I have had a consistent issue for my entire drumming 'career', which is that I tend to really tense up - my shoulders, arms, posture, everything - when I go for fast fills.

I am not a taught or even particularly practised musician, but now that I have a drum kit in my own home to play on (for the first time in my life!) I've been trying to practice as often as possible. However, this tensing issue still plagues me.

In particular, I am trying to practice the *Herta fill as used by Dave Grohl in the chorus to No One Knows by Queens Of The Stone Age, and in so doing I've been incrementally upping my speed. However, the faster I go, the more I tense up, which tends to destroy my form and I always end up fudging it.

Is there a particular method (other than 'try to relax') or another exercise I can try to help me with this?

  • 1
    Sign on the wall of one of my teachers: "Practice does not make perfect. Good practice makes perfect." Get some lessons. I can pretty much guarantee you've got positioning or other problems that a teacher can spot and help you correct. Sep 25, 2013 at 19:08
  • When you have a technique problem, always try to get a teacher. While we can do our best to give a general description of best practices and best techniques, only a teacher watching you play can tell you what you, personally, need to change.
    – Babu
    Sep 26, 2013 at 16:47
  • As an addendum to this, and to perhaps underline my quirky approach to rudiments; I just discovered that I can actually play a reverse Herta fill (DAT dat-dat-dat rather than dat-dat-dat DAT) about twice as fast as I can do a regular one. I had no idea. Although it's kind of nice that I can still surprise myself after all these years.
    – indextwo
    Oct 6, 2013 at 12:06

2 Answers 2


This problem is a common one and is a good one to be asked, so well done. Carl is right in his comment, though I've heard the phrase "perfect practice makes perfect" instead; the meaning is still the same. If you are practicing for an hour, but practicing incorrectly or with poor technique, you're only wasting time.

If you want to play fast, you have to learn how to play slow.

Yes, this is zen, and thinking this way will enrich your practicing sessions. You become tense when you play fast because you lack the technical facility to perform the motion in a relaxed fashion. Thus, your body does the logical thing and uses your muscles / brute strength to compensate for underdeveloped technique. The result is unnecessary strain that not only tires you out but also causes health problems further down the road - and that's no good.

My first recommendation for you would be to begin taking lessons if possible / if you can afford it. If you can't, I strongly recommend purchasing a beginning percussion book and learning to read music (using the power of the internet!) if you aren't already familiar with percussion notation.

Next I would recommend that you begin learning rudiments - paradiddles, flams, single-stroke rolls, etc etc. I believe there are 32 standard rudiments, but don't quote me. A percussion method book will very likely have a list of the rudiments in the back of the book.

I would practice your rudiments *every single day beginning very, very, slowly and then very gradually speeding up (over the course of 2-3 minutes) to a point that is the fastest you can play without becoming tense (Note: this will not be the fastest you've ever played, remember that.) Practice with a metronome and use that as your guide. Write down your highest bpm for each rudiment every day. Do not try to push to a higher bpm - merely allow higher bpm's to be reached when they are ready.

Over time (several months) you should develop enough technique to be able to play most anything relatively comfortably - especially with diligent, thoughtful, and meaningfully honest practice sessions.

Granted, practicing is an art form in itself and I've glossed over a lot, but the suggestions above should be enough to get the ball rolling.

The key always - always is to be patient, take your time, and enjoy the process.

  • Thanks for the comprehensive answer. I do have a number of basic rudiments down and in 'muscle memory' already (double/paradiddles, flams, rolls, etc.), but mostly through dumb luck rather than any conscious practice. I have had teachers (including, when I was very young, Dougie Wright, who played on Hi Ho Silver Lining by Jeff Beck), but I think my impatience wore down their patience. I have been practising slow, but I want to become fast, faster. I lack zen. Patience, young Jedi, etc. I'll keep at it!
    – indextwo
    Sep 26, 2013 at 10:56
  • 3
    Good to hear - the funny think about music zen is that by practicing slowly, you'll actually learn to play fast more quickly. I promise if you give in to it, it works. Sep 26, 2013 at 13:23
  • Very good answer. The part about rehearsing slow at first to be able to play fast is the key for playing fast on any instrument. It is a well known method, and it is well known for a reason: It's the only way to be able to play fast without stumbling.
    – awe
    Sep 27, 2013 at 6:41

In the Martial Arts we have three ways to learn - first is very slow, to learn the structure or the format - second is medium pace, to get the flow or the feeling - third is fast pace, to bring what you have learned in the preceding steps into full manifestation and reality. 'If you can't do it slow - you'll never do it fast' The young master Bruce Lee was clear when a reporter stated that he was 'the fastest martial artist in the world' Bruce replied that there were indeed many people faster than him - he just learned to become deceptive. Relating to your question, as a young lad of 14 in an institution, I was taught by the then current Australian Champion Drummer (of a Scots Pipe Band). He stated that the only tension needed to play well AND fast was to learn - that the only tension required was that necessary to hold your body upright, and NOT drop the sticks. He then demonstrated his skill by playing on a matchbox top, turning the matchbox over on ALL sides as he played a VERY fast reel. He then played on a sixpence (a small coin about the size of a 1 cent piece) and stood it up on it's edge with his sticks and continued playing !!!! He used the old Premier 'E' sticks, not too thick - not too thin - START SLOW, AND HIGH - then get quicker and lower so that your parradiddles and rolls etc are too quick for the human eye to guage - and YOU, YES YOU, can continue talking to your mate, or indeed the young wench in the corner at the same time !!!!.

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