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View Full Version : Learning Patterns/Movements (Motor Skills)


Dave Mason
02-05-2009, 06:12 PM
Somebody recently asked me about learning rudiments. They wondered why I had no difficulty playing the paradiddle at speed whilst talking to them freely.

Bare with me on this, it's a long one!

Motor Skills

Motor skills are the specific, controlled, voluntary movements of the muscles in the hands, feet, eyes and other body parts that are learned from infancy onward. Gross motor skills, such as walking and balancing, are more foundational and are learned first. Fine motor skills involve more precise muscle control and are learned later on; they can include anything from writing to playing the drums.

The theory I've been taught is that there are two main parts of your brain in regards to this. the front and the back. The motor skills are called upon by the back of your brain whilst the front is the thinking part. Obviously there's more to it than this but general rule is thinking is done at the front, motor skills called upon from the back.

There are two types of movement, instinctive and learned. Drumming is learned movement. When you first learn movement the movement is first performed by your conscious, thinking centres. If the movement is repeated enough times your brain will identify it as a useful movement and the brain 'rewires' itself and the movement becomes part of the 'muscle memory'. The movement, when at this stage, needs to be repeated SLOWLY.

In other words, when learning a new rudiment, say, a paradiddle, you'll find that you start by thinking about the pattern. Various motor skills can require practice and learning over a prolonged period of time. During that practice, whilst the front of the brain is doing all the thinking, the back starts "scanning" the movements and encodes information about how to perform the task. ie "arm moves up here, other arm coming down there, there's that much force being used, I'm getting this much rebound" etc.

This means that like walking, talking, writing etc you can call upon that skill when you need to. One way of looking at it is that, for instance, you don't have to THINK about how you walk, you just do it. In actual fact, walking is a complex "chain" of actions (ie first leg lifts up, propels forward etc). The same applies to (in this case) practicing rudiments.

Take for instance this scenario. You're walking down the street and trying to figure out a rubix cube. In this case, the back of your brain would be handling the walking (a motor skill you have learned and are completely familiar with) wheras the front of your brain would be thinking about the rubix cube.

So how do we transfer this idea to the drum set?

Ideally you want to get to the point when you can call upon certain rudiments, patterns or techniques when needed and not have to worry about the action involved.

The way to do this is to start by focusing on the pattern itself and familiarising yourself with how it sounds. If you were learning a paradiddle, start by saying words that sound like it, happily, in this case, the word "paradiddle" sounds like the sticking R-L-R-R / Pa-ra-di-dle (because the diddle sounds like a double). Then once you feel comfortable playing the paradiddle and speaking paradiddle at the same time, start moving what you are saying away from what you are playing. This means you are slowly starting to occupy the front of your brain (the thinking part) with other tasks than playing the paradiddle. This, in turn,

Go onto saying "1234" as you play. Start with one number per hit. Then go on to saying one number per pattern. ie:

RLRR
1....

LRLL
2....

RLRR
3....

LRLL
4....

Then, once you are happy that this is easy enough, move your speech further away.
Start counting all the way up. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 etc (not looping)

Then the real test is being able to keep the said rudiment going whilst occupying your mind with something difficult.

You can try all manner of things, what's your worst maths? 13x table? Do it backwards from a random number like 274.

There's also things like taking sentences and working out anagrams, reading an article, simply chatting to a friend etc.

A real difficult one I find is to set myself a tempo, then switch on a music channel and hum the tune to the song whilst playing the paradiddle at the tempo I started at.

This is also useful not just for rudiments but learning ostinatos, sticking patterns and even drum beats.

I take my students through this method when having difficulty with certain rudiments or co-ordination issues within their playing and it always gives results. Usually, if it's a co-ordination issue for example, it's completely fixed by the end of the lesson and that beat that they either couldn't play at all or struggled with becomes much, much easier.

Dave

[EDIT]

After a response on another forum I also felt I should add this:

The main mistake that a lot of drummers tend to make is to think of rudiments and technique as a measure of skill. Rudiments and even technique itself are merely tools that you use to achieve an aesthetic result. The Paradiddle, for instance changes the lead from one hand to another.

"I can play paradiddles at 250bpm whilst stroking a small domestic pet with my left foot and solving world peace with the right. At different tempos!"

When it comes down to it, who really cares? It's like saying "I can turn the tap on at 100mph!"

You'll also notice I said that "the brain 'rewires' itself and the movement becomes part of the 'muscle memory'. The movement, when at this stage, needs to be repeated SLOWLY." When people think of the paradiddle as a measure of ability, they tend to practice at speed. This causes no end of issues, including tensing up, bad posture, bad timing and more.

I have quite a few students, who, when given an exercise to practice at a slow tempo, tell me "it sounds rubbish when it's that slow". The key here is to remember that the idea of practicing that particular exercise isn't necessarily to get it fast, nor for the exercise itself to sound good - it's not a beat/fill. The idea is to be able to play it well.

To increase speed you must first learn the movement. Speed comes from refining and compressing the overall movement of your limbs. If you practice fast, you're not letting your brain really examine the movement you're making.
Think "walking before running".

In a nutshell, make sure you're aiming for the right thing with your practice. Don't just practice rudiments because everybody says you have to. Make sure you understand them and their uses.

billdrum
02-05-2009, 08:03 PM
Well thought out...nice job Dave.

Dave Mason
02-05-2009, 09:03 PM
Well thought out...nice job Dave.

Thanks, Bill :thumb:

Massik Kretal
02-06-2009, 08:11 AM
This is a pretty awesome lesson. I'll definitely add it to my practice routine.

Winston31
12-14-2009, 06:54 PM
i've been playing drums for years and always strove to get consistency before speed with any new pattern because it "made sense", but now i have good reason why. great post. thanks man.

Kwote
12-30-2009, 01:33 PM
Killer thread Dave.

I think this concept applies well to all musicians. Me being one of those. Heh.

That's when you know you have a quality lesson on your hands. When the transferability is high.

Det_Nosnip
01-01-2010, 10:19 AM
Wow...great lesson! One of the best things that I ever did for my playing was getting the New Breed Book and going through the entire thing at 40 bpm. It was insane (took forever!), but it was definitetly worth it.