Interview and Lesson on "Practice Routines"

Originally posted on MySpace around Jan/Feb 2009:
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    My name is Travis Orbin and I play the drum set in a progressive metal band called Periphery. We shall be releasing our debut album this year in 2009 and are excited to get on the road and transform the band into a full-time entity. I also teach professionally and greatly enjoy doing session work.

    I began playing drums while still in middle school and started to really become impassioned and play gigs towards the tail end of high school and on. Drumming has served me well as a medium to express myself, a support system, a source of income and other various important functions and roles in my life.

. . . . . . . How old were you when you started playing?

Travis: I was a freshly-aged thirteen and I remember it as if it were yesterday. It was Christmas morning and my father pulled a dusty blanket off of a set of used black Pearl Exports as if he were unveiling a Mercedes. I just recently turned my 'half-life' age for playing, as in I have been playing for half as long as I've been alive. Did you play in a school band or any drum corps?

Travis: People tend to ask me this question often. Strangely enough, I was never a band nerd and didn't begin participating in school band until my sophomore year in high school. In marching band I was promoted to a more difficult instrument per year. Orchestral band was also part of the program and I played a variety of percussion. It was during this time that I was learning how to read rhythm theory/drum set sheet music and charts. I'm certain that being encountered by reading challenges and having to put what I was learning into practical application aided in strengthening my burgeoning ability. Who are your top 5 metal influences?

Travis: I've never thought about whittling down my 'metal-only' influences. Let's see...

Lars Ulrich, for '...AJFA' had me first mimicing the motions of a drum set player (also less elegantly referred to as 'air drumming')!
Vinnie Paul, because he is just a badass.
Does Mike Mangini count? He played in Annihilator, haha.
Tomas Haake is an indirect influence because my band is so strongly influenced by Meshuggah.

There are many little ones that I've touched on but haven't delved into as much as the previously-mentioned guys such as Morgan Rose, Mike Bordin, Bill Ward and Gene Hoglan but I find myself drawing much inspiration from the extreme music genre(s) as well. I get a kick in the pants listening to groups such as Hate Eternal and Origin. Who are some other of your favorites?

Travis: Well as you can probably tell, I struggled with the last question because metal music is only about third or fourth on the food chain for me. My top four would have to be:

Virgil Donati
Mike Mangini
Dennis Chambers
David Garibaldi

My favorite jazz drummers are Joe Morello and Philly Joe Jones. I worked through many of Joe's books with my instructor back when I took private lessons. Some more favorites include Vinnie Colaiuta, Marco Minnemann, Dave Weckl, Mike Portnoy, Horacio Hernandez and Bill Stewart. I'm also inspired by other musicians (bass players, guitarists, keyboardists, vocalists, etc.) and artists. Sometimes just listening to Henry Rollins speak makes me want to dive into the practice space. Let us know 5 CD's that are in your current rotation

Travis: Faith No More 'The Real Thing,' The Colors of Latin Jazz 'From Samba to Bomba' Compilation, Collective Soul S/T, Sky Eats Airplane S/T, Fishbone 'Truth and Soul' What do you do to warm up before a show?

Travis: I engage in what Mike Mangini refers to as 'bare-handed' exercises. Without a pad--I never end up using it if I bring it on the road--and sticks, I simply repeat a motion on my legs, while sitting on the throne.

I keep the strokes low but powerful. I usually do unison strokes, or 'flat flams' (both hands hitting simultaneously). My hands are sustained in the air; the palms are not flush with the legs as to avoid directly isolating muscle groups.

I do the same thing for the feet (heel up, of course) and I like to do both hands and feet together. Hitting all four limbs simultaneously--without flamming--is the most difficult drum move to execute. Add a metronome and try not to throw it out of a window within the first twenty seconds!

After a brief stretch, I subscribe to this exercise between 75 and 90BPM, playing sixteenths. This is my routine solely for the road, as I cannot get to my kit before the gig. Do you read music? Regardless of answering yes or no, please tell us how it might have effected your playing?

Travis: All haughtiness aside, I know all that there is to know regarding rhythm theory. The only thing that can still manage to induce a bit of head-scratching is Steve Vai's 'Tempo Mental' essay.

Reading music is highly important to me and--sadly--I feel as if it's becoming a lost art. More musicians should realize its positive effects. It is a skill that can motivate, discipline and humble you; it can also help garner gigs and alleviate the difficulty of understanding the music you may be auditioning for or preparing to do session work.

As for drummers, it can help you realize all that is possible within the pulse that you are providing and how to make those ideas fit and resolve without losing the pulse and crashing the music. There are many more benefits, I am hardly scratching the surface. Can you tell us about the gear you use?

Travis: I utilize a four-piece kit, but with my rack tom to my left and the floor tom and snare drum in the conventional positions. This makes composing parts more challenging and interesting. It also makes for a quicker and more efficient setup... it kind of looks cooler too, haha.

I favor 20" kicks for the tone and feel. I have two hi-hat stands, with the right pair on a legless stand attached to the bass drum. I call it a 'quasi open-stance' setup, a reference to Mangini's 'open-stance' setup; I just favor the direct feel of regular hi-hat stands.

My cymbal setup is the least amount that I could get away with while still serving Periphery's music. On the left side is my ride, low-pitched crash, low-pitched hi-hats and stack cymbal. On the right is my high-pitched hi-hats and crash and a big ol' chinese cymbal.

I adore the Pearl hardware and pedals, Remo drumheads and Sabian cymbals. I've used those products for such a long time. Stick weight is very important to me; the heavier, the better. I've been using Zildjian's Mike Mangini signature stick for years. If you could give one piece of advice to young drummers, it would be...

Travis: Be yourself and don't worry about senseless criticism. As artists, we all have something to offer society. We should strive to chip away at our identity and focus on what drives us. Also, I cannot stress how important acquiring an education can be. Either seek a competent teacher or become an autodidact so that you may begin to comprehend what you are playing. Lastly, if you are pursuing this as a career you should have a backup plan in place. ...More like three pieces of advice, haha. Who gave the best live performance you've ever seen?

Travis: As a band, M25 (Misfits 25th anniversary lineup). It featured Jerry Only, Dez Cadena and Marky Ramone. They played three sets: one Misfits, one Black Flag and one Ramones. It was bonkers and it was the most fun I've ever had at a show. As an individual artist, probably a Virgil Donati clinic in Virginia Beach. Aside from drumming, what else do you like to do?

Travis: I like to play a little bass guitar and compose music with a program called Guitar Pro. I also enjoy working out and keeping fit.
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Here is the lesson on practice routines:
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    Possessing a structured practice routine can be extremely beneficial to one's playing. I am oftentimes approached by musicians that feel as if they either do not practice as much as they should/would like to, doodle around too much when they do have the time, or have simply gotten 'lazy' and lack inspiration (or--worst yet--a combination of the aforementioned). As a result of the obvious absence of productivity a stagnant period can occur.

    When devising your practice routine the most important thing to consider is where your goals lay. Do you wish to become more proficient at a specific technique, at reading music, or at playing a particular style of music as authentically as you can (etc.)? The key to any of this is repetition. Exploration is certainly healthy and required at times (heck, I'm guilty of indulging a bit too much myself) but if you'd really like to buckle down and progress at a quicker pace, you have to put in the hours... and boy, do I mean hours!

    Firstly, you should consider how much 'practice time' you can allot yourself per week. Be honest when deciding what you wish to accomplish and if it is reasonably congruent with the amount of practice time you have. This is when you either must set your sights a little lower or begin telling your friends that you'd rather practice than hang out, heh. Of course, there could be more critical obstacles in your life; the less lofty your goals are the more fulfilling/rewarding/inspiring playing will become. Be realistic!

    Then, you'll want to divide up the days of the week. For a drum-related example, you may want to work on hand technique for two days, with the first day devoted to some specific licks and the next focusing on more fundamental exercises. The following two days could be assigned to improving at a samba ostinato. As an addendum, to really 'get into' the head space of world music it is best to immerse yourself in the culture. Texts and videos can only show so much; there's nothing like eating the food, learning the language--and possibly dance moves, haha--and educating yourself as to the history of the respective culture to really begin to grasp where the musicians come from.

    Whatever you commit to--as stated above--you should be very repetitious in your training (because that's really what it is). As Thomas Lang says, "Don't count bars... count hours." Just be sure that your technique is in place and that there isn't any tension in your movements.

    The last piece of the puzzle is practical application. I studied bass theory for quite some time. However, since I never utilize my knowledge in a band/musical situation (I don't have time to practice it on my own, I swear!) if you put a chart with bass clef in front of me right now I would fall on my face. Putting those movements you've thoroughly rehearsed into usage in situations that force us to react and think differently than how you do in your cozy practice space is what really drives it all home. Whew, that was a mouthful and it's probably a run-on, but I promise there is validity to it!

    To close, I can guarantee that if you are stuck in a rut and you tailor a practice schedule that is to your needs as a musician, you will only progress and improve at your craft. What is more inspiring than that?

Thanks for your interest!

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