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Practice Pad Use In the Player’s Practice Regimen

by Ralph Humphrey

February 1, 2002

Since its invention long ago, the practice pad has been the drummer’s best friend or, perhaps, worst enemy when it comes to being a tool for practicing one’s hand strokes. Its usage is often quite revealing as the practitioner works on getting an even, controlled stroke. One issue with regard to practicing on a pad has to do with how much time is spent doing this, as opposed to playing on a drum. There arises several points of interest in this regard.

First, in the development of limb motion, which, of course includes the kinds of strokes that we use when playing rhythm, the practice pad is a good choice to use. The quieter sound will reveal flaws in one’s playing ability, and in many cases is less forgiving than a real instrument. It allows the player to focus on the details of stroke production in a way that is perhaps superior to playing on a drum, at least in the beginning stages of development.

Practicing on a pad can be useful for the player who creates a daily regimen, which allows for the gauging of one’s progress. Endeavors like developing speed, dexterity, control of phrasing and the development of muscle memory are important elements to work on, things the pad is perfect for. And, for the parent or spouse in the house or the neighbor next door or living above or below, the relative quiet of the pad is far preferred over the bombastic sounds of a drum.

The practice pad drum set is also a useful tool for developing the various challenges of drumming. Key issues like good balance, developing hand and foot coordination and learning how to move around the set can all be addressed at the practice pad drum set.

The unfortunate, but obvious fact, however, is that a practice pad is not a real instrument. One would not take a pad to a band rehearsal or to a gig instead of a drum or drum set. So, the player must also learn how to play the actual instrument and, in the process, realize that it is not the same experience as playing on the pad(s).

What one cannot learn when practicing on a pad as opposed to a drum is how to develop sound and touch. The membrane of a drum feels different than a pad for starters. A drum moves air in the drum chamber as it is struck.

This air moves down and around and then back up, creating a unique feel to the stroke that a pad cannot duplicate. One’s timing will also be affected since the way in which a drum speaks is different than the surface of a pad, which produces a more immediate, less organic response. Striking a drum, on the other hand, creates the sensation of hitting into or out of the instrument, depending on your perspective.

In addition, the sound of the instrument becomes a major issue. Unlike the pad, the manner in which the drum is struck can create different nuances of sound that must be controlled by the player to achieve the proper dynamic and timbral affects. Touch is an important part of one’s technique and is discovered and developed primarily on a real instrument, not the pad.

A final observation is one that may not be so obvious. Hitting a non-membranic surface like a hard rubber pad, especially over a period of time, can possibly do damage to one’s muscles and tendons. Pads that are more forgiving or have a more realistic feel when struck are exceptions to this. The practicing drummer needs to be fully aware of how the body is being affected during practice time so that the ‘carpel tunnel syndrome’ problem does not develop.

The student should especially make every effort to avoid overplaying on pads, as if a real sound could be produced by playing harder. Remember that the pad(s) is useful in the development of limb motions and stroke production, and usually requires a volume level that is not punishing to the body. Whether it be a pad or the drum set, a smart drummer is one who pays attention to body signals and rests when tired and remembers to take frequent breaks in the daily practice routine.

The ultimate realization and moral to this story is that a real instrument is, by its very nature, more musical than a pad. It is also more fun and affords an infinite variety of creative possibilities, things the pad simply cannot provide. The student is left with the full awareness that practicing using the pad(s) and the drums are two different and separate endeavors toward a common goal.

Nevertheless, the drum pad offers the convenience that the snare drum or drum set cannot. Many of my students end up putting in productive practice time in front of the TV, for example. Or, time can be spent practicing at the park or other favorite outdoor spots. One needs to understand the benefits that are derived from pad practice as opposed to the real instrument.

Finally, it is important for the student to split practice time between pads and drums. I always suggest to my students to get on the real instrument(s) as often as possible, at least 50% of one’s practice time.

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