Drums are an important part of every type of music. They are the heartbeat, keeping time for the rest of the instruments to follow along. Learning how to play drums will not only teach you a valuable skill, but also help you understand how different types of music work together. Drumming is best for anyone who enjoys being creative and wants to be in control over their own sound!
Learning the basics of how to play the drums
Parts of a drum set:
- Snare Drum
- Bass drum
- Toms (mounted on a bass drum or rack)
- Floor toms mounted on a stand or the bass drum
- Cymbal stands
- Drum throne
It’s located in front of the drummer, on a stand.
The snare drum is used for making short accents during a song as well as long rolls (a series of continuous notes).
Common snare drums are 14 by 5 inches.
Bass drum produces the lowest-pitched drum sound and is used to maintain the beat of a song.
The bass drum has a diameter typically between 18 to 24 inches. tI
It is played with a single or double pedal.
Produces medium-low pitched sounds and are usually hit with one hand while playing in between the snares. They can also be played by using two sticks, hitting them simultaneously.
Tom diameter goes from 8 to 16 inches.
A floor tom is a larger version of a tom and can be up to 26 inches in diameter.
Cymbals are mounted on a cymbal stand. They produce high-pitched sounds and are often used to punctuate the drumbeat.
Cymbal diameters go from 12 to 24 inches.
Basic cymbal setup consists out of:
- Crash cymbals
- Ride cymbal
While hi-hat and ride are used for making the rhythm, crash, splash china and other FX cymbals are used for accents.
How to set up your drum kit
The bass drum is the only component that sits on the ground. The drum head that has the logo of the drum set company goes in front (faced toward the audience).
Place the bass drum as suits you and mount a drum pedal on it. When you set the position, take out the legs that prevent moving, adjust them and tighten the screw.
Put the snare drum stand between your legs, spread it so you can put the snare drum on it, then tighten the screw to hold it tightly.
You can set the angle and height of the snare drum according to your preference.
Toms are either mounted on a rack or a bass drum if it has a hole on top. Either way, they are mounted on tom holders.
Place them, and after you set the height and angle, tighten all the screws.
Floor tom usually has its legs. You need to put these legs in holes on floor tom hardware. You can also adjust the height and angle.
Crash and ride
The first thing to do before putting a cymbal on the stand is remove one of its felt pads, followed by a screw on top.
After this, place your crash ride and other cymbals (apart from hi-hats) in their respective places using whichever screws are provided within each slot they’re intended for.
Ensure that you have tightened these loosened parts enough not to break them or injure yourself when playing. Be careful about overdoing it because if it’s too tight, there can’t be any movement that could damage your instrument!
While a crash can stand anywhere, the ride cymbal is usually placed on your stronger side.
The Hi-hat stand looks completely different. On top has a hi-hat clutch and on the bottom has a pedal that controls the opening of the hats.
Untighten and remove the clutch. Then put a bottom hi-hat (it’s usually marked). The top hat should be in the clutch, in between two felts.
When it’s there, put the clutch back on the stand, stand on the pedal a little bit and tighten the screw on top.
In an old-fashioned way, the hi-hat is placed on your weaker side, but nowadays, all kinds of new hardware allow us to put hi-hat wherever we want.
How to tune drums
Different drums have different sustain levels, so it’s essential to know what kind of feel is desired when tuning the drum to get the right sound for you and your music style.
For example, if you want more sustain in your drumming, try tightening the lug instead of loosening it or vice versa, depending on where there are higher pitches.
Tap each lug around its rim with an open hand at various points until they all produce similar sounds.
The bottom head is usually tight as it can be, while the top head tightness is a personal preference. Some drummers even loose two lugs on top head to use that area for drum rolls.
Toms and floor toms
The top head can be tuned to match a specific tone or your personal preference. The bottom (resonant) head is tuned to match the top head or higher, so you get less sustain but more focused sound.
Drummers like John Bohnam based their sound around this principle. We strongly suggest you tune the resonant head slightly higher and even to dampen some toms.
Any unnecessary sustain will cause issues when mikes come.
Bass drum produces many low-end sounds; that’s why drummers usually dampen by putting something inside. Of course, you can dampen it with a damper designed explicitly for this purpose, but any blanket will do the work like in the old days.
Tuning, it’s up to you. Some drummers prefer their bass drum wholly dampened. To get this kind of sound, you need to loose both drum heads.
But, if you prefer getting some tone out of the bass drum, tighten the lugs, so they match. For less sustain, tighten the resonant head more than the batter head.
How to hold drumsticks
Now when you have your drum set up, it’s time to learn how to hold drumsticks.
There are 4 grips currently in use
This grip was more used in the past than nowadays. Many drummers who played matched switched to American grip because, as they say, it makes more sense.
German grip is a type of a matched grip, so both hands hold the stick in the same way. Palms are facing down, and the fulcrum is between a thumb and an index finger. An alternate way is to hold the stick with your thumb and a middle finger.
Here’s how the grip looks from underneath and above.
This is the upgraded or changed version of the German grip. Drummers figure out it has more sense to pull a stick inside the hand (the center of the palm).
Also, drummers prefer to hold the stick with a thumb and the middle fingers in the American grip and use the index finger only for stick coordination. They claim the stick has more room to move this way.
Here is how this grip looks:
In French grip, palms are facing each other while thumbs are on top of the stick. The fulcrum is between the thumb and the index finger. French grip is used for finger control, and it’s designed for implementing the fingers into play.
This is an excellent grip for speed improvement, and here is how it looks:
Traditional grip is widely used in jazz music. The more substantial hand is in either German or American grip, while the weaker hand is in traditional, aka underhand grip. The fulcrum is at the root of a thumb while the top of the stick goes between a middle and a ring finger.
This grip is most commonly used for music where quiet “ghost” notes are needed.
Here is how traditional grip looks:
How to find a drum teacher
Face to face lessons
This is the best way to learn how to play drums. If you are lucky enough to find a good local teacher, he may improve your drumming skills substantially. Many of the greatest drummers start by taking one on one lessons from a drummer in their community.
Some drummers only record or play live gigs but for many, giving lessons is a side business. Depending on how deep your pocket is, you can take a lesson with Dave Weckl, Mike Johnston, Thomas Pridgen or any of your drum heroes.
Drum lessons can cost from $20 to $150 per hour.
The third way of learning is through different programs. For instance, try visiting a few websites of your drum heroes and see if they have some video materials, DVDs or any kind of learning program.
You can find plenty of lessons on YouTube or visit a website that’s all about drum lessons, both free and paid.
We need to emphasize some cons of each method.
Face to face lessons – you need to lose time on travel back and forth
Online lessons – Online lessons with famous drummers can get expensive, and because it’s in real-time, all kinds of signal issues are possible.
Online school/videos – There is no one to correct you, and that’s the biggest con.
How to choose drum equipment
You don’t need to be overwhelmed by the cost of drum equipment at the beginning. When you are starting you have to buy everything so it can get expensive.
Used equipment is good enough to start. We suggest saving a few bucks for lessons, books or recording equipment.
Most reliable drum companies
All companies who produce the drums produce their hardware, along with Gibraltar, a company specializing in hardware.
- Vic Firth
Choosing your first drum set
Choosing your first drum set may influence your playing, so do not go for the cheapest drum set that you can find. Here are few picks of our own:
- Yamaha Stage Custom
- Pearl Roadshow
- Ludwig Accent
- DW PDP
- Tama Imperialstar
- Mapex Armory Drum Shell Pack
Choosing your first set of cymbals
Cheap cymbals may crack very fast, so you will not pass cheaper. So, we suggest you go with some of the intermediate cymbal series like:
- Paiste PST 7
- Paiste PST 8
- Meinl Classic Customs
- Zildjian S family
- Sabian XSR
Choosing your first drumsticks
There is a high possibility that you will play with all kinds of sticks during this time. The primary type to begin with is usually 5A, or if you need longer drumsticks, go with 5A extreme.
As numbers go down, the stick becomes ticker. For instance, 5A is thicker than 7A, and 3A is thicker than 5A.
Four things vary from model to model are:
Choosing your first drumheads
If you purchase a brand new drum set, you will get drumheads. But after some time, when they eventually crack, you want to know which one to buy.
So let us quickly guide you through the world of drumheads.
- Coated or clear
- Single or double-ply
- The sound
You need to ask yourself three questions while choosing the drumhead.
Do I like higher-pitched, clear sound with more sustain? If the answer is yes, go with clear drumheads. If the answer is no, go with coated.
Do I like open sound with more sustain and more attack? If the answer is yes, go with single-ply drumheads. If the answer is no, go with double-ply ones.
Let’s say you decided to go with a single-ply coated drum head. There are various manufacturers with various models. Now, you are going into fine details to find the sound that fits you the most.
Rudiments are the language of drumming. Everything that you play can be put on paper in the form of notes and rudiments.
The first rudiment most drummers learn are the “single strokes”.
Here’s how it look on paper played in 8th notes:
R L R L R L R L
R meaning the right hand
L meaning the left hand
R R L L R R L L
Now we have three notes between every quarter note:
R L R L R L R L R L R L
R L R R L R L L
R L L R L R R L
R R L R L L R L
These are just a few basic rudiments, but there are many more, including flams, septuplets, sextuples and more. If you add accents on top of all these rudiments, variations are endless.
How do you learn drum music sheets?
Let’s start by introduction with a drum notation system
Ok, now let’s try this straight 8th note rhythm.
Let’s try this 16th note rhythm
Learning drum notes will open the whole new world of learning possibilities. Now when you understand drum notation, we suggest starting your journey with these books:
- The Drummer’s Link to Sight Reading
- Stick Control: For the Snare Drummer
- Syncopation for the Modern Drummer
- 4-Way Coordination Drumming Book
How to count music
A common way is to count in the 16th note like this: one-e end-a, two-e end-a, three-e end-a, four-e end-a.
In 8th notes, you would count one-and two-and three-and four-and.
One bar can be divided into four quarter notes, and here are the not values:
Now, let’s do something more complex.
Let’s say we have a rhythm of 13/8, that can be written down as 26/16 or 52/32. So, it’s the same distance but divided differently.
Don’t let this confuse you; 99% of popular music is in 4/4. Turned on the radio, the first song you hear it’s probably in 4/4.
Music in eastern European countries is known for odd time signatures like 7/8, 9/8, 11/8. While 3/4 time signature is pervasive in jazz and is known as a jazz waltz.
Playing with a click (metronome)
Playing to a click is something that every drummer needs. It helps us develop the sense of time and become more accurate with our playing.
Dedicating some practice time to a click will straighten your groove and make everything you play more stable.
A great way to practice your timing is to move the beat by one-sixteenth note.
In other words, to play just before, after or in the opposite of a click.
Check out how it’s done:
The world of drums and drumming is enormous and fun. Here are all the fun rhythms you will run into:
- 8th note groove
- Half-time shuffle
- Reggae groove
- 16th note groove
- Linear grooves
- Bossa nova
- Double bass drum beats
- Train beat
- Afro Cuban
- Jazz waltz
Practicing tips and tricks for better playing
Few things distinguish men from boys.
Professional drummers have impeccable timing even when they don’t play with a click, but they sure spent hours practicing to a click.
You don’t need to be afraid because this is too hard for you right now; this skill is being developed over the years.
A lot of beginner drummers don’t pay attention to dynamics. The difference in the volume of ghost notes (subtle notes) and accents (loud notes) can make a substantial difference in sound.
It’s not all about the rudiments and how fast you can go. Having an excellent sound and even better, recognizable sound is maybe the most potent weapon one drummer could have. So you should constantly play around and try to find your sound.
The final goal is to develop a technique to that point where nothing will give you a hard time. If your technique is excellent, all the efforts will be faced towards being creative.
Record yourself while playing different genres and see if you can mimic the drummer from that genre in the right way. For instance, let’s say you are a rock drummer. Play some jazz tunes and check if you sound like a jazz drummer while you play or sound like a rock drummer playing jazz.
Do not let your groove suffer because of your licks. Whatever you decide to add in the groove, whether it’s some kind of variation or a lick, the groove needs to stay firm. The audience should not be able to hear any “hiccups”.
8 Mistakes that drummers make
- Fast and not focused practice: It’s boring to practice slow. We know, we have all been there. But, unfortunately, this way of practice is the most effective. Do not get distracted from your practice routine, be consistent and focused on a goal.
- Tight grip: Although it sounds simple to stay relaxed at all times, this represents an issue for many drummers. Your whole body, including your grip, needs to be completely relaxed.
- Ignoring bad things: Drummers tend to look in the other way when they run into a problem in the form of weak hands, complex rudiments, coordination or polyrhythms.
- Not warming up: Getting into playing straight away may cause an injury. Stretch your muscles and start with a warm up instead.
- Not paying attention to the sound: When you get comfortable, it’s natural to get into all kinds of rhythms and chops without paying attention to the sound. This can make a substantial difference between pro drummers and the ones who never become one.
- Not practicing with a click: This is another common difference between pro and wannabe pro drummers. Only long-term practice with a click can develop your inner timing.
- Practicing chops and not the systems: Learning only one groove or one lick is a waste of time. Try learning systems that made those chops and grooves, and you will be able to make a hundred more by yourself.
- Skipping steps: Don’t move on before you are ready. Don’t go into the next exercise before you get comfortable with the first one. Don’t go into chops before having a foundation.
Easiest songs to play on a drum set:
So now, when you are finally ready to start, here are straightforward songs to learn on drums:
- Queen – We will rock you
- Michael Jackson – Billie Jean
- Survivor – Eye of the tiger
- Green Day – Wake me up when September ends
- Adele – Rolling in the deep
- Guns n Roses – Sweet child o mine
Now that we covered all the essential elements of how to play the drums, let’s answer the most frequently asked questions on the web.
Is it hard to learn to play the drums?
Yes, drums are hard to play because all four limbs are included. However, your talent and the number of hours you invest into practice will determine your progress.
It usually takes a few months to master drumming basics, but the race of mastering drums never ends.
Because you can always learn more and make progress.
Can you teach yourself to play drums?
Yes, many of the greatest drummers of all time are self-taught.
Nowadays you don’t have to bother that much. There are plenty of free drum lessons online.
Being self-taught has some cons, though.
Here’s are the most important:
You don’t know what to practice first.
This happens a lot. Drummers go straight away to flashy chops instead of practicing drumming basics at painfully slow tempos.
There’s no one to tell you when you are doing something wrong
It’s a lot easier to invest more time in learning the correct way to play drums than to fix things you learned the wrong way.
It’s the most expensive but the most reliable method for learning drums.
Having a drum teacher by your side will speed up the learning process and prevent you from adopting bad habits.
How do beginners practice drums?
As a beginner, you don’t have all the equipment but don’t let that discourage you from learning this incredible instrument.
You can quickly jump into learning without a drum set. To start having a drum pad that usually costs between $10 and $50 will be enough.
Without a drum set, you can learn rudiments, practice timing, posture, breathing, wrist and finger control and a lot more.
So, wait no more. If drums are truly your passion, we say go for it.
Suppose you have the opportunity to buy some beginner’s drum set even better. It’s better if you can practice on a drum set for several reasons.
- You will be able to orchestrate rudiments around the kit
- You can work on developing all four limbs
- You can experiment with different sounds
How long will it take to learn the drums?
3 to 6 months is more than enough to learn the basics. However, depending on the time you put in and the efforts you make, it will take 5 to 7 years to become genuinely comfortable behind the drum set.
Can I learn drums at 40?
Yes, if you put in the effort in 3 to 6 years, you can think of drumming as a career. But, if you just want to learn to play drums as a hobby, it will take you between 3 to 6 months.
Although professional drummers usually start playing the drums between the age of 7 and 15, it’s never too late. So if you are really into it, go for it.
We will not lie; it will be hard initially like it would be hard to learn a piano, cooking or programming.
Drumming is a wide area, and there’s a whole world of getting the sounds, mixing, recording, rudiments, drum technique etc.
How can I get better at drums fast?
There is no shortcut, but here are few tips:
- Get a drum teacher
- Practice slow
- Practice 6 or more hours per day
- Practice on a drum set
- Record yourself both video and sound
Can you learn drums without lessons?
Of course, you can. Lessons are the best solution nut there are plenty of alternatives. The best one is through DVD lessons and books if you are ready to invest some money into learning drums.
If not, fine, you can find a lot of free drum lessons online. Again, YouTube is a pretty good source to start with; just pay attention to the steps you take.
Go step by step and learn the basics before you jump into more complex stuff.
Can you learn to play drums on a drum pad?
Yes and no. You can learn:
- stick control
- controlling the bounce
- different strokes
Yet, there’s plenty of what you can’t:
- practice bass drum technique
- practice linear drumming
- learn how to extract the best sound out of a drum set
How can I practice drumming at home?
It’s possible to practice drums at home; you can practice on:
- drum pad
- electronic drums
- practice drum set
How long should you practice drums each day?
There is no exact answer; math is easy; the more you practice, the sooner you get better. Usually, drummers practice around 6-8 hours at their peak.
We are talking about the period from 15 to 26 when they don’t have so many gigs, family and other obligations.
Later, while they are in their 30s, it’s around an hour or two per day.
Sometimes it’s more important how you practice than how long.
If your practice has a clear goal in mind and you obey strict rules, your progress may come faster than if you double the time and play some nonsense.
Why is drumming so hard?
Because it’s hard to separate your limbs. Drumming implies the use of all four limbs simultaneously and most of the time; they play separate parts.
It’s a challenging instrument to play, even if you are born with the gift of rhythm and coordination.
Some say that it takes years for beginners to make sense of how to hit drums properly without looking at their hands all the time.
Is it worth learning to play the drums?
Yes. It is worth learning how to play the drums because you get the satisfaction of playing an instrument, making your music sound better.
What should I start with?
Start by choosing a drum kit that’s comfortable for you, then learn how to hold the drumsticks properly, which can be done in minutes through simple videos on YouTube or Google. Then follow along! You won’t regret trying out this popular hobby-turned-career path if you put in work and effort into it – even more so as time goes on. So what are some excellent beginner songs? You could start with some straightforward beginner songs: We Will Rock You by Queen, Eye of the Tiger from Survivor, and Wake Me Up When September Ends.
Can you learn drums by ear?
Yes, you don’t need to know how to read notes to learn a song. This skill can also be practised. Practice listening, and at the beginning, try extracting the drums and hearing the drum part itself. The next step is to extract components by ear. Try listening to the only bass drum, snare drum or a hi-hat part.
What do I need to purchase my first drum kit, and how much will it cost me?
The total cost of brand new drum equipment will cost you around $700. The equipment for this amount will not let you down, and the overall quality is excellent; we don’t talk about drums for children but a perfect beginner’s drum set.
It’s best to go to your local music store and try out the drum set. Beginner’s drum sets usually come with everything except cymbals. You buy cymbals separately. An alternative is to go for a more affordable drum set to get cymbals with a drum kit. These drum sets cost under $500 with cymbals, but the quality decreases substantially.
How do drummers learn difficult songs?
Hard songs are practiced in parts and, most importantly, at a slow tempo, not at the song’s original tempo.
The best way to memorize a hard song is to play it over and over again. Drummers also put sheet music in front of them, so they don’t have to keep their head up all the time, which tires out your neck muscles.
How do you learn polyrhythms on drums?
You split it into sections, not limb by limb but sections per section. Then, when you get comfortable with the whole rhythm, you will be able to control limbs separately.
Check out how it’s done:
Can I learn drums in a month?
Very basics, a rhythm or two, but don’t expect to become a drum master after only one month. The most important thing is to be consistent; every beginning is hard. Make sure you practice slowly and have focused practice, not play whatever comes to your mind. Also, having a drum teacher may speed up this process.
Which is better, birch or maple drums?
Maple is better wood, and all the top series are made of maple or a fraction of it. Maple drums produce a warm tone with long sustain. Maple is heavy, condensed wood. On the other hand, birch is very light wood. So drum manufacturers usually add birch when they want to get a lighter tone.
What is the best wood for a drum set?
Many of the biggest drum manufacturers have something in common. They make their top series out of maple, but they also have one “hybrid” series where you can choose the wood by yourself, and it’s usually a mix of maple and some exotic wood like Bubinga.
For example, let’s take Yamaha, their highest series is Yamaha Maple Custom Absolute, which is made out of 100% Maple wood. Next to this, they have Yamaha PHX, a combination of maple and some other wood.
What size snare drum is the best?
This is a difficult question to answer. It depends on the music you’re playing and how much room you have in your drum kit. Snare drums are measured by size, including the depth of shell, the diameter of the head, and the thickness of snares. The standard size that will most likely fit you is 14 in diameter with 5 in-depth.
What’s the difference between plastic or metal sticks?
The difference is in how the sticks are made. The metal ones are heavier and produce a brighter sound, while plastic will be lighter and softer on your drumhead to protect it from being damaged. These sticks exist, but they didn’t find a purpose in the drumming community, so drummers rarely use them. Instead, professional drummers use only wooden sticks, either with wooden or plastic heads.
Do drums sound better with age?
Usually not, and here’s why. If you put drums in a perfect room with a perfect temperature and air moisture to maintain the wood conditions, the sound would stay the same, but it would not get better with age. But, usually, drums are constantly on the road, in different types of rooms with different moisture, and they put up with hits and sometimes even wet conditions which eventually damage the wood and sound can get worse.
Are drums easier than guitar?
Although drums are much harder to play physically, this does not necessarily mean they are a more complex instrument to play. For example, let’s say you are talented for drums but untalented for guitar. In this case, yes, drums are easier to play. So, it depends from person to person.
How can I listen to music while playing the drums?
Drummers usually use headphones or in-ear monitors while they play. It would be best if you used something that puts up with the noise that drums produce so you can listen to music. Our vote goes to in-ear monitors. They are much lighter, and you will avoid sweating.
Can you play electronic drums without headphones?
Yes, but in this case, it will be like you play a practice drum set without a module. If you do want to get the sound but avoid using the headphones, you can connect an electronic drum set to a set of speakers.
What is the purpose of the drum cage?
The drum cage is made of plexiglass that aims to stop other instruments’ sounds from bleed into drum mics. Also, the reverse, to prevent drum sound on stage bleed in other instruments mics.
Do electronic drums make noise?
Yes, if you plan to put them in the apartment, don’t expect total silence. They are much quieter than acoustic drums, that is for sure, but they can be loud as hell in small apartments with thin walls. If you are looking for a quiet practice drum set, go with ones that use mesh pads.
Are electronic drums suitable for beginners?
Yes, they are great for beginners. They have all the basic features of acoustic drums, and you can add pretty much anything to them later on. The best thing is that you can practice at home and take them out on live gigs, so it’s a win-win situation. However, don’t expect to get the sound quality of the acoustic drums, especially if you plan to spend less than $1500 on the electronic drum set.