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The fine art of Drumming has been a part of humanity since the dawn of our species. As far back as any of us can recall, music has been a part of our lives.
Drummers, being an integral and foundational part of music, must maintain skills through regular practice. However, when a drumset is unavailable and not feasible due to circumstance, practice can occur using other means. The show must go on, as they say…
There are at least 20 options for drummers to practice drums without a drum set.
20 Ways To Practice Drums Without a Drum Set
- Pillow Drumming
- Air Drumming
- Vocal Drums – Sing & Hum
- Listening To Music (Repetition)
- Body Percussion
- Shoe Drums
- Clap Attack
- Bucket Drums & Other Makeshift Drums
- Computer Mouse Pad
- Read Up On It (Book Drumming)
- DIY Drum Sticks
- Stick Practice (different stick weights)
- Practice Pads
- Electric Drums
- Floor Beats
- Drumming Apps
- Training Videos
- Record Table
Not only is a pillow great to rest one’s head, but it also makes one of the best practice pads for drumming.
The natural softness of a pillow means that contrary to a drum head, there is almost zero rebound. When one strikes a pillow with a drumstick, the stick will mostly want to stay at rest on the pillow, whereas a drum head strike will cause the stick to spring back up off the head after the strike.
This lack of rebound from a pillow forces a drummer to use their wrists to lift the stick back up off the pillow.
It forces the drummer to utilize muscular stick return instead of an actual drum head providing rebound.
Benefit: Strengthens the wrists, repetitive action also increases dexterity and control of the stick.
Drawback: Too much-extended pillow practice can cause a drummer to be too reactive off the hits. Newer drummers run the danger of getting accustomed to holding the stick closer to the tip to aid with lifting the sticks off the pillow each hit. It may cause a long term stigma to improperly holding the stick at the focal balance point.
Like pillow drumming, air-drumming makes a drummer work extra hard first to stop the stick at a theoretical hit point and reverse the strike on the lift portion of the action. This new use of muscles in the wrists and arms is an excellent way for drummers to maintain muscle tone and dexterity.
Vocal Drums – Sing & Hum
There are two main aspects of humans’ Drumming. First is the physical act of Drumming. It is a motor action that the brain eventually accepts as routine, similar to riding a bike.
Next, there is the brain portion of drumming where the brain counts timing, beats, and so forth to control the body to create a beat.
The mental aspect of Drumming is just as essential to practice as the physical aspect.
An excellent way of practicing mental Drumming is by singing and humming. Singing and humming melodies exercises the same parts of the brain as Drumming except for the physical body control.
As we have just discussed vocalization as a practice technique, another way of practicing drums (in terms of the mental practice) is by beatboxing.
Beatboxing is a popular technique of using one’s voice to simulate drumming. Often used in rap, hip-hop, electronic, and some other hybrid variations, beatboxing is an excellent way of practicing timing and coming up with some potentially great beats.
Listening To Music (Repetition)
When it comes to learning, nothing works quite as well for most humans than repetition. Repetition ingrains data into our memory in a way that allows our brains to recall the data quickly.
Listening to songs that one wants to drum is a smart way of learning the song. Doing so repetitively causes a form of memorization to occur.
Like riding a bike, one will be able to drum the song without hesitancy naturally once memorization is complete.
If a drum kit just is not available, then one can always use one’s own body. For example, one could sit in a seat and slap one’s thighs to create a beat.
A big part of practicing drums is the repetitive act of playing the same rudiments over and over, and exchanging said rudiments to create beats.
Using one’s legs as practice pads is excellent as it is the practice of rudiments that matters, not what one practices on. Moreover, what is cheaper than one’s legs?
A drummer once stated the best practice pad he had was a pair of shoes. He would carry about a set of his favorite sticks, and when visiting friends would pull off his shoes and set them on another chair nearby.
The shoes were set with one upside down and one right side up. The drummer would practice striking both the sole, which would rebound the stick and the soft top of the other shoe, which like a pillow, had a minimal rebound.
This interchanging of rebounding to the non-rebounding medium within a single practice rudiment was an excellent way to practice control, strengthen the hands, and provide some much-needed entertainment to those who get to hear the drum shoe beats.
Clapping, snapping one’s fingers, and even tapping one’s fingers are great ways to practice timing. Remember that half of the Drumming, if not more, is the drummer’s ability to keep time naturally.
It is all within the mind. So, the simple act of clapping, snapping one’s fingers, or tapping one’s fingers all contribute to the repetition practice required to hone in timing within the mind’s inner clock.
Bucket Drums & Other Makeshift Drums
If striking an object is what one wants to do, then try making a makeshift drum. Pails and buckets work reasonably well but can chew up drumsticks if one hits the edges or those ridges on the bottom of most pails.
Cardboard boxes make excellent practice drums as well and are readily available. Want to make a cardboard box into a great practice drum? Try taking a large mousepad, setting it on the box, or even ducting the pad along the edges directly to the box for a more permanent solution.
Computer Mouse Pad
Since we were just discussing making a drum practice pad using a cardboard box and a mouse pad, the mouse pad itself deserves mention.
A mouse pad is perfect being a semi-dense rubberized material. Typically made of neoprene or other similar material, a mouse pad offers a decent rebound, which is similar in feel to that of a drum head.
Setting a mouse pad on any hard surface creates a practice pad. Moreover, if one does not care what the mouse pad looks like, one can get inexpensive ones.
Read Up On It (Book Drumming)
As we discussed mouse pad practice previously, one thing to put the pad on top of is a big hardcover book. However, we could just use a large hardcover book by itself.
A friend of mine used to travel the subways of Toronto with his backpack, a pair of drumsticks, and a medium-sized copy of Animal Farm by George Orwell.
It sticks in the memory because he met a beautiful woman while riding the subway, who saw he was holding the book. She asked him about the book and was surprised to find out the weathered copy in his hands had never been read.
The drummer pulled out his drumsticks and laid the book on his lap. He played a collection of rudiments that won him the lady’s phone number.
DIY Drum Sticks
When one is looking for ways to practice drums, but have none available, one may also face the lack of sticks.
Kitchen utensils are a popular alternative when no drum sticks are available. Many wooden spoons have a similar diameter shaft to a set of drumsticks.
Stick Practice (different stick weights)
One of the great ways to practice the subtler aspects of Drumming is by practicing with different weight sticks. It is not a practice that first-year drummers will recognize its value, but more seasoned drummers will understand.
Even changing the weight of sticks adds subtle differences to how a drummer holds the sticks and plays. Using different weights of sets of drum sticks to practice a repetitive rudiment can be useful when practicing to play lightly.
More aggressive practice drumming will not necessarily obtain the full value of this sort of practice as much as playing with lower velocity.
Remarkably similar in feel to a quality thick mousepad is a manufactured practice drum pad. There are many budget-friendly single pads (double-sided) on Amazon for less than $50. Also, there are some great practice bundles like a pad, stand, and sticks. All one needs to add is a quality throne, and one is all set.
Similar to practice pads, electric drums can substitute for a natural kit for practicing purposes. Not to say one cannot play an electric kit and make some great beats just like a natural kit. However, we have to admit the sound level is supremely lower with an electric drum practice kit like the PAXCESS Electronic Drum Set Mini Roll-Up Practice Set found on Amazon.
Drumming is a full-body workout. Drumming involves using the hands, feet, and mind to play beats and keep time.
If drums are not available, a drummer can still practice merely tapping one’s feet to simulate using a bass or hi-hat pedal. Adding some sticks and a practice pad or two, and one may have a comfortable and cheap practice setup.
There are several apps on the market that help drummers to practice. Of course, most of these apps are focused on the mental timing practice end of things. Perhaps the future will bring more augmented and virtual reality to the masses, allowing for a newer type of app that also encompasses the physical aspects of Drumming.
Believe it or not, but watching drum training videos is also an excellent way to expand one’s drumming ability. Even if one is not practicing, thinking about drumming, drumming techniques, and even learning new rudiment combinations by watching training videos is a great way to expand a person’s drumming knowledge and inspire new ideas.
An old record table is an exciting hack that a wise old drummer once shared. He took several coins, pennies, dimes, nickels, quarters, and dollars and spread them around a turntable. First, he had an old felt slipmat on the turntable, then placed the coins around the turntable. Starting on the slowest speed setting, he would practice gently hitting the now moving coins.
It is a challenging practice, but it inspires incredible dexterity and hand-eye coordination. As well, a stipulation to the practice was that one should never hit so hard as to upset the other coins.
It is worth the thought that after a month of practice with this technique, the drummer was able to play the most delicate of melodies on the cymbals. The ability was so exceptional that the cymbals required amplification with microphones and an amplifier.
It is a practice to develop touch.
The last of the ways one can practice drums without a drum set is known as free Drumming. Here is an example: Let us say one is a drummer who likes to walk about or hike. Just take a pair of sticks with, and tap objects along the journey. If walking downtown, one could drum and tap on bus shelters, benches, light posts, trees, and just about anything else, the ground included.
Does One Need a Drum Set to Learn Drums?
A drum set is not necessary in order to learn the basics of Drumming. Practicing rudiments, for example, maybe learned using the many ideas we have mentioned above. Although having actual drums is the only way to learn the individual characteristics of an actual set, cymbals included. There is no exception to this end of Drumming, unfortunately.
However, with so many ways a drummer or would-be drummer can learn rudiments, technique, and so forth without a drum set, it seems fair to say that yes, one may learn drums without a drum set.
When touring drummers are out on the road, they often must practice their drums from a bus seat or motel room. Moreover, even the great drummers recognize the value of practice.
“I have heard the stories. Like, Eric Clapton said he wanted to burn his guitar when he heard Jimi Hendrix play. I never understood that because, when I went and saw a great drummer or heard one, all I wanted to do was practice.” – Neil Peart –
Practicing the Rudiments
When one uses any of the many different materials or objects for practice drumming, there are essential rudiments that one ought to be focusing on for vastly improving skill and technique.
Here are some of the rudiments which should be practiced, according to Wikipedia. These rudiments can organize into three tiers of rudiments – primary essential, secondary essential, and tertiary rudiments.
Primary Essential Rudiments
- double drag tap
- double paradiddle
- double stroke open roll
- drag (half drag or ruff)
- five-stroke roll
- flam accent
- flam paradiddle
- seven stroke roll
- single drag tap
- single ratamacue
- triple ratamacue
Secondary Essential Rudiments
- double ratamacue
- drag paradiddle No. 1
- drag paradiddle No. 2
- eleven stroke roll
- fifteen stroke roll
- flam paradiddle-diddle
- flam tap
- lesson 25
- nine stroke roll
- single paradiddle
- single stroke roll
- ten stroke roll
- thirteen stroke roll
- flam drag
- inverted flam tap
- multiple bounce roll
- seventeen stroke roll
- single dragadiddle
- single flammed mill
- single paradiddle-diddle
- single stroke four
- single stroke seven
- six-stroke roll
- Swiss Army triplet
- triple paradiddle
- triple stroke roll
These three groups of rudiments constitute the currently accepted forty rudiments recognized by the Percussive Arts Society. Practicing these rudiments is essential to becoming a versatile and professional drummer.
As well as learning techniques, different rudiment combinations, and technical aspects of creating beat sequences, rudiments also offer an excellent means of learning timing.
Using time changes and rudiment changes in repetitive switching patterns is an excellent way to advance one’s Drumming. For example, practicing a sequence of rudiments for a few bars at one tempo, then switching tempo and rudiments for the next few bars. Repeating this sort of practice advances one’s abilities with timing to become a more advanced drummer.
Moreover, one can do all of this without so much as a drum set or even sticks.
DIY Make Practice Drums?
Above, the discussion about using a mouse pad to substitute for a drum was indeed covered. However, what if we could go a few steps further without breaking the bank? Here are a few ideas to help inspire one’s creativity.
Try combining objects to find that perfect feel. For example, one could take a plastic pail, like those commonly found at the big chain hardware stores. Then, taking a cardboard layer and some duct tape, fix the cardboard to the top of the pail.
Next, obtain a giant mouse pad like this 3-pack of mouse pads from Amazon and secure one on top of the cardboard.
Now, one has a reasonably decent practice pad. Experimenting with varying layers of cardboard and mouse pads, or even other sizes of pails or boxes as the base, and one could have several DIY practice drum pads to practice Drumming.
Remember, it’s ok if some of these DIY pads don’t provide much rebound because that helps strengthen your hands. I used to practice rudiments a lot on a pillow.
Practice Counting Exercises Without a Drum Set?
There are a couple of practices that one can do to enhance their drumming ability without the use of a drum set, or even drum sticks.
Count Time In Recordings
Listening to one’s favorite songs, drum lessons, and even videos with music could be counting time. This type of practice is another repetition challenge. Let us look at this another way. If one were a painter, then day-in and day-out, one would be thinking about paint. One would walk into a room and instantly inspect the paint and make comments about the quality of artistry, the color choice, and more. Come on; this is true for all of us!
Every time I listen to music, I’m dissecting it, being a veteran of music production and engineering for decades does that to a person.Jeremy Shantz – Canadian Musician
So, anytime one is driving a car, walk a dog, go jogging or hiking, one can have some music playing and counting along with the beats. It repetitively engrains timing into one’s mind.
Try making a mix of several different tempos and styled beats and listening to that mix repetitively. Changing up the tempo and time signature is an excellent way to fine-tune one’s inner drumming clock.
Count Time In The Mind
Everyone has been in a situation where a smartphone has died, right? Alternatively, suppose one might be of the older generations. One can likely remember having a portable cd player or even walkman’s batteries run dry (I refuse to admit being old enough to remember such things).
When one is in a jam, and there is nothing around, at the very least, one can count time in one’s head. Try humming a tune and imagining the drums behind the melody. This practice is one of the MOST VALUABLE practice techniques for becoming a great drummer.
Here is why this is the case.
When one uses one’s mind to make a melody, and then hum the melody, and then also imagine drums and count the timing in one’s mind as well, four or more processes are going on at once.
Think of it like a brain is a muscle and needs exercise. Now consider the difference between lifting a weight with one arm versus going swimming. For example, swimming uses a multitude of different muscles throughout the body. It thus is a complete exercise for the body than lifting a single weight with a single arm.
Moreover, having the mind’s creativity exercised in two ways – first creating a tune or melody, then imaging drum beats behind it, is already a great exercise. Add counting the beat, and now the brain is analyzing the timing and being creative about it at the same time.
If one is adventurous, one could extend this practice by changing tempo and switching up rudiment patterning within the imagined song.
Expectations dictate that after the repeated practice of this exercise, one would have the potential to be a virtuoso when it comes to creating beats.
There are many different ways that a drummer or would-be drummer might practice and learn drumming without the need for a drum set or even sticks for that matter.
Practice makes perfect, and Drumming is no exception. Drums are one of the most challenging instruments to learn and play. The drums require dexterity, timing, and much practice.
So, get Drumming and let us know what your favorite way to practice without a drum set!