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During the past twenty years, I’ve noticed drumming is often misperceived as easy because it seems to require less musical theory. Although this can be true, the level of accuracy and practice that drumming entails takes a whole lot of work.
Drumming is not easy because it requires certain skills such as accuracy, synchronicity, rhythmic accuracy, conditioning, and playing with others, which makes it challenging to master.
To be a great drummer, it also takes natural rhythm and a sense of touch. When playing with others, drumming also requires a great deal of split attention and learning to synchronize with the band.
Having a more in-depth understanding of why drumming is not easy can help you prepare to learn it well. In this article, I will explore the qualities one needs to develop when playing the drums, including why it takes a while to learn the drums and many of the flaws and difficulties beginners experience when learning.
Difficulties with Learning the Drums
Learning the drums involves several skills that one has to master. There are many skills that take time to master in order to achieve above-average playing.
Accuracy is all about hitting the right drum in the right way. With drumming, you have to hit the right piece at the correct point in time to produce the desired sound. For example, hitting a rim shot on the snare consistently during a rock tune takes accuracy. This takes hours of practice. While playing, the entire sound of the music can change if a drummer fails to play his or her notes on the drum heads accurately.
- Synchronicity and Muscle Memory
Many times while drumming, you must do different things with each hand, leg, and foot. This is not something that comes easily to most people and requires a lot of work to master. To do this well, you will have to train your body to forget your default muscle memory, where you are required to hit the drums in combination, contrary to intuitive muscle movement. Time spent on learning this skill depends on how fast you can unlearn routine body movements.
- Rhythmic Accuracy
Rhythmic accuracy is one of the main reasons that learning the drums can entail a more demanding study than that of other musical instruments. Drums produce relatively sharp transients, so one cannot make many mistakes even with micro-timing. This raises the bar for the drums and for the accuracy that it demands.
You need to develop natural rhythm when learning the drums. This natural rhythm is present for every experienced drummer and creates an instinct that gives him or her an ability to nail every performance. Having a natural rhythm will allow the drummer to maintain concentration no matter how many times another player in the band disrupts a performance. Playing a lot with a metronome has helped me develop natural rhythm and good time.
- Conditioning and Sense of Touch
Conditioning of arms and hands is critical when playing the drums. There are suggested practices to increase finger strength and hand strength, which will allow you to play drums in a relaxed manner. It took me a few years of strengthening my hands, by practicing rudiments and single stroke exercsises before I could play certain pieces on the drums.
Also, posture is essential for the back, and your legs or feet can get tired if you’re not using proper technique on the bass drum and hi-hat.
Touch is also is very important. One person’s sense of touch on the same drum differs from another. A different touch during various parts of a song or style of music is what produces dynamics and often sets one drummer above others.
- Playing with Others
If you are hoping to play with others, there must be overall agreement between the drummer and the rest of the ensemble. A lot of times, the drummer sets the pace for the entire band. This means the drummer should not only focus on the self playing, but also attend to the rest of the members and their playing.
How Long Does It Take to Learn the Drums?
Learning the drums is a lot more technical than many people first assume. Overall, in my opinion, it takes an estimated 10 to 12 months of dedicated practice and study if one wants to learn the drums to a level that is beyond basic beats, but it takes years to truly sound dynamic.
Beginning drummers must learn a ton of new skills, many of which are not natural for most people and require hours of practice. A couple of tasks, like holding the sticks and learning to read music and tablature, stand out early on for most new drummers.
Gripping the drumsticks is among the first things a drummer should learn. While the grip can be a relatively simple part of the process, it is often complicated for an inexperienced beginner. There are multiple grips such as the German, American, and French grips.
Each of these differs in terms of hand angle, direction of palms, and action of the wrist. The American grip is in between the French and German grips. Otherwise, there is the traditional grip, although this one is typically for jazz music. Be aware of which finger you will need to use as the pivot point or fulcrum.
Another thing that complicates drumming is reading drum sheet music. If you want to play the drums professionally, you should be able to read sheet music. Sheet music varies with jazz bands and marching bands, to name a few. Although drum notation is quite simple for the experienced drummer, it isn’t very easy for anyone who has never played any musical instrument previously. Also, while there are basic drum rhythms, there are intermediate and advanced ones too.
In addition to sheet music, learning to drum takes time because it requires reading drum tabs. Drum tabs are specific for a particular piece of the drum set. Drum tabs use specific labels. Labels include CC for Crash Cymbal, X for Snare and Hi-Hat Hits, and T1 for Hi Tom. These labels take time to study and master, along with the other tasks/skills required.
Other Factors that Delay Learning the Drums
While the grip, sheet music, and tabs are primary skills for every beginner to achieve, there are also a few factors that can cause setbacks.
These include a lack of proper warming up that is specific only to drummers and not using a metronome or a practice pad. Other mistakes involve holding the sticks incorrectly, using mostly your dominant hand too much, and keeping poor posture. If you keep ignoring these fundamentals (especially if you’re too ambitious at first), this could delay mastery.
How Do You Make Learning the Drums Easier?
Although drumming is not as easy as it sounds, there are ways that one can make the learning process more comfortable. One thing you should know is that watching a million drumming videos online and trying to memorize and visualize every beat will still not make you an expert. Remember that if you want to become a better drummer (and make things easier for yourself in the long run), quality practice is as important as quantity.
First, become fluent when it comes to the fundamentals, such as the 40 rudiments. Before you develop your unique style as a drummer, go back to the basics of drumming by doing tab exercises with a book such as Syncopation. Also, know that consistency is key. It’s much more important to practice 20 minutes per day, every day, than 2 hours of practice, and then skipping a couple of days.
Don’t only practice at home alone, because you learn more by playing with others. As you go along, you should learn how to build tempo and master the volume of your playing. In addition, doing simple practices to build limb independence is crucial.
How Does Learning Drums Compare to Learning the Guitar?
Comparing drums and the guitar is like comparing apples and oranges. However, aside from the distinct differences like cost, portability, and volume, there are many other reasons why drums can be more complicated than the guitar.
Of course, each musician is different, and mastering one instrument over the other will depend on an individual’s learning style. Here are some ways in which drums are more challenging to learn than the guitar.
First, the guitar involves the dexterity of fingers while the drums necessitate coordination of both hands and feet. It’s not easy to cognitively separate your hands and feet so they can move separately from each other.
Second, when it comes to percussion instruments like drums, you need to produce a good melody and rhythm. With guitar, the melody is primary, and the player could get away with being more sloppy in rhythm. A proficient drummer has studied both of these for years.
Third, although timing matters in both, it is easier to make a mistake with the guitar and not disrupt the rest of the band. The drummer is the anchor, and errors can disrupt everyone else.