I'm a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 Hours To Master A Skill theory.

I've picked up a set of drumsticks for the first time in my life 3 months ago, at the age of 21.

The barriers, as they sit in front of me today, are:

  • I have no prior musical experience - besides some guitar lessons and a few music theory lessons (back in 7th grade, which i forgot completely).
  • I am capable of training at nights and on weekends alone, since I have an 8am-6pm Job.
  • I have "normal" self-discipline; not above average, not below average.
  • I have access to an actual (electronic) drum-set only 2-3 days a week, on the rest of the time it's only a drumming pad, a set of sticks, and a metronome.

10,000 hours for me are divided as such:

During Weekdays: One and a half hour each night.

During Weekends: Five hours each day (Friday and Saturday only).

So that's roughly, given there are no other distractions:

  • 10,000 Hours
  • 527 Weeks
  • 11 Years

Yeah, I know. Bare with me.

My "End" Goal:

I am not interested in playing classical, metal, jazz, advanced rock or any type of really complicated music.

I would like to be able to do 3 things, in this order:

  1. Be able to pick up most songs after listening to them, and start playing (not mastering them, but getting the hang of things).
  2. Be able to play together with 1 or more other players of different instruments, while maintaining a beat/tempo, and picking up what tempo I should align towards, to accompany the group.
  3. Be able to compose my own beats, with the ability to write and distribute them through popular means (notes, tablatures) , so other drummers/players can understand what I am writing (and be able to compose their guitar, bass, piano etc. tracks to play with me).

End, Is obviously only what I aspire towards now, not my ultimate goal.

My questions:

  1. Is it possible, within my barriers, to achieve my goals?
  2. What would a weekday exercise (1.5 hours) look like? (please be thorough - for example, 20 minutes of beat training, 20 minutes of finger practice, etc)
  3. What would a weekend exercise (5 hours) look like?
  4. What happens if I slip, and miss a day,a week or two months of practicing? How Do I "Get back on the horse"?
  • 7
    Just so's you know: the theory you're attributing to Gladwell (actually, it comes from Anders Ericsson, about whom Gladwell was writing) isn't about attaining basic competence, but mastery -- that is, what it takes to become a professional-level, world-class expert. Your goals as you describe them are more modest than that; so, good news: your ambitions should readily be accomplished in much less than 10,000 hours. Commented May 6, 2014 at 22:59
  • 4
    I agree wholeheartedly with Codeswitcher. The 10,000 hour rule is for mastering a skill for a career. Becoming an accomplished hobbyist requires much less practice.
    – Kevin
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 0:14

5 Answers 5


I don't see why you wouldn't be able to achieve all of your goals within a year - they are a perfectly reasonable. 1.5hrs of practice a day is a typical average of many college musicians, but I digress. Let me address your questions directly:

  • Is it possible, within my barriers, to achieve my goals?

  • What would a weekday excercise (1.5 hours) look like? (please be thorough - for example, 20 minutes of beat training, 20 minutes of finger practice, etc)

  • What would a weekend exercise (5 hours) look like?

  • What happens if I slip, and miss a day, a week or two months of practicing?
  • How Do I "Get back on the horse"?
  • Absolutely
  • I am not going to put down everything I know about practice technique because it is honestly too much for a simple SE question. (I know you had your heart set on everything being given to you with this question.) Sometimes there's just too much information. That said, I can definitely share some big points that will help you guide your practice regimen. Check out this answer I posted last fall, there might be something in there to help put your mind at ease.
  • The weekend practice sessions should look a lot like the weekday practice sessions in that they should be broken up into several smaller practice sessions and divided throughout the day. (Trust me, your brain and your arms / wrists will thank you!)

Practice sessions usually include the following elements:

  • Warm-up / Cool Down
  • Technique practice (choose 1 technique)
  • Rudiment practice (start very simple!)
  • Repertoire
  • Sight-reading
  • Ear-training
  • Fun / Noodling / Composing

You should always have warm up / cool downs to your practicing where you are warming up your wrists and developing really smooth transitions with tempo. As you can see, all of your goals fit into the list I've described above - in one way or another. Though I know it sounds weird, by doing things that aren't your goals you'll actually achieve your goals (as well as actively pursuing things directly related to your goals of course.) In other words, your brain needs all of it, not just the stuff you want to do.

How you split up your practice session with the elements above is up to you and your needs - everyone learns different concepts at different rates. You might have an easy time learning rudiments but really struggle with learning rhythms by ear.

What happens if I slip, and miss a day, a week or two months of practicing?

Missing a day, not a huge deal. You'll be a little foggy on the concepts you just tried learning the previous day, but no different than needing a paragraph or two to get back into a book you haven't read for a couple of days. The more time you miss practicing, the more refined skill you lose - think of your skill like a pyramid (the most fundamental techniques are of course the base.) Months may go by and you will lose some refined technique, but the core concepts should still be there.

How do I "Get back on the horse?"

You get on the horse by recognizing where you're at and not trying to pick up exactly where you left off - you'll have to take a step or two backwards and begin at a place that's 2/3rds challenging, 1/3rd rewarding.

Other Advice

  • Use a metronome
  • Keep a practice journal (write down your daily goals / successes / needs for improvement)
  • Set daily, weekly, and monthly goals
  • Break up your practice sessions into 45min - 1hr chunks = better for your brain!
  • Practice things mentally. It's okay if you don't have a set every day - mentally going through your music / rudiments while looking at the music can do good things for you.
  • Practice slowly. Always. Painfully slowly. Your brain will thank you and you'll spend less time practicing overall.
  • You don't need one book. You need lots of books. By a bunch, play through them all - even if you don't like them.
  • Take private lessons when you can afford them.
  • Go to concerts / jam sessions
  • Talk and learn from other musicians

This answer is obviously not comprehensive, but it should give you a starting point.


I am not a drummer, so I am not able to answer the drumming specific questions. I do however have some notes on the 10,000 hours.

The 10,000 hours from the book are to master a skill. 10,000 hours will make you Buddy Rich good (well, maybe not quite :)). You goal specifically states you do not require mastery, so you will not need 10,000 hours. Here is a TED talk that says 20 hours of intensive training is enough to get basic proficiency with anything. There is also a video of Tim Ferris learning the drums in a similar amount of time.


While you can argue whether 20 is enough, the basic idea is valid. With focused training, you do not need an excessive number of hours to gain proficiency. Your schedule of about 15 hours per week will serve as a very good basis for becoming good within a reasonable time frame. I suggest looking for a good book, which will explain the basics and provide plenty of exercises. Maybe try to find a teacher in your area. At least a few lessons to get you on the right track.

  • Thank you for you answer. however, I am looking for a more....descriptive answer. The point is to get whatever a 300-700 page book will give me after the week or so it will take me to read it, within the boundaries of an SE Question. Yeah, it takes out of the fun in it, and takes away some of the hidden benefits a good book or tutor will give me, but it's more practical in order to become a better autodidact, I think. Don't you?
    – Tom Granot
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 14:58
  • 6
    I disagree. The point of the book is not to read it in a week. The point is to have exercises for years of practice. I don't know about the specifics of drumming, but preferably you should find a book (or series of books) that will bring you to a fairly high level of skill. Again, with exercises for years of practice. This also ties with the problem of getting back on the horse. With a good book, I find you are less likely to fall of, because you always have the exercises to work on and you can always track you progress through the exercises. Commented May 6, 2014 at 15:22
  • Maybe I'm being a pessimist here, but I've never encountered a book that actually changed a routine which I do daily. for example - I stated eating differently not because I read Tim Feriss's "4 Hour Body", but because I was taken aside by a couple of close people who told me I was getting fat. So, yeah - I get what you're saying about the exercises, but a single book might not do the trick for me. I need a variety of opinions coming from a range of different people, somewhat like the range that can be found here.
    – Tom Granot
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 15:27
  • 6
    @TomGranot-Scalosub I'm kind of confused here. You want to learn an instrument and you are asking for advice from us, but you don't want a teacher and you don't want to learn from a book? I don't think someone will be able to give you hours of techniques and exercises in an SE post alone that will guarantee you hit all your goals.
    – Dom
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 15:38
  • I have to add that I simply hate using drum books for technique. The exercises are great but reading a description of a hand movement only gets me confused. This is why a live person (hint: a teacher?) or videos help so much more. Besides, there is only so much that can be written in a book and that covers only the simple stuff! Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 11:33

Allow me to approach from the other direction, 10000 hours of practice can also make you only a guy at the party yesterday who can do cool tricks with sticks if you practice wrong stuff.

Practice makes perfect is missing the word smart at the beginning. Let say you have practiced signle stroke roll for 10000 hours. You would be amazing of course but imagine after 10010 hours somebody came and told you to play single strokes with every other seventh stroke is accented. You better be ready for that otherwise you would be very disappointed.

Practicing smart is a very difficult art. You can pick up the left foot clave thingy from Horacio Hernandez and devote your year on it but you would be only able to play the clave. You wouldn't be incorporating any of it to your playing. So picking up a relatively tough thing is not the smartest way. However, using a syncopation book and practicing every possible hand foot permutations would get you very far away. Because most of the tough stuff is comprised of small chunks that you would be practicing via syncopation exercises.

I would suggest divide your time into parts with different emphasis;

  1. Playing grooves that requires stick control, 5-stroke roll, doubles, paradiddles etc.
  2. Playing grooves that requires independence, either polyrhythms 3 on left hand playing 4 on the right and counting with foot etc. or ostinato based, playing off beats on hi-hat where you try to play super-straightforward blues ride pattern, but your feet are playing a different melody
  3. Playing grooves that requires dynamics, samba with accented kick on ones, techno-like rhythms which requires a mild hi-hat chick, very silent ghosts and quite accented kick and snare.
  4. Muscle exercises with one limb at a time, watch or record yourself playing anything and see what you might be doing different and where it starts lagging. Watching the greats and learning about things like Moeller technique, heel-up/down playing etc. helps you to orient yourself.
  5. Time practice. This is amazingly difficult to master but 10000 hours would make it perfect. Try to keep the time without a metronome and record yourself. You would be amazed how strange it gets even when you feel that you are on top of your game.

Skipping a month or two sometimes even help and mostly doesn't do that much harm. You can get back to it within a week if you are serious about practicing.

EDIT So what is the way to start from absolute zero? That's a question nobody ever answered properly. Because everybody has a different route to arrive at mid-level playing.

First thing you need to get comfortable with is what it is that you are providing. Initially, your main job is to provide a solid sound pattern that makes people comfortable in terms of consistency. That can very well be a snare beat where you just do it twice every second. As long as you can divide a second in your head into two and execute the two strokes per second you are done.

However, different musical setting requires different tempos. Hence you change your frequency such that you play three notes every two seconds. That's trickier to think arithmetically but easier to play if you just listen.

Over time we arrived to a convention that answers if I play a steady thing like that a minute long, how many beats do you want me to play?. That's the bpm (beats per minute) unit. It is really not that scientific in practice. 60-70 is slow, 100-120 mid etc.

Long story short, tempo tells you roughly how much a beat would last. But communicating with other musicians is difficult if you keep the beat lingo. So we came up with another system that would tell how many beats does it take to play a pattern if we are to repeat a guitar riff, say,

I love that bass intro groove by the way :) So, here the bass groove repeats itself every 8 beats. But you can also count it as 16 beats if you count the hi-hat chicks. It's a matter of mutual agreement. Believe me it's not confusing it's just a choice. When you want to tell someone about this beat you would say well it's a 16 beat pattern or 4 beat or 1 beat. Up to you how you set it up. Once you know what this means, you can dive into how we name long notes that lasts two beats or half a beat for faster stuff.

We use powers of two, a fourth note is 1/4 and is usually one beat (in western 4/4 music), a sixteenth note is 1/16 and it is a quarter of the beat. Why this complication? Well it's historical and conservative people. There are much clearer systems you can come up with but I digress.

To conclude this super brief intro, just download some free beat generators and try to come up with drum patterns. That would tell you what note values and durations mean in tabs by comparing what you created and how you would write it.


No-one else can know if you will be able to achieve your goals. There are no magic "30 days to success" programs. You can work on areas where you are lacking at the moment.

The goals you want to achieve can come naturally without almost any exercise for someone with lots of talent. For others, they may never be attained. What you are looking for is not that much influenced only by technical exercises.

Try to focus on practice, improvement, developing yourself as a musician. This is not a competitive sport. Enjoy it as well.

As an illustration, I'd like you to gain some insight by reading the first koan (story) at this page. It describes what I'm trying to say in a bit different way.

In terms of concrete steps, I've assembled a few tips that I'm following, here. To summarize to a minimalistic point: the general idea is to use focused practice. The more, the better, as in 0 < 1 < 2 < +∞. Practice as long as you can remain focused or your time limit expires. You should work on areas that you want to improve on (i.e. if you have a gig coming, or you want to play in an orchestra, or in jazz jam sessions, recording a thrash metal album, etc.). Whenever you get to a point where you think you're fine, look for assistance to identify the areas to improve. This is a neverending non-linear field. There is "better" but there is no "best".

Normally, hearing seems to improve faster than playing. So it should be possible to record yourself and then listen to it and identify the areas that can be improved. Is the tempo OK? Are your instruments balanced in terms of volume? Do you stay in time throughout the song? Are your compings and fills appropriate (the songs sounds better with them or without them)? Are you playing ahead/behind the beat? Is your arrangement OK - what does the song require? Is your orchestration good - does your playing fit the style? Can you play what you want to say? When talking about esthetics, also consult somebody else after they hear the recording.

1) Yes, it is very possible to achieve your goals. I would say they are fairly modest but it all depends on what exactly do you mean by "pick up a song". There are tunes that are fairly hard to pick up. See this

2) To recommend any course of action one would need to know where you are right now. And, I mean, whether you can follow a simple beat in tempo. What is your level of limb coordination, and so on. You need a live person who knows what she's doing. That's why teachers are usually recommended in a situation like this.


I would like to add something extra to just 'practicing' which any decent book should mention:

Go and play.

Go to jam nights - maybe listen at first, then bite the bullet, get up and play, at any place that you think you will enjoy it. Play anything. Just get used to playing on different kits, random types of music, with people maybe you've never met before. You'll pick up all sorts of tips and inspiration AND you'll see pitfalls and things not to do, and all the while you're playing you'll build confidence and steer towards your goals.

In a sense what I'm describing is the goal, or part of it, but I think you can start playing with people at a jam night way before you're ready to join a band, because a jam is a jam: doesn't matter if you mess it up (so long as you don't frustrate people by just plain not being able to keep a rhythm)

I think a point that's missing is that learning to play drums and music generally is something to be enjoyed; yes you could do it if you were disinterested but had to for some reason, but I bet it would take a zillion times longer. Besides that, enthusiasm is part of what you're playing.

  • As Tony Williams said, "I've studied all my musical life, but learning is only good if you do something constructive with it." Commented Sep 2, 2019 at 8:08

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