Hand Drumming Practice Tips
Many people find it hard to find or create a solid practice routine for learning hand drums. Over the past 20 years I have tried many different approaches to practice and I always find myself coming back to the same type of approach whether I am focusing on cajon, djembe, bongos, or pretty much any hand drum. The basics, defining goals, experimentation, and reps.
Use these practice tips to help you create a solid routine that will get you to your goals and beyond.
1. Warm ups
Warming up when playing an instrument is important especially on drums or hand drums due to the intense physicality of drumming.
Try these hand stretches to get the blood flowing. There are also some great videos about hand stretching on YouTube. Have a look around for some more examples.
Spend a few minutes focusing on your tones. It is always important to keep a focus on this especially in the beginning. Cycle between your tones playing just singles at first then switch to doubles (two hits with each hand.
Focus on what sound you are creating with your drum. If you not getting the result you want, try changing the way you are using your hand a little, or relax a bit more. If you need help, search YouTube for the tones of the drum you are using.
3. Basic patterns
No matter how advanced of a player you are the basic rudiments and patterns will always be important. Practicing your single and double stroke rolls for example will always be of great benefit. Other basics you can practice are paradiddles, flams, and flamacues. There are a great many rudiments out there that can be applied to hand drumming. There are also hand drumming rudiments that you should most definitely learn.
This is a great conga doubles rudiment lesson by William Johnson. You can also adapt these rudiments for cajon and djembe.
4. Palm and finger rolling
Rather than exhausting yourself by just playing really fast singles to get your rolls and faster patterns, the ascended masters of hand drumming have created palm rolling tricks and techniques to make you faster without burning yourself out.
The palm rolling technique which is widely used among conga players is a simple palm to fingertip movement which is played on each hand. If you start with your right hand, the palm of your hand comes down on the drum and is immediately followed by your fingertips bouncing up and hitting the drum giving you two hits with essentially one movement.
If you are looking to practice up to creating a roll on your drum, you will need time and dedication. Set your metronome to a slow tempo and begin playing the palm to fingertip technique consistently between each hand. Gradually increase the tempo. Each day you will make progress but you will need to be patient, it will take time to get this down but when you do, you will be delighted with yourself.
(This video nicely demonstrates how you can build your rolling up to a solid speed.)
This technique can also be applied to the cajon and some cajon players will use their fingers in the same way to create the roll.
5. New rudiments
As well as the good old rudiments you have become solid on, finding new ones is a great idea and will build on your arsenal of chops and tricks.
6. New rhythms
As a percussionist you should always been learning new rhythms from all parts of the world. This can be done as simply as learning a new rhythm every week or every two weeks depending on your schedule.
A fun way to do this is to choose a country or style of music and learn a few new rhythms from that genre then switch to a new one. Perhaps you could choose a particular style each month and a new rhythm from that style each week.
Experiment with your playing and get creative. Making up your own patterns or rhythms will help channel your creativity as a percussionist. You could even try to create a solo piece on your instrument.
Experimentation will help you cross the bridge from copying other players to become your own player.
8. Set goals
Defining your goal and creating a plan of how to achieve it will get your playing to that next level even faster.
Perhaps your goal is to be able to play a solid palm roll at 180bpm in 3 months. Maybe you want to have learned 3 Brazilian rhythms in one month. These are both examples of defined goals.
You will feel fantastic when you reach your goal however ambitious and reaching your goal will give you even more confidence to go even further.
Like everything in life, it all comes down to reps and how much you are willing to put into achieving your goal. Arnold Schwarzenegger famously talks about reps with everything he has achieved in his life and it is true. The more you put into it, the more you will get back.
This is especially true with learning a musical instrument. Hours and hours spent repeating patterns until your mind and body can play them without thinking about them or giving much effort is key to becoming a good percussionist.
Creating a solid practice routine is useless without reps and each time you push yourself that bit further, the closer you will get to your goals.