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Campaigning for Creativity

Article by Jillian Mitchell // September 02 2008
Campaigning for Creativity

"Probably the difference between man and the monkeys is that monkeys are merely bored, while man has boredom plus imagination.” - Lin Yutang

Let’s play a little game. It’s called word association; I’ll say a word and you say the first thing that pops into your head. Ready, here goes. The word is “practice.” As someone who is all too familiar with this word, let me offer up my examples to get the ball rolling, as they say. Practice is: improvement, learning, irritation, frustration, necessary, necessary evil, goals, chore, reality check, low self-esteem, big leagues, hard on myself, three hours a day, boring, stuff legends are made of, and time-consuming. Did I choose any of your words? Funny, if you look closely at the above list, over half of my choices are derogatory and pessimistic, without any deliberate intent. Though, at times, my choices have a hopeful glimmer of a glass half-full, these words are simply just that: “glimpses” and not a full-on, “Hey, let’s party! My glass is overflowing” type mug. Why is that? In a consumer-driven society addicted to Mickey D’s, soft-serve, movies delivered to our door, DVDs replacing books in all of our local libraries, drive-thru weddings, and music videos (that feature Lindsay Lohan, for some reason) with each clip never longer than three seconds, is it any wonder that the simple, organic routine of practicing has taken a backseat in the family truckster?

“Only four to eight minutes of pure factual lecture can be tolerated before the brain seeks other stimuli, either internal (e.g., daydreaming) or external (Who is that walking down the hall?),” says Dr. Bruce Perry, author of “How the Brain Works.”

Consequently, “with three to five minutes of sustained activity, neurons become ‘less responsive’; they need a rest (not unlike your muscles when you lift weights),” furthers Perry. “If the approach is not providing that novelty, the brain will go elsewhere.”

In other words, your brain gets bored and starts looking for its next trip. It makes sense then why our world is the way it is, fast and chaotic, and why our brain has adopted a similar role. These days, practicing can undoubtedly seem monotonous and draining—repeating the same exercise over and over and over and over and…you get the picture.

So you can’t get that fill, big deal. Change your approach. At that particular moment, perhaps you’re just not motivated. Leave it to revisit later. Variety is key, my friends. This may seem odd, but the number one misconception among drummers is that if we practice our mistakes over and over, our mistakes will eventually work themselves out. Nuh uh! By practicing our mistakes, we are undoubtedly training our brain to learn those mistakes as they are, without the proper corrections. Don’t believe me? Take a lesson from the pros. Our own Sean Mitchell says this of his lessons with Mitch Dorge of The Crash Test Dummies, “During our lessons, Mitch pointed out one very important tool which was to avoid practicing your mistakes. What that meant was that if you screwed up, do not stop and go back to the start; just fumble your way through the screw-up. In essence, your brain doesn’t register that you messed up. Your brain learns by repetition and if the repetitiveness is your mistake; that’s what you’re practicing.”

In order for us to get the most out of a practice session, we need to know ourselves and how we work. For instance, what point in the day do you perform at your best? Myself, I am a night-owl, so I know that if I want to practice productively, it must be during the moonlit hours. I am a Negative-Nelly in the early morning, so I know that, for me, six a.m. is not an opportune time to learn. Obviously I understand that some of us have neighbors (sometimes on the other side of paper-thin walls) and therefore do not have the luxury of practicing whenever we get inspired, so if there is absolutely no way to make arrangements to synchronize your environment with your internal clock, there are alternative options for you.

Remember when you first picked up a pair of sticks; the world was at your fingertips, literally. And now, for some reason the world seems to be on your shoulders, pushing you down as you strive to pick yourself up. Don’t fret. Let’s try and exercise our creative muscles for a minute. Perhaps it’s not practicing that’s the drag; it’s our approach.

Here are some key ideas that will help restore the novelty (and fun) back into practicing:

  • What gets measured gets done. Write down a list of five things to accomplish each session.
  • Make sure the list has variety. Set goals.
  • Take advice from our own Jayson Brinkworth and record yourself. You may find new ways to self-improve that you had never thought of.
  • Make your practice space accessible, available, hospitable and tidy. This is key.
  • Check out YouTube and watch your favorite drummers in action. There are some great lessons on the web as well.
  • Practice in front of a mirror or video tape yourself.
  • Put up pictures of people (not just drummers) that inspire you.
  • Teach. The way to know if you’ve mastered something is if you are able to teach it. And, students will definitely keep you on your toes.
  • Jam with another drummer, one on one, especially with someone who has more experience than you.
  • Buy an instructional DVD, CD or book.
  • Try and discover at least one new drummer per month. Curiosity cures boredom.
  • Set up your kit differently. Be creative.
  • Learn a different instrument. See music from another angle.
  • Take a lesson from the pros. Seriously, save your cash and contact them. The worst that could happen is they will say “no.”
  • Often we forget to utilize our “fifth” limb, our voice. If you can sing the part you will be able to play the part in time.
  • Take up dancing, especially Latin dancing. It’s great for rhythm.
  • In the words of the illustrious Dom Famularo, “What your hands can do, your feet should also be able to do.” Workout all of your limbs equally.
  • If you’re a lefty set up right-handed and vise versa.
  • Jam with a bass player.
  • Follow the lead of Working Drummer’s Bootcamp guru Chris Sutherland and take a listen to “all” styles of music. This boosts your creativity.



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About the Author
Jillian Mitchell

As a professional vocalist (and self-professed grammar nerd), Jill brings a fresh perspective to The Black Page. In addition to earning a B.A. in music, creative writing and English, Jill has also studied vocals with Philadelphia-based vocal coach Owen Brown, known for his work with Mary J. Blige, Celine Dion, and Wyclef Jean. Jill makes up the other half of world soul group The Mitchells, alongside Black Page creator, Sean Mitchell.

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