that spoke to me about my confidence level. Several months ago, I had a dream that Pink Floyd asked me to play with them. In the dream, I played a show with them and it was a great success. Everything in the dream was positive. I woke up feeling exhilarated.

That dream told me I have a great deal of confidence in my drumming ability. I found it satisfying and comforting that I was aware enough to remember this dream and process it and then understand it’s meaning for me. This has helped me to take important action. I made an audition tape for Soundgarden who was looking for a fill-in drummer for Matt Cameron after I had this dream.

So, unconscious dreams are one way to understand your drumming.

Conscious thought and conscious dreaming and visualization are key to improving your drumming as well.

You should think about your drumming at both the macro and micro levels.

At the micro level, what are your strengths and weaknesses as a player? How is your technique, ability to play with a click, reading, ability to play convincingly in different styles (or in your style of choice)? What is your drumming fill vocabulary or soloing vocabulary like? Evaluate these types of things. A good teacher can help.

At the macro level, what kind of music do you want to play and who are your favorite drummers? When you get more advanced in your progression as a drummer, you should be asking yourself if you want to pattern yourself after any specific drummers. You may also want to take ideas from musicians you like on other instruments. One of my favorite notions on this topic comes from something I read by John Riley, who I think is one of the great drumming thinkers, and who I still study with.

John talks about choosing your musical parents. It is an interesting idea. As a musician (or any artist), you have the freedom to choose your artistic parents. Steal the ideas of the drummers and other musicians you love. Then, put them in a pot and mix them around, and come up with your own way of sounding. In this way, you can become a unique sounding musician. Uniqueness is truly the holy grail of art. But you have to start somewhere, and taking great ideas from great musicians is a great way to get going.

I have been known to be a bit obsessive with my practicing. But I’ve always tried to have a plan behind what I’m working on and why I’m working on it so I can take my playing in the direction I desire. And that takes thought. Practice? Of course. But don’t forget to THINK.

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