Perfectionism Kills Drumming Progress

Rick Kettner  /  Articles / Jan 6

One of the most important aspects of becoming a better drummer is making steady and consistent progress. Unfortunately, there are many distractions that can prevent that from happening. The desire to perfect a beat, fill, or technique through endless repetition is one of them.

The natural allure of perfectionism

Perfection is a very attractive distraction because it gives us the illusion of progress. Worse still, it presents itself as being a very positive goal. I mean, who doesn’t want to play something perfectly on the drums? It sounds like a great goal to have, right?

The two phases of drumming practice

Everything we learn on the drums goes through two distinct phases of development. Understanding these steps is very important if we want to rapidly improve our drumming.

First up is the initial learning phase. Here we struggle to play the basic technique or pattern for the very first time. Making it through this difficult stage involves deep focused practice. This results in incredible progress over a very short period of time.

The second phase is all about building experience. This is where we become more familiar with the pattern as we begin to play it more consistently. We slowly develop muscle memory and become so familiar with the technique or pattern that it becomes almost second nature to play. Over time, this gets us closer and closer to perfecting the pattern.

The diminishing returns of perfectionism

Depending on what we are setting out to play – the initial learning phase may take us from 0-75% in about an hour or two. Maybe it’s a page of new drum beats or a specific technique that we want to learn. Either way, this first phase is an extremely productive use of our time.

When it comes to building experience, this usually takes significantly longer. In some cases, we may take things from 75-95% in a day or two. We get that initial experience under our belts and we’re able to play the material consistently.

It’s the last 5% that we really have to worry about. The level of experience needed to close this gap may take weeks, months, or even years depending on what we are learning. This makes the pursuit of perfectionism a simple case of diminishing returns. In other words, we see far less progress for the amount of time and energy we are putting in.

Achieve greater results by cross-training

The key to maintaining rapid progress is finding creative ways to stay at our highest levels of engagement. Sitting behind the drums for hours and hours trying to get that final 5-10% is a complete a waste of time.

Instead, we need to find engaging ways to cross-train. For example, if you were trying to master the Double Stroke Roll rudiment – start applying it within basic beats and fills. Alternatively, if you learned some new drum beats – start playing them along to real music or start transitioning in and out of fills with them.

Is it more of a challenge to refine something while you are learning something else? Of course! That’s what makes this so effective. It pushes us to stay focused for longer periods of time. It maximizes the value of our practices while giving us the experience needed to improve over time.

It’s all about progress, not perfection

The simple message, “progress, not perfection”, has become a mantra for fitness enthusiasts, top athletes, and many other people around the world – and it applies to drumming as well. Perfection is an unattainable distraction. Consistent daily progress through deep practice is the key to becoming a better drummer.

Rick Kettner is an active drummer and the co-founder of Drumeo - an online community dedicated to the education, inspiration, and support of drummers.

Save up to 81% on lessons,
accessories, and more!