Without a doubt, academic breaks are susceptible to technique atrophy. The normal hustle and bustle of your semester has been ripped right from under you and has been replaced with holiday festivities. You’re exhausted and have gone into hibernation mode. Or maybe, you straight-up don’t want to practice. It happens. So what can you do?
1. Pad work.
I cannot stress this enough to young percussionists! If you are traveling, bring a practice pad, a pair of sticks, and metronome (most likely it’s already on your phone). Spend AT LEAST 15-30 minutes doing what many folks in the profession call “pad work.” Your goal is to get your hands moving and maintain and improve your chops. First page of “Stick Control” is arguably the most popular routine. But many of my high school students have an entire packet of drumline warm-ups to run through. I also am partial to Buster Bailey’s “Wrist Twisters.” I like to correspond a warm up from each exercise section with the date of the month. For instance, on December 23rd I’ll pick the 23rd exercise from the Single Stroke Section, the Flam Section, the Drags section, etc. It gives me some structure and variety to my daily routine. Be creative. You’re presumably going to chop out every day. Might as well make it your own.
2. Mental Practice
Often times, you need to do more than just maintain chops. You and your teacher have assigned new repertoire for the coming semester. Or maybe you’ve got a performance coming up. If there’s no equipment available, find an hour or so a day to score study. Take this time to slow down and truly understand the piece. What is the harmonic structure, thematic development, form, etc.? Solfege your way through the entire piece. Do as much as you can to imagine yourself visualizing the keys, physically moving around the instrument, and internally hearing the piece. Now is the time to explore different ways to think of your repertoire. Go to your local coffee shop or library to find an inspiring place to mental practice. At least when you come back to the instrument, all you have to do is put together the physical aspect of the piece.
3. Improvise a fake instrument.
This seems ridiculous at first. But, it can be quite a creative challenge. If you have a multi-percussion work, you can rearrange your home drumset. Or perhaps you can find an arrangement of pillows and books to drum on (though, I don’t like harming books). Your bed makes a sizable practice marimba that is definitely quieter than the floor. Mousepads and pillows are good practice pads, if you’ve accidentally left your drum pad in your dorm room. If you need to practice timpani, get four mousepads! Your family and friends might think you’re crazy, but “you gotta do what you gotta do.”
4. In case of emergency, find an instrument!
Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do but find the instruments you need. If this is your last resort, bring your stick bag. This step may also require some prep work. If you need an instrument that desperately over the break, call or email the necessary contacts ahead of time. If you have to go back to school to practice, know the holiday hours of operation. If you can’t go back to school, explore options in the area. Will your high school band director let you practice over the break or even borrow equipment? Is there a college nearby where you can ask permission to use their equipment? Do you have friends in the area with equipment? If you can afford it, can you rent the equipment? Like in point three, “you gotta do what you gotta do.”
I cannot stress enough practicing every day. The worst thing you can do is stagnate and fall behind in the semester’s progress. Even if it’s just 15 minutes, practice. Even if you’ve eaten too many cookies, practice. Even if you want to sleep all day, get up and practice. I guarantee you’ll feel better now and after the break.