Learning to play the drums can seem like a daunting task. You watch your heroes play, and they make it seem so easy. But, when you sit down at the kit, it’s quite difficult. You can’t seem to get your hands and feet to work together to create a steady beat. Don’t worry, even Neil Peart had to start somewhere. If you can follow two pieces of advice, you will be on your way.
Start with the basics
Too many times, new drummers want to jump in with both feet and play a song on their first day. It’s probably not going to happen. The lessons in this course are laid out in a way to help you build slowly and master each piece before you move on to the next. For example, when you first learn timing, and you practice by playing the high-hat or ride, keep doing it until you can go for 5 minutes or more without making a mistake. Far too often, students will play ¼ or 1/8th note time for 30 seconds and think they have it. But when they do the same exercise for 10 minutes, they lose the timing quite often, and they find their arms get tired quickly.
Remember that established drummers will play for hours at a time, so if you struggle to hold a beat or follow through with a pattern after 5 minutes, then you need to keep at it until it becomes natural. A common trap is that practicing the same thing over and over can become boring, but if you move on before you’ve got it, the playing won’t become part of your muscle memory, and you will forget very soon after.
Follow the lesson plan
First a disclaimer. If you have some percussion experience already, find a lesson that represents your starting point vs someone who has never played before who starts at the beginning. Then from there, take each lesson in order, and practice each piece until almost perfection before moving on to the next one. A goal would be to be able to play for 5 minutes straight without a mistake. Then, wait 2 minutes and play it again. Do this 5 times, and if you are flawless, then perhaps move on.
If you get to lessons that incorporate parts from other lessons into one exercise, and you find you are struggling with a certain motion, go back and watch that video again, and practice that particular segment.
Once again, each lesson builds on the previous. If you master each one before moving on, the bigger exercises will go off without a hitch. You will find yourself playing complex patterns in no time. If you rush to get to the next class too quickly, over time you may struggle and become frustrated with your progress. I want to get that video of you playing like a pro, so I can add it to my growing student portfolio. Have fun!!
Holding the sticks
You would think holding the sticks is pretty simple. You just grip them tightly, and strike the drum head. Simple enough, right? Not quite. The first video in this training series deals with just this topic. How you hold your sticks is very important to ensure proper technique, and to avoid injuries. Yes, you can actually injure yourself by not holding the drumsticks properly. Just like any activity where your use your hands, improper form can cause unnecessary wear and tear on your hands and wrists. You want to hold them loosely to allow the motion of the stick to do all the work for you. As you strike down on the drum, you want the base of the stick to rest against the bottom of your thumb. As you raise your stick, you want the base to rest inside the fingertips. This may be hard to visualize, but once you watch the first lesson, it will all make sense. The key is to have control of the stick while at the same time letting it do most of the work. You will play faster, stronger, and avoid unnecessary damage to your arm.
Having the proper posture while you play is critical. While arm injuries due to improper stick handling or bad, injuring your back because of bad posture can be much worse. Before you adjust your drums and throne(stool), you want to sit up straight and extend your arms to get an idea of the height that you and your drums need to be at. The goal is to keep your back as straight as possible while you play. Obviously, when you lean over to strike a symbol you will bend a little there, but the key is to remain upright for the majority of your play. All drum stands whether they be on a rack or solitary pieces are adjustable. As well as your throne. So the key once again is to have yourself in a position where you are perfectly upright for the majority of your play. It will save lots of wear on your back, plus give you a solid center from which to play from.
This is an easier one. There are a variety of petals that you will utilize during play, but the two you will use the most are bass pedal
and the hi-hat petal. There are also two standard ways to use your feet when you play. The first is the heel to toe method. This is where your entire foot is on the pedal and you press down using the upper part of your foot as the fulcrum point. The second and most common method, is the heel up technique. This is where the ball of the foot rests on the top of the pedal it all times and the pedal stays down with the hammer up against the drum. When playing, you raise the ball of your foot and then let it drop back down to allow the hammer to strike the drum. Try each technique and see which one works best for you. Either is fine, it is just a matter of preference.
Now these three topics may seem very elementary to someone looking to learn to play the drums, but they are actually very crucial, and they must be done properly and comfortably. A lot of players take these for granted, and it can cause their training to be more difficult. As with any physical activity, improper form can cause serious injuries. So get these basics right, and the rest of your play will fall right into place.
So you want to learn to play the drums? But, you do not have a drum set, and you want to see how you like it before you make such a big investment. What do you do? There are many ways to get started, and I’m going to show you a scalable method that will allow you to progress without spending a lot of money up front.
First of course, you will need drumsticks. I highly recommend that you buy these locally and in person instead of online, that way you can get a feel for the different sizes and shapes to determine which ones are the best fit for you. Most cities or towns have a local music store that sells drumsticks. You don’t want to choose a pair that are too heavy or too light, but find that sweet spot right in the middle. Also drumsticks vary in their thickness, so you want to find something that feels comfortable in your hands. Children of course would want a thinner stick, while adults with larger hands would opt for a thicker model.
Now what do I play on? The best way to get a good drum feel is through practice pads. They come in two basic shapes; round and octagonal. Many people start with the models that literally strap to your leg. The pad sits on top of your thigh or knee, and connects underneath your leg. You can even get a pair of them. You could have one on each leg to get the feel of transitioning from one drum to the next. This allows you to practice holding the sticks properly, and striking the drum in the most optimal manner(which we go over in lesson 1). You can literally pick these up for about $20 each on Amazon.
Another way to get started is to purchase a practice pad that comes with a tripod stand. This allows you to angle the drum in a way that is comfortable for you and leaves your feet free for their own motion. Then you can buy a bass drum pad which will help when we get into the lessons that involve playing the snare and bass drum together. This is a bass drum pedal similar to one that is used in a real drum kit, but the striker hits a pad attached to the base which gives it the “real feel” of playing. So when you start learning limb independence with the base and snare drum, these two will be invaluable to your training.
So now you’re watching the lessons, and getting excited about your new skills. You’re practicing on the pads, and getting really good. You have decided that this is for you and you’re going to commit to becoming a pro! What is the next stage in your equipment buying?
There are many directions you could go in at this stage, but I’m going to give you the one that one of my students used that worked well for him. He bought an electronic drum set that sat compactly in the corner of his spare room. It was the Yamaha DTX450K to be exact, and was built on a collapsible frame which could be stored very easily. It had real drum sounds(which are programmable), and could be played with headphones so you don’t disturb the neighbors. I believe his set was around $500 which included everything, even the symbols. He could do and learn everything that could be done on a conventional set, but at a lower price.
So now you are a pro! You are one of our best students, and are ready to move up to the big time. This is the exciting part of the journey that you get to explore on your own. When you are ready to buy a full-size drum set, you need to first explore what your needs and style of play dictate. If you are a rock drummer, you may only need a basic four or five piece set with the standard symbols. If you are a jazz drummer, you may want to explore slightly larger sets and accessories that complement that style of music. Here again, I wouldn’t buy something online without testing it in person first. Most larger music stores have sets that you can test to get a real feel of what your needs might be. Also, their salespeople could make recommendations for you, that you may not even have considered.
Now my friend, you are a true drummer! You have a new kit and the skills necessary to take your playing in any direction you like. If you choose to join us at JonKois.rocks, we would love to get a video of you playing to add it to our students section. Our goal beyond just online drum lessons, is to build a community of players that share and interact with each other so that we all may benefit from our successes.