Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The "hot air balloon" principle

I've said it before, but I'd rather have my students practice for five solid, focused minutes per day than to get in ten hours on only one day per week.

Why? Because your skills are sort of like a hot-air balloon. You're either getting higher, or you're getting lower.

Let's take a closer look, shall we?*

You see, there's this force called gravity. It's constantly pulling on everything, including the hot air balloon. When heated by a burner, the air inside the balloon lifts the balloon, the basket and anything in it up into the air. When the burner is firing, the balloon is lifting.

But just as soon as the burner is turned off, the air inside begins to cool, and the balloon slowly begins to fall. From a distance, it looks like the balloon is keeping steady at a certain altitude, but that's because the balloonist knows just when to turn the burner on and off to keep the craft from getting too high or low.

How does this compare to technique and skill development in music? Well, it's not a perfect comparison, but you're either getting better or you're getting worse. If you practice in a focused, systematic matter - even if it's only one thing and for a short period of time - for the next five days, you will be better than you are today. Conversely, if you don't practice for the next five days, you will not be as good as you are today.

This may not be the message you want to hear, but there is simply no "static" or standstill position for music skills. In fact, some of your daily practice is what is called, "maintenance practice." It's the time you need to invest just to get you back to where you were yesterday.

One other way to think about this is your physical health and fitness level. If you're not exercising, and you start working out every day, you will improve your overall health in a relatively short period of time. But if you aren't exercising, then you're health and fitness are actually deteriorating a little bit every single day. In fact, it takes as little as twelve days for your muscles to start losing strength and mass if they aren't being exercised.

(Well. Aren't I a little ray of sunshine?)

Here's the good news. Just like the hot air balloon, it doesn't take a huge amount of effort to consistently increase your altitude. What it takes is consistency. Practice on most days of the week in a focused, systematic way - with specific goals in mind - and you will make progress.

Happy drumming!

*For all you balloonists out there - look - I know I'm butchering this. It's a metaphor, okay? You can correct me and clarify in the comments below. Thanks much!


  1. Your tips are the best thing I have on my Twitter. By far!!!

    1. You are so very kind. Thank you! I'm glad some of it is helpful.

  2. Doing something for five straight days helps to make it a habit. Good tip and encouragement for those who may feel they don't have enough time.


Drummer's Weight Room: Tap Timing Exercise

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