Justin Aswell is a Finger Drummer, DJ, Producer, MC, Record/Mix/Master and teacher at Dubspot. His skills on the pads can be seen in his awesome Youtube videos that he began posting way back in 2006. Since then he has appeared on Native Instruments and Dubspot displaying his finger drumming prowess. While indeed talented there is a strong regimented work ethic behind Aswell’s success. We were lucky enough to talk with Justin about his practice process. The following is a must read for any beginning or aspiring producers.
You are well know online for your finger drumming skills. What got you into finger drumming and inspired you to post your performances online?
Well I’ve always been a drummer at heart. I was always banging on pots and beating rhythms on tables since I can remember. I played drums throughout my youth and when I eventually got a sampler it only made sense. Here’s this thing with drums loaded on it and I can tap out patterns like I would anything else. I didn’t really know I was doing something different for a long time. I’d been finger drumming for many years before I ever uploaded a video. It wasn’t even really planned out honestly. My roommate at the time bought a new camera and wanted to record something. I was already practicing and he just started filming. We uploaded it to YouTube and at the time there weren’t many MPC videos at all. It started picking up speed and before we knew it, it had made the YouTube home page.
What was it about Melodics that made you want to get involved? What do you like most about the app?
I was tagged by several of my friends in a video review done by DJcityTV on YouTube.I remember as soon as I saw it I knew I had to be involved. Ever since the days of Guitar Hero and Rockband I’d dreamed of an application like this. I’m really surprised it took this long for someone to create it! My favorite thing about the app is how well it shows wether you’re dragging or rushing particular rhythms. That’s always been a concern of mine. Sometimes you know you’re off but you just can’t figure out how to correct the problem.
You have released three lessons this week based around daily practice. They are called ‘8 on a hand’,’16 note accent’ and ‘Bucks’. Are you able to give a bit of detail as to what each exercise help users with?
Anyone that’s been in a marching band will recognize these to some degree. These are classics in the Drumline world. I’ve adapted them to make more sense in the finger drumming context. 8 on a hand is meant as an initial warm up and should played focusing on being relaxed and playing even. Bucks will get us accustomed to playing doubles and triples evenly. 16 note accent is both for technique and for a rhythmic understanding of the 16th note grid. This understanding will help to give the player a better ability to express rhythms on the fly.
You’ve previously stated that you believe that practicing five minutes a day, seven days a week is more effective than practicing once a week, for 35 minutes. Are you able to give insight into why this is the case?
Absolutely! Each day you don’t practice is an exponential loss. You lose more and more each day you don’t practice consecutively. I like to think of each day as stacking time towards improvement. If you practice back to back days you’re not going to lose any of the time you put the previous day. You may even find you’ve GAINED time by using consistency in your favor. This is called the compound effect. And the sooner you start using it, the bigger the gain!
How can becoming a better finger drummer help a producer or DJ get better at their craft?
Creativity is all about capturing moments. Ideas come and go very quickly. Have the ability to just play what’s in your head instantly without deliberation allows the artist to capitalize on ideas with ease. I’ve had so many people tell me “I just can’t get the rhythms I hear out of my head” over the years. It’s never the serious finger drummers.
Have you always been a naturally gifted finger drummer? How did your practice routines help with your development?
I don’t really buy into the idea of “naturally gifted” honestly. I think people may be naturally inclined or drawn to certain skills but it takes work to get good. I often say the only way to get good is to be bad for a real long time. I still feel I have tons of work even at the skill level I’m at currently. That’s why I still utilize things like Melodics in my arsenal of improvement. I practice constantly. I’m always tapping. My practice routine is my development. I wouldn’t be answering these questions had I not implemented them.
You have made videos with the likes of Dubspot and are very in involved in teaching music in particular finger drumming. Do you have any examples of how finger drumming has evolved since you have been involved with it?
Finger drumming is still very new to the scene. There aren’t any rules you know? The major difference I see would be how many people are out doing it now. When I first started posting videos there were only a handful of people posting content online. Now there’s a new video by a new artist daily. There’s groups that have a finger drummer in the line up. It’s really on the verge of blowing up. It’s super exciting to see.
What advice would you give to someone who is starting out and is wanting to become as good as you are?
Start practicing now. Practice often. Make a lot of music. Collaborate with diverse artists. Play shows. Play lots of shows. Post your progress online. Analyze your progress. Focus on both strengths and weaknesses. Don’t be overwhelmed by what you don’t know. Be excited there’s so much to learn. Stay consistent. Don’t stop.
What does 2016 have install for Justin Aswell in terms of music?
I’ve got a collaborative record with my dear friend Andy The Doorbum coming out in May on Fake Four Records. I’ve got a handful of records I’m executive producing. I’m traveling all over and taking up residencies in cities to do as much collaborative work as possible. 2016 is a year of fearless collaboration.
Justin Aswell has released some new practice exercises on Melodics this week that cover the ‘8 on a hand’ , ‘Bucks’ and ’16 note accent’ exercises he uses daily. While playing the hard lessons is awesome building a rhythmic foundation through daily practice will solidify your skills.
So try out these new lessons and start your daily practice today!