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12 Tips for Learning to Play the Drums

By Yann, published on 18/09/2018 Blog > Music > Drums > Tips for Teaching Yourself the Drums

“To be a drummer you also have to be a musician.” – Ian Paice

According to American neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, music uses all parts of the brain and the Triune brain, in particular, which is responsible for our fundamental and difficult-to-control emotions.

Learning to play the drums is a great way to improve your memory and coordination.

So how can you learn to play the drums on your own?

Can you learn to play drums without taking drum lessons?

While the drums are thought of as being easier and different from other musical instruments, is this really the case?

Adopt the Right Posture

You have to sit properly if you’re playing the drums. If you teach yourself to play the drums, you mightn’t pay attention to your posture.

How should you sit at a drum kit? Are you sitting comfortably? (Source: krlosrocha)

However, a bad posture can result in back problems and tendonitis. Furthermore, a good posture will help you improve your speed and dexterity on the snare drum, toms, and cymbals.

Playing in front of a mirror can help you adopt the right posture, effectively making you both the student and the teacher.

Your Position on the Drum Throne

You need to be sitting towards the edge of the stool so that you can free up your thighs. The angle between your thighs and calves will be greater than 90°.

The snare drum should be between your knees and slightly higher than your thighs.

Hi-hat and Snare Position

Your arms should be crossed.

Your right hand will be over your left hand so that you can hit the edge of the hi-hat.

The left hand is positioned to hit the snare drum directly in the centre. The angle between your two drumsticks should be just under 90°.

You’ll adopt the same positions for the toms as you would the snare drum.

Bass drum Position

There are several possible positions. I’m going to start with the most logical and the quickest.

Place your foot as far up the pedal as possible and lift your heel.

You’ll move your entire leg when you hit the bass drum as well as feeling it in your thigh.

Cymbal position

With the ride, your right hand will be perpendicular to the floor. You’ll hit it with the tip of the stick.

If you play the bell, you’ll hit is with the thicker part of the stick to the left of the screw.

It’s the same for the crash cymbal except that you’ll only play using the thicker part of the stick.

Holding the Drumsticks

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as you might think!

Just like religion and politics, everyone has an opinion on the matter.

There are two main ways to hold the drumsticks.

However, in reality, you can hold the drumsticks in four different ways.

  • Traditional Grip: This is the oldest way to hold the drumsticks and is commonly used in jazz drumming. You don’t hold each stick in exactly the same way. Your non-dominant hand holds the stick under the palm whereas your dominant hand will hold the stick similarly to how you’d hold a pen. Have a look at how Buddy Rich does it.
  • Matched Grips:
    • French grip: you hold the sticks towards one another. You use your fingers to create the movement in the sticks.
    • German grip: the sticks are moved by the wrists and your palms are parallel to the ground. This method is used to generate power.
    • American grip: This is a mix of the two previous grips and is difficult to get right. You use both your fingers and your wrists in order to give you more versatility.

How do you play the toms? The toms that you see on drum kits nowadays were once war drums. (Source: skeeze)

No grip is better or worse than another. Each one has its pros and cons depending on the style of music you’re playing.

Recording and Filming Yourself

If you’re not getting music or drum tutorials, it can be difficult to correct errors. It’s a good idea to record or film yourself with a camera.

Sit in front of your computer and film yourself.

Not only will you be able to see yourself getting better, but you’ll also be able to check your posture and any techniques you’re wanting to get better at.

Play with a Metronome

Whether you’re teaching yourself to drum or learning with a teacher, the metronome will quickly become your best friend.

A drummer’s job is to keep time. To make sure you’re perfect at it, there’s nothing better than a metronome.

A drumbeat helps the electric guitar, bass, saxophone, etc., to stay in time.

It may seem dull, but you have to keep time correctly. It’s also a good idea to start slowly at around 60 beats per minute before moving up to 90 and then 120.

Be Patient

Whether you’re learning a binary or ternary rhythm, it can take some time, especially if you’re teaching yourself.

Be patient!

You’re not going to learn any quicker by skipping important steps. Playing drums is a mentally demanding activity as you need to have coordination and be able to operate your limbs independently of one another. You also need to give your brain time to remember things.

Playing slowly at first will allow your brain to understand and remember each technique. You can’t play quickly if you can’t play slowly.

Practise Regularly

Learning how to play drums requires regular practice and training.

How often should you practise drumming? If you want to get better at the drums, you’ll have to practise. (Source: StockSnap)

It’s better to practise for 15 minutes every day than to practice for 2 hours once a week.

It’s a good idea to work around your schedule and fill the smaller gaps with a bit of drumming practice.

Make sure that drumming becomes a habit, something that you do without even thinking about it.
Above all, make sure that you concentrate when you practise. Turn off the TV, set your phone to silent, and disconnect from the internet so that nothing stands in the way of your progress.

Relax

To get better at playing the drums, regardless of the genre, you need to relax.

Playing while tense will make your playing less fluid. Furthermore, if you’re tense, you also run the risk of doing yourself an injury.

Think about doing some breathing exercises and stretching before you start practising: especially your neck, back, wrists, and heels.

You should breathe naturally as you practise. If you notice that you’re holding your breath, stop the exercise and bring your breathing back to normal.

Learn the Rudiments

The three main rudiments are:

  • Single stroke roll: RLRL RLRL
  • Double stroke roll: RRLL RRLL
  • Paradiddle: RLRR LRLL

These three rudiments are essential for drummers and are great for getting you started. They’re also really useful for drum breaks.

Of course, there are plenty of others. The Percussive Arts Society has 40 of them for you to check out.

Learn Rhythm Theory

While music theory can be complicated, rhythm theory is a little easier to learn. It would be a shame to not make use of it.

This will open a lot of doors for you, especially when it comes to understanding sheet music for drums. You’ll also be able to communicate with different musicians more easily as well as read sheet music.

Play Anywhere and Everywhere

Playing the drums as often as possible is a great idea but you won’t always have a drum kit with you. It doesn’t matter!

Buying a drum kit isn’t necessarily the first thing you need to do. You can practise with the drumsticks before you get your first kit.

Cushions, your thighs, electronic pads, and even a chair can become a musical instrument! Even air drums can help you practise before you buy an electronic or acoustic drum kit.

That said, even if you have a drum kit, there’s nothing stopping you from practising a few rudiments on your lunch break.

Enjoy Yourself! Don’t forget that playing a musical instrument is fun.

Of course, you’ll need to practise in order to acquire new techniques or become a professional drummer.

However, playing for fun is a great way to improve your creativity and that’s why we often want to learn to play a musical instrument!

Make the most of it by playing a song you like or just improvising.

Join a Band

Whether with friends or by placing an ad for other musicians, playing in a band is a great way to get better quickly.

Where can you join a band? Joining a band is a great way to practise playing the drums with other musicians. (Source: Pexels)

You’ll learn how to work with others and lead a group of musicians.

You’ll also develop your ear for both drums and other instruments.

So why not start composing your own pieces?

Drumming Definitions

Single-stroke roll

One of the essential drumming rudiments.

Paradiddle

Another of the essential drumming rudiments.

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