Progress is Not Linear

  • Posted on: 15 April 2014
  • By: sheldonkreger

Something strange happened tonight.

Last week I decided that I would start a loading phase at the gym. This means training heavy 10+ hours per week (and lots of added recovery time, extra sleep and so on). Therefore, I was only drumming for about an hour each evening. I didn't bother warming up, I just jumped into reading the Gary Chester book with a system I came up with. I'd also spend 10 or 20 minutes on improvising over the Thomas Lang Cooridnation Matrix ostinatos I already know.

Now, I know that I make the best progress on the drums when I play for about 16-20 hours per week. So, dropping down to 6-8 hours is a big deal for me. It's almost like not showing up to work half the time, but rather than getting fired, my playing just stagnates and I become increasingly frustrated. I've been keeping up the 16-20 hour weeks for 6 or 7 months now, so this was a big change in my routine.

HOWEVER . . . I sat down tonight, having played very little last week (again, maybe 6-8 hours total). Literally the first hit I played today was the Gary Chester book with the system I've been working, and I played the page I worked on last week without stopping, with just one or two minor mistakes. That's right - I played it better than I ever have, and I didn't even bother warming up. I sat down and it was just 'there'.

The Gary Chester book is great, but things didn't stop there. Next, I tried one of the toughest ostinatos I've ever learned from the Coordination Matrix, which is groups of three under groups of two. I've been struggling with this pattern for more than 3 months, working it, giving up, coming back to it, hoping something would change. And, tonight, I was finally able to play it with no major effort.

This reminds me of something I learned from my weightlifting coach, Nick Horton. Progress IS NOT linear. There are always factors which you can't control or even understand that largely dictate your development of a new skill. WAs it some great sleep I had this weekend? Perhaps I had JUST the right amount of coffee today. Or, maybe it was the lack of stress and the giant burrito I ate for dinner. I really have no idea.

The truth is, in advanced stages of development, you just have to spend as much time practicing as you can and make the smartest decisions you can each day. Making compromises should be avoided at all costs - but when it has to happen, it might actually be good for you.

Sheldon Kreger


Awesome piece, Sheldon. Your most philosophical yet. I've witnessed this phenomenon in myself countless times, in almost every area of my life, and all I can tell you for sure is that it probably wasn't the burrito. :)

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