In my Health post, I mentioned Todd Meehan from the Meehan/Perkins duo, who is also the creator of Liquidrum. If you're a percussionist and haven't heard about Liquidrum, you have to check it out now! And even if you're not a percussionist, the blog on the website is rich with content and ideas that any musician can use. I highly recommend giving his entries a read because you'll never know what you can learn from someone from a different instrument family. True story: my wife gives me some solid advice on how to play/practice certain things and get this - she's not a musician! And it somehow works way better than what I come up with myself.
Ever since returning from Peabody, I've been an advocate of the message in those posts:
Learn how to play your instrument, and not how to play pieces.
There is a clear distinction between the two, and I hope that as a reader, it is equally clear. Todd explains it very well (so go read the article if you haven't!) and in part 2, he even shares some ideas and tips on how we can go about practicing and improvising to master our instruments, as compared to only knowing how to play pieces. And while it may seem like a no-brainer, it actually takes more effort to learn how to play an instrument than to play a piece of music.
I am nowhere near "mastering" my instrument, and I still get the jitters every time I am asked to improvise! The Adam Rapa concert was quite recent, and another one with Lorong Boys for our performance at the NEXT! event (although I must say, improvising on my cajon setup is slightly easier than on a drumkit). But those are more rhythmic instruments, which make it slightly easier to improvise because you don't have to deal with pitch and "melody".
Sidetrack: Of course, there is such a thing as melodic drumming and creating melodies with rhythm, but that's another topic altogether. I'm just focusing purely on rhythms for this post.
When pitch is involved, it adds another layer of difficulty because then, we'll have to think of and create a melody while incorporating rhythm. Think of it as learning to ride a bicycle. We usually start with the training wheels attached to the side and then gradually, when we get better at it, we lose the training wheels to further develop the skill of riding a bicycle. That's akin to learning rhythms first and then adding pitches after rhythm has been developed. If we dive straight in with both elements, it's like learning how to ride a bicycle without the training wheels. Not that it's a bad thing, just that the former is more manageable than the latter.
Like what Todd says in his post, pieces and etudes are there to facilitate the learning of the instrument, and should not be the end-goal (if there is even one). There is no one-exclusive way to really learn how to play your instrument (as opposed to pieces), and Liquidrum does have some good ideas and exercises in that blog post. Do check it out and I hope it helps with your learning and musical journey. Thanks for reading too. Stay safe and well!