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How Mental Practice Can Make You A Better Drummer

Rob Mitzner  /  UPDATED Jul 12, 2023

Did you know you can become a better drummer without ever sitting down behind the kit? It’s amazing what a powerful practice tool your mind can be.

“But how can I do that? All I want to do is shred!”

Mental practice, air drumming, and visualization can be valuable tools to help you improve. Let’s say you’re on a plane or in a car and can’t get to a drum set. Or maybe you live in a small apartment or you’re visiting your parents. Or you’re sitting in school and algebra…well, just isn’t your thing. You can still practice!

Some of the world’s top drummers have been able to learn entire sets of music at the last minute using these techniques:

Drumming relies heavily on physical coordination and muscle memory, so even air drumming can be useful.  Legendary metal drummer Gene Hoglan discovered his love of the instrument at age 8 by air drumming to Rush, Aerosmith, and Cheap Trick records. Some people have even gotten started by playing the game Rock Band.  

2021 03 22 JARED FALK Drumeo Air 133

These techniques don’t just apply to drummers. Studies on golfing, trombone playing, and surgery have shown that working on skills in your head and then using your hands to “test-drive” them can really help.

While there’s still much analysis to be done, research suggests that using ‘motor imagery’ (visualizing or remembering yourself going through physical motions) can enhance your actual motor performance. 

The late basketball star Kobe Bryant was renowned for practicing mental training that didn’t include an actual ball. His teammates would sometimes show up to the gym to find him dodging imaginary opponents, shooting fake shots and playing whole games in his head. This visualization helped him become mentally tough and acquire the belief that he would succeed when the real game started.

You might be saying, “I’m not Kobe Bryant – how can I use this technique to practice drums?” Your mental practice should be as structured and focused as your time behind the kit. Always go into your session with a plan, breathe deeply, close your eyes, and try make it as real as possible. Imagine the song from start to finish, and if you make a mistake, go back and fix it. But above all else, try to stay focused the whole time and build up speed just as you would on the kit. You can even gently tap your hands and feet to get the sensation of moving around the drums (just like you used to do in math class)! 

It’s also important to note that mental practice is often more effective for people who are experienced in an area, so a drummer who is just starting out might not have the same results as someone who has gone through the physical motions of playing for an extended period of time. You still need a healthy dose of time behind the kit to really get better.

While “mental reps”, air drumming, and visualization can never fully replace physical practice, they can be an incredibly valuable tool in becoming a better drummer. The pros do it, and you can too!

Rob Mitzner is a New York-based session drummer who has recorded for Billboard Top-10 charting albums, films and Broadway shows, performing live at Lincoln Center, The Smithsonian, Caesar’s Palace, The Blue Note, Boston Symphony Hall and for President Obama in his hometown of Washington D.C. He is currently working on a drum book with Hudson Music and has also been featured in Downbeat Magazine and Modern Drummer, and on the national TV show “Trending Today” on Vice. Rob holds a B.A. in Music and Political Science from Brown University, and is a proud endorser of Paiste Cymbals, Remo drum heads, Hendrix Drums, and Drumdots.

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