Ari Hoenig’s Recipe: 3 Ingredients for Developing Musicianship | Steve Such Drums

Ari Hoenig is well-known as one of the most musical jazz drummers on the planet today. When asked to give his top piece of advice to drummers, he responded by using three individual words:



The advice he offers gives us a list of 3 crucial “ingredients”…. a fail-proof recipe for developing musicianship. Sure, these ingredients are important by themselves; however, the magic happens when the 3 are equally combined in the proper amounts. Like any recipe, if even one ingredient is missing, your whole dish may be ruined!

Let’s take a look at how each of these 3 ingredients, combined together, can create the perfect recipe for musicianship:


It’s often said that the most effective way to learn any language is to go to the country where that native language is spoken and immerse yourself. The same holds true in music. If you want to be great at playing any given style, you NEED to be listening to as much of that style of music as possible, period! Listen to the greats (of the past AND of today) to see how they made/make their mark in that style. What are the key characteristics that make them sound the way they sound? Learn how to speak the “language” of the greats. Once you understand how to speak, only then you can come up with new phrases of your own.

Too little of this ingredient, and you’ll feel UNINSPIRED. You’ll feel like you’re playing isn’t progressing, and you’ll continue to play the same way day after day, month after month, year after year….


The purpose of practice is to take what you hear in your head and be able to translate that physically on your instrument. If you’re LISTENING and PLAYING (gigging) but not spending enough time PRACTICING your instrument, you won’t be able to execute all the great ideas you have in your head! For example, if you’ve been LISTENING to a ton of intricate double bass drum footwork, you’ll need to PRACTICE it so that you're able to eventually PLAY it when the music calls for it.

Too little of this ingredient and you’ll feel UNREFINED. You’ll become frustrated that you’re not able to pull off what you hear in your head.


You need to be out there PLAYING in front of people in order to improve your overall musicianship, so heavy use of this ingredient is crucial! When you're PLAYING, you’re gaining valuable experience on so many levels: interacting with other musicians, gaining confidence performing in front of crowds, learning to be a showman, dealing with adrenaline/nerves, etc.

Too little of this ingredient and you’ll feel UNPREPARED.

Remember the following:

Not Enough LISTENING = We become UNINSPIRED.
Not Enough PRACTICE = We become UNREFINED.
Not Enough PLAYING = We become UNPREPARED.



1) Take a moment to think of how many total hours you devote to music each week. How balanced are you when it comes to these 3 crucial ingredients?

2) If you could make a pie chart illustrating how much you're utilizing these 3 ingredients, what would it look like? (ex: 20% listening, 10% practicing, 70% playing)

3) What ingredient(s) are you currently lacking the most?

4) What specific actions could you take to add more of these ingredients to your overall musicianship?


Thanks so much for reading this week's article! Each week, I select one person from "100 RULES FOR DRUMMERS” and write an article based on the three-word rule they offered. My goal is to provide questions, thought experiments, and specific action steps you can take in order to improve both your DRUMMING and LIFE!

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Thank you to Ari Hoenig for offering his piece of advice for drummers (LISTEN, PRACTICE, PLAY) and for inspiring me to write this week's article!


Born on November 13, 1973 in Philadelphia, Ari Hoenig, was exposed at an early age to a variety of musical experiences.  His father is a conductor and classical singer, his mother a violinist and pianist.  Accordingly, at 4 years of age, Ari began studying the violin and piano.  He began playing drums at age twelve, and by age fourteen he was honing his skills with other young jazz musicians at Philly clubs such as Ortlieb’s JazzHaus.

Ari attended the prestigious University of North Texas for three years, where he studied with Ed Soph while playing with the “One O’Clock” Lab Band.  Wanting to be closer to New York City, in 1995 Ari transferred to William Patterson College in northern New Jersey.  He soon found himself playing for legendary Philadelphia organist Shirley Scott and working regularly in New York City.

Shortly thereafter, Ari moved into Brooklyn and found himself started playing extensively with a variety of groups, including Jean Michel Pilc Trio, Kenny Werner Trio, Chris Potter Underground, Kurt Rosenwinkel Group, Joshua Redman Elastic band, Jazz Mandolin Project and bands led by Wayne Krantz, Mike Stern, Richard Bona, Pat Martino, and Bojan Z.  He has also shared the stage with such artists as Herbie Hancock, Ivan Linz, Wynton Marsalis, Toots Thielemans, Dave Holland, Joe Lovano, and Gerry Mulligan, although he got kicked off the stage by security shortly thereafter.

Both of Ari’s self-produced solo drum CDs, “Time Travels” (2000) and “The Life Of A Day” (2002), document his exploratory nature and they represent an ambitious tribute to the melodic possibilities of the drum set.  Today, Ari continues to build on the concepts of these two records by playing largely improvised solo concerts using a regular four piece drum kit and no percussion. 

The Ari Hoenig Quartet was formed at the end of 2002 while playing every Monday night at the New York Village jazz club Fat Cat.  The band featured Jacques Schwarz-Bart on tenor sax, Jean Michel Pilc on piano, and Matt Penman on bass.  They released two records on the Smalls Records label: “The Painter” (2004) and the DVD “Kinetic Hues” (2005)

In 2006 Ari signed a multi record deal with Dreyfus Records and released his first record for them called “Inversations” (2006) which features the trio of Jean Michel Pilc and Johannes Weidenmueller. “Bert’s Playground” (2008), Ari’s second record for Dreyfus, features Ari’s Punk Bop Band joined by Chris Potter. Highlights of this record include Chris’s solo on Moments Notice and Ari jumping around in red pants on the cover.  Jonathan Kreisberg, Matt Penman, Will Vinson, Gilad Hekselman and Orlando le Fleming also represent on this one.

The next record project was for “Smalls Live”, a record label set up in 2009 to document some of the music being performed at the “Smalls Jazz Club” in New York where Ari has had a residency since 2003.  Ari chose his Punk Bop Band to make this live record “Punk Bop Live at Smalls”. The Punk Bop Band features Will Vinson on alto, Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar and fellow Jazz Mandolin Project alumni, Danton Boller on bass. Tigran Hamasyan is a special guest on 4 tracks as well. 

Ari’s Quartet with Tigran Hamasyan, Gilad Hekselman, Orlando le Fleming and Chris Tordini released “Lines of Oppression” (2011) on the Naïve label. This record represents a culmination of Ari’s bandleading, composing and accounting skills. 

In 2016, Ari Released The Pauper and the Magician on AH-HA Records. It features the quintet of Shai Maestro on piano, Gilad Hekselman on guitar, Tivon Pennicott on Sax and Orlando Le Fleming on bass.  On this record, Ari explores the link between story telling and jazz by creating a soundtrack to the improvised and sometimes twisted stories he tells his two small children.

Besides the quintet, Ari leads 2 other groups which play his original music.  

Ari Hoenig Nonet and Trio.  The Nonet performs Ari’s original compositions arranged by Noam Wiesenberg and features various high caliber players in the New York area. The trio is with Gilad Hekselman and Orlando le Flemming and has toured extensively in Europe, Japan and South America.  Ari also co-leads a variety of projects including Pilc, Moutin, Hoenig (“the three headed monster”), jazz electronica project “Nasty Factorz” with Gael Horellou and various duo’s with Chris Potter, Edmar Casteneda or Dan Weiss. 

In 2013 Ari won the prestigious BMW Welt (World) award in Munich, an international competition for best band led by a drummer.

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