How to Play Drums : A Helpful Beginner Guide


how to play drums

You are here because you want to play the drums? Right. Super, because this article should get you started with all the basics. We will start at the very beginning going through some exercises. I will give you the principles of developing on the drums and you will get an extensive portfolio of drummers to listen and watch, to inspire you!

Don’t miss out on my guide to the drum kit itself here! 

Your Job as a Drummer

I’m going to keep this part short and simple. No matter what you see online with the drummers who are super fast and show off their skills. This is not their job.

They are there to keep the time. I believe that it doesn’t matter how they keep the time if it is simple or complex. However, being able to play complex or fast comes with long hours of work, it never comes quickly and do not try and force it.

These sort of things fall into place themselves. So keep it simple to start. There is one keyword here – Time. To work on this, you must use a metronome when you practice and also play in local venues to develop performing and timekeeping with a range of different bands. A lot of local venues do jam sessions, start showing up as much as possible.

Communication

This brings me on to my next point – Communicating with your band. This is essential to having a successful band. You may think, you are only there to turn up and play your part, but communicating will allow you to do whatever you want with your band and you can do this either verbally or using signals like nodding to other band members, etc.

You are the drummer. The band is going to be following you, so learn how to lead and show the changes in the music. However, you can only practice this a few ways – Performing as much as you can, and trying to read something out loud while practicing (like a page from a book).

I would always recommend the performing option, but if you don’t have that opportunity, this is an excellent method for being able to split your brain into several different sections. Eventually, you will get to know how your band members are thinking, and you will be able to predict what is coming up next when you are jamming to a song.

This all sounds too much to learn, but the idea is that you work on all these things and they will eventually come naturally. Like Charlie Parker, a famous Jazz musician, once said, “Learn the changes, then forget them.”

Now, let’s have a look at one of the most important steps before you start playing – sitting comfortably.

How To Sit At The Drum Kit

  1. Sit on your drum stool/throne
  2. Make sure the height is adjusted so that your legs are slightly angled down towards the ground. This will help your blood flow through your legs, and also gives you more power In your legs to help you hit the bass drum with more power and accuracy. Make sure you feel balanced as you sit there and you are not leaning to one side. If you do have this problem, adjust your stool until you feel comfortable.
  3. Now make sure your posture is straight
  4. Shoulders relaxed
  5. Straight back
  6. However, always remember to stay loose and relaxed otherwise this can have negative long term implications.

How To Hold Drum Sticks

There are two main grips however we shall focus on the most popular in modern day standards – MATCH GRIP

This is where you hold the stick using mostly your using your thumb and forefinger.

holdingdrumsticks
  • Grab the stick at the lower end with your thumb and forefinger so it looks roughly like that on No.1
  • Rest your other fingers on the stick so it looks like that on No.2 and make sure there is not a big gap at the bottom of the drum stick

How To Read Drum Music

Before we start, I suggest if you don’t know how to read rhythm of any kind, you should research into the basics of rhythm by watching a video or reading an article, etc.

playing drums 1

Drum music is written on what is called Staff/Stave/System,

If you can play an instrument, you will most likely be used to this. However, the drums are slightly different. It uses a chronological order on the staff from the highest pitch at the top (cymbals) and the lowest sounding (kick drum) at the bottom.

playing drums 2

Here is a quick graph of where all the drums sit on the staff.

Playing – The Basics

Rudiments

What is a rudiment? It is fundamental sticking patterns that I believe every drummer should learn to increase your playability, sticking, and technique

There are around 40 essential rudiments that you should practice if you want to become a professional drummer. However, we are going to focus on 4 today to introduce you to the world of rudiments.

I suggest you have a metronome for all of these exercises, which you can find on google, you can also download an app on your smart devices. Alternatively, use this link – https://www.imusic-school.com/en/tools/online-metronome/

1. Single Stroke Roll
  • To begin, sit at your drum kit with your drum sticks in your hands.
  • Now let’s use just one drum. The snare drum – nothing else.
  • Set the metronome to 75bpm.
  • follow this drum music starting with stage one which is crotchet beats (1/4 notes)
  • The ‘R’ means right hand and the ‘L’ means left hand, hit the drums each time the metronome clicks.
  • This rudiment is the simplest of all rudiments, so the sticking the whole way through is Right, Left, Right, Left, etc.
rudiments
  • Start with stage one.
  • One you feel comfortable with stage one move on to stage two which is quaver beats (1/8 notes)
  • Once you feel comfortable with stage two move on to stage three which is semi-quaver beats (1/16 notes)
  • I know what you will be saying at this point, I could play drums without these. Yes, you could play drums without these, but this will give you good foundations so you can start to explore on the drum kit. By learning the more simple rudiments today you will develop better coordination and an understanding of playing and time keeping.
  • For the next few exercises I will let you try and work them out and I will give you a few tips for each one.
2. Multi-Bounce Roll
  • For this just let the stick fall into the drum push it down but let the stick bounce back up, and it should bounce quite a few times on the drum.
  • Get both your hands doing this – just let the stick fall and don’t control the rebound.
  • Once you have got both hands doing this separately, it is time to put them together
  • So we will get the metronome out again and set it to 75bpm
  • And we will follow this music for it.
multi bounce roll
  • Once you feel comfortable, move on to the double stroke roll
3. Double Stroke Roll
  • This requires more control than a multi-bounce roll, but it is an excellent exercise to gain control in your fingers
  • The sticking pattern is R R L L …
  • Moreover, the best way to get this to flow is to start at 75bpm again and use this music to help you.
double stroke roll
  • A good tip is that you should hit the drum with your stick and when the stick starts to rebound hit the drum again this will take a bit of practice, but it will improve the flow of your double stroke roll
4. Paradiddle
  • A paradiddle is a perfect beginner exercise to help you
  • The sticking pattern is RLRR LRLL
paradiddle
  • This again will help you gain more control in your hand

So that’s the exercises you should work on, and yes, it’s not the most exciting thing in the world; however, this will help your hands develop strength and accuracy. Remember practice slow to start and slow bump up the BPM on your metronome. However, with time, your muscles and fingers will start to become very independent, and you will see a massive difference in your playing. All of this can be incorporated in a drum solo and used around the kit.

I find rudiments one of the best things you can practice because you can do it anywhere, most places I go I take a practice pad and sticks so I sit down wherever and keep my hands and fingers moving. I even tend to do it when I’m watching TV, which is also great because you get enjoyment out of it.

Playing – Your First Beat

Now let’s move on to your first drum beat – If you don’t know how to read rhythm I suggest you go read another article or watch a video first

Follow this music, and you should be fine. I will help you breakdown the different drum patterns, and once you have completed that you can move on to the adaptations, which make the beat slightly more complicated.

  • Set your metronome to 75 beats per minute
beats 1
  • with stage one the hi-hat pattern
beats staage 2
  • Then add in the bass drum on beats 1 and 3
stage 3
  • Then add in the snare drum on 2 and 4
  • Make sure you are playing that hi hat pattern consistently.

Well Done! That’s so amazing if you made it through that you should really feel the sense of improvement. Now try these adaptations that make the beat sound more groovy.

adaptations

Top Tips

So how do we all keep moving up and improving? It is hard to notice a definite improvement, but if you keep trying, I’m positive your hard work will pay off. Everyone gets stuck in a rut at one point. I know it is hard I’ve been there and I still these sometimes but here are some things to help you along the journey.

  1. Watch all your favourite drummers and copy what they do. Once you can do this, then you will have a large bank of grooves and fills that you can then put your twist on. Listening and watching your favourite drummers will 100% improve your ability.
  2. Practice the boring stuff. RUDIMENTS may seem tedious, but they can help you develop great technical ability. If you don’t want them to be boring, then go in to practice with a positive mindset. Don’t use a standard metronome find some drum beat loops online and use them (only if they have been recorded to a metronome). Or even better record some of your beats to a metronome and play-along with them. There are so many ways you can make practising more fun or enjoyable, so go make it happen!
  3. Record Yourself. This is the best way I have found to keep track of all my progress. If you keep recording yourself at the end of the month, you can see where you were only a month ago. Honestly its amazing how much progress you can make. Give it a shot!
  4. It’s not all fun, but make it fun. Its hard work and time consuming, but it pays off so much. Make the most of your practice time by trying your hardest at all times. Take breaks when needed, I usually take them every 45 minutes, but it depends on how much you practice. Find what’s right for you!
  5. Let loose and go for it! There are times where you just are feeling the groove, and you go down to practice, and you don’t feel like practising, you want to play something that has been building up inside you. DO NOT STOP THIS FEELING. LET IT HAPPEN. Play – let loose – relax – enjoy yourself. Use the emotions inside of you to help you construct your art form and don’t let it stop.
  6. Precision not speed. Everyone always wants to play fast and while that’s great and all to show off to people. That’s not what you’re playing the drums for. When you are practising, you want to gain accuracy in your technique so that you can play for years and not develop any problems like tendonitis or carpal tunnel. Trying to play from the of-stead will make you more vulnerable to problems.

Best Beginner Drum Kit

I have researched this very much when I was buying my first kit, and I must say its a hard choice, However, now that drum kits are becoming more money friendly it is easy to get a drum kit for a few hundred dollars.

Here’s my top tips –

1. Buy second hand

Buying second hand could save you hundreds, You will need to have a look about, but there are plenty of online stores like eBay, gumtree, shpock, craigslist etc. Search into google second-hand drums and see what you can find. If you are lucky enough to have a local drum shop, go check them out to see what they might have in their second-hand stock.

2. Buying new (Acoustic)

If I was to recommend one acoustic drum kit, I would say the Mapex Tornado drum kit. To me, this is the ultimate first drum kit it comes with everything you need in one big starter pack. You get the drums, The cymbals, the hardware and the drum stool all in one package for under $400.

However, acoustic drum kits are not available for everyone, so I have an electric drum kit I would like to recommend.

3. Buying New (Electric)

If I were to recommend one electric kit for a beginner, I would say the Alesis DM Lite. This comes with compact drums, pedals, sticks, headphones, and a rack for under $300. It’s compact, portable, quiet, perfect for a beginner, and will not break the bank.

Check out to see the best overhead drum microphones here!

Recommended Listening

Jazz/Funk/R&B

Larnell Lewis – most commonly known for playing with the famous jazz fusion band Snarky Puppy. He is an insane drummer and one of my main inspirations.

Buddy Rich –  Known for being one of the most amazing drummers of all time, He built up a name for himself because of his technical ability on the drums. He is an insane Jazz drummer, look him up on youtube and watch him, I could sit for hours.

Questlove – Known for playing with his band the Roots. Who are the featured band on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. He is honestly great; this guy has so much groove.
Steve Smith –  An incredible drummer who is known for playing with his band Journey but also because he was voted on Drummer Magazine as the best all-around drummer for five years in a row.

Steve Gadd – Known as a session musician who has played with many significant artists such as Sinatra, Chick Korea, Steely Dan, Eric Clapton and Simon and Garfunkel. He is a great inspiration of mine and is still playing today.

Bernard Purdie – Known for his beat called the ‘Purdie Shuffle’ as well as his precise timekeeping. He is a soul/funk and R&B musician and has played with musicians like Aretha Franklin, Steely Dan, Miles Davis and Quincy Jones.

Rock/Pop

Dave Grohl – Dave is an amazing rock drummer and even after his band Nirvana broke up over 25 years ago now he is still known for his drum kit playing.

Ringo Star – A world famous drummer known for playing in the 60’s pop band, The Beatles.

John Bonham – Rolling Stones magazine marked him as number 1 greatest drummer of all. Died young at only 32, known for playing with Led Zeppelin.

Neil Peart – Insane drummer with a gigantic setup played with Canadian band Rush. Unfortunately he is not retired after his long drumming career.

Chad Smith – This guy has great chops, He is most known for playing with Red Hot Chilli Peppers but he has developed a bit of a solo career for himself because of his great playing.

Bill Bruford – Famous for playing in the Prog Rock bank YES. He is a fantastic drummer who is amazing with composing his own drum tracks along to YES’ music tracks, even with the strange time signatures.

Youtubers to Watch

Drumeo – This youtube channel is absolute heaven for drum videos check it out for masterclasses and different techniques.

Mike Johnston – Mike is an amazing drummer who shares lessons with fills and talks about different methods to use for anything drums.

RdavidR – David is a DIY drums genius, I have learnt so much from him and he is always working on exciting new projects. He has finally started to grow a big following on youtube.

Adam Tuminaro – Adam shares loads of great lessons on youtube including fill lessons and groove lessons.

Cobus Potgieter – Cobus has made his career by starting drum covers on youtube. He became an internet sensation because he is such an insane drummer, Check him out!

Rob Brown – Rob shares fantastic videos of him talking about loads of different exercises for all levels of drums.

Stephen Clark – Stephen Clark is amazing for sharing technique videos and is a very knowledgeable guy.

Drum beats online – Drum and fills galore inside one youtube channel. Gabe does a great job on this channel and I always without fail learn something after each video.

Drum Mechanics – The ins and outs of drumming in a youtube channel. He has great lessons on posture and sitting properly for a long term career

David Cola Drums – The life of a gigging drummer in a youtube channel. David travels all over the world and is one of my inspirations in the drumming world. He is most known for being a cruise ship musician however he has recently moved on from that.

Stephen Taylor – Stephen provides great tips and tricks for all drummers and I personally really enjoy his content.

Vinnie

I'm Vinnie, and I'm here to support you to create your own studio at home, whether it’s for photography, recording audio, podcasts, or videos!

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