If my practice is intended to further my knowledge of rhythm or theory, I call that Study.
If my practice is intended to learn a piece of music, I call that Work.
And here we get to the hard part…
Generally speaking, thinking is terrible for drumming. If you are thinking, you have lost focus on the moment, on your count, on your tone, and on your interaction with the dancers, or with the other musicians. Terrible!
Thoughts while drumming are the equivalent of, “SQUIRREL!”, and before you know it you are actually and in fact LOST in thoughts…
So, a drummer must know what they are going to do, far before they get in a performance situation and actually do it.
And that is what Study and Work are for.
My experience is that both things are equally important, equally fascinating, and equally difficult, and all for entirely different reasons.
When I Study, I am using resources (recordings, videos. books, articles, blogs, or teachers) to further understand exactly HOW and WHY a rhythm or song works. I am trying to connect that understanding into my hands, so that I can simply perform without worry about “right” or “wrong”.
That is, if I Study the rhythm Maqsum, and really understand the theory behind it, how the pulse structure works, how the accents create dynamics, and how the entire thing holds together as a rhythm, then I can play a Maqsum with confidence, and be relaxed and open and receptive while I do it.
It is not an obstacle, it is a well known space. It is not a trap, it is a sanctuary.
When I Work, I am condensing my Study down into a single effort to learn and memorize a piece. It might be a full song, it might be a specific fill, it might be the transition from one rhythm or tempo to the another. But I focus that time entirely on that Work.
For me, Work virtually always involves the metronome. Set it to a slow tempo to begin with, as you learn the hand positions and movements, and then gradually increase the tempo as you become more skilled. Once you get up to the correct tempo for the piece you are working on, make sure to focus the rest of your Work time at that tempo.