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My life-changing practice technique | Nate Wong

Bron, in Music lessons
Jan 18, 2021 | 2 min read

Figuring out how to practice better? Drummer and Soundbrenner Instructor Nate Wong shares a valuable tip that changed his entire mentality around practicing. (This is a transcript of Nate’s lesson – watch the full video here.)

Nate: So, I said to my teacher: I’ve been trying to play slow better, and I’ve been using a metronome and I’ve been doing all these exercises – and I still sound bad playing slow. It still sounds stiff and uneven.

And my teacher was like, what kind of slow playing? What do you actually want to sound like when you play slow?

I just wanted to get better at playing slow. I never thought about what I wanted to sound like. 

This was shown to me in the last five years and it changed my life – which is to use mental imagery. 

What it means is that you take broad ideas like “I wanna get better”, or “I wanna get better rhythm” – or for me specifically, “I wanna get better at playing slow” – and reduce it down to specifically what it sounds like and what it looks like. And you try to picture that in your head. 

Because, playing well isn’t one thing – it can be a lot of things. And if you just chase “playing well”, you just end up chasing a cloud of, in general, “better”. But if you imagine something in your mind really specifically, then you can organize your practice – and your brain even does it automatically – towards one road, towards achieving that specific thing. 

So for me, when my teacher was like, “What do you actually want to sound like when you play slow?” That’s when I realized, I never thought about it. I just wanted to get better at playing slow. I never thought about what I wanted to sound like. 

My answer (though your answer can be anything) was: when it’s jazz, I want to play like Elvin Jones; when it’s pop, I want to play like Lester Estelle. 

As soon as I had that clear picture in my mind, first of all, in that lesson, like the next minute, I was already able to get closer to that. And in the later weeks and months, when I directed my practice away from chasing the cloud of “I wanna get better at playing slow”, to specifically, “I want to sound like THIS”, then I was able to achieve that very quickly. 

I really recommend having a clear mental image of what you want to achieve and practicing towards that mental image. @natewong.playsgongs

Find more bite-sized lessons like this one at Soundbrenner Plus. Our lessons cover anything to do with rhythm and timing – from guided rhythm exercises, to how to build a funk groove, to pro tips for developing your practice.
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