overhead view of white drum set

What Beginner Drummers Really Need: 17 Essentials

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Drumming is an attractive musical role for many young people.

Moreover, even if one is older and joining the world of drumming, the same reason will apply to equip oneself with the essential tools. These tools of the trade can be many and diverse with a heavyweight on the budget.

We will look at the stages of equipment expenses for beginner drummers, and a few critical, didactic steps in the learning process for new drummers to get started correctly.


12 Steps of Drum Gear – Beginner to Pro Drum Kit


ONE – Practice Pad, Sticks, Metronome

A prospective drummer needs to get started with a practice pad, sticks, and ideally a metronome.

The drum sticks are an essential component. A good set of sticks to start things out is a Vic Firth 5A. It is a middle-sized stick and quite versatile. Getting a decent pair of sticks right from the start can help to inspire a new drummer. Moreover, it gets them used to a decent quality stick that will not have issues with not being tone matched.  

The major problem with really cheap sticks is the issue where the sticks produce different tones. Moreover, this can be a massive issue for a new drummer trying to figure out why their drum hits sound different from one hand to the other. It is enough to drive a new drummer, crazy.

A set of these Vic Firth 5A sticks (Amazon Link) will usually run about $15. Not the end of the world for a beginning expense that is certain.

Along with the drum sticks, a new or returning drummer will need a practice pad. We need something else for the drummer to use the sticks with, after all. Practise pads are not overly expensive, usually costing around $30. However, in a pinch, one could use an old mouse pad. The neoprene rubber that makes most mousepads is comparable to drum practice pad material.

The last of our first purchases is a metronome. A smart move is for a new or returning drummer to start practicing and a metronome to ‘tune’ the drummer’s inner clock. Practicing with a metronome right from the beginning will vastly improve the drummer’s ability and timing as the days progress.

Metronomes are obtainable for as little as $20, but if one has a computer, one could use the free online metronome found here.

With these initial purchases, the aspiring drummer’s focus should be on grip, technique, and simple practice beat to a metronome.


TWO – Buy A Base Drum Pedal

The next thing a drummer will need in their essential equipment toolbox is a bass drum pedal. If the drummer is young and new to drumming, then a used or cheap pedal is the best first option. It ensures that a costly expense is avoidable, should the new drummer decide drumming is not for them.

In any other case, a decent kick pedal will do nicely. The point is to start cycling in the use and coordination of foot movement into the drumming routine.

The practice is the essential goal at this stage, and the technique should be observed and refined.


THREE – Buy a Drum Throne

If the drummer has progressed to the point where the regular practice is now occurring, it is essential to acquire a drum throne. However, a cheap drum throne is NOT the way to go here. A new or returning drummer will be practicing a lot. This frequent practice means an extended time sitting on the drum throne.  

One of the most significant issues that dissuade new drummers from practicing and even from playing altogether is lower back pain. It can not be of more value to know that the drum throne being of good quality and comfort is essential to the drummer’s success and even health.


FOUR – Buy A Used Drum Kit  

Now that the drummer has a throne, bass pedal, practice pad, sticks, and metronome, they will likely be itching for a real kit. If they have made it this far then, perhaps it is time to spend a little money searching for a decent first kit.

When we state a decent first kit, one is likely thinking about how this step will hurt the budget, after all, drum kits include many parts and pieces and are likely to be expensive.

Although this is true for new and large kits, a starter kit buying used is the way to go.

When looking for a used kit, there is one significant and essential consideration that ought to receive the most consideration, above all other considerations. This consideration is that of the shell condition.

Used drums with decent shells can be made into incredible sounding and looking drums

Do not get caught up in anything shiny and flashy as it does not matter. Appearance does not matter at this stage. What matters is that the shells are good.

Ideally, any tuning hardware is also in good condition, but even this can is replaceable. The shell is like the frame of a car. Once the frame of a car is twisted, the car is a write-off. Drum shells can be considered the same in that respect. Make sure the shells are good. A decent set of drums (shells in great shape) will usually run between $300 and $500. It would be a kit that would have cost around $1000 to $1500 new.

As long as the shells are in good shape, it is all that matters. With any luck, the person selling the drums is someone who purchased a beautiful kit and gave up on playing it, letting the kit just sit for a while. One could use a poor sounding head to talk the seller into a lower price, knowing that the heads are replaceable, and it is the shells that matter. Some sellers may not be aware of this, and it could get the buyer a fantastic deal.


FIVE – Buy A Drum Carpet & Recorder

Once the basic kit is purchased, the next step is to buy a carpet for the kit. It may even need to happen simultaneously as getting the kit set up properly for the first time, depending on where one practices, is important.  

Without a carpet under the kit, the drums could slide around (depending on the floor covering type underneath). Also, there might be a significant sound reflection, again depending on the floor covering type.  

A decent drum rug one could use for drumming could be as little as $50 for a new rug. Drumming rugs usually do not cost that much money than normal rugs one might purchase for one’s living room.

The other item that one might consider at this stage in their drumming development is acquiring a recorder. An excellent tool for learning, a recorder can cost as little as $50, or just use a smartphone. Recording one’s playing to playback and learn from is an excellent drum learning technique.


SIX – Buy Decent Drum Heads & Dampers

Evans drum head


This next step is the first of a few steps to make the drums sound better than previously. Remember earlier, when we were discussing buying the used drum kit. It was mentioned that the only thing that mattered was that the shells were in good condition. Well, that is because most of the quality of a drum sound comes from the quality of the heads.

With that in mind, it is an excellent time to buy decent quality heads and dampers like Moongel brand. Using a good quality head will increase the drum sound quality noticeably.

When replacing the heads, ensure that the tuning hardware gets adequately cleaned and kept in good working condition. Replace any minor tuning components to insure accurate tuning.

It is an excellent opportunity for a new drummer to learn about tuning and ensure memory has engrained tuning into the drum check process. 

Any well-seasoned drummer will agree that adequately tuned drums can make the difference between a drummer who sounds good and sounds off. 

Tuning is as vital to drumming as it is to any other musical instrument.


SEVEN – Buy Decent Cymbals

a lot of drum cymbals


The second stage of improving the sound quality of the kit is to upgrade the cymbals. It is vital for the hi-hat, ride, and crash at the very least. Cymbals are not adjustable and cannot sound better than they already do. There is no skin to replace. One simply has to replace the cymbals.

Now, choosing which cymbals can be quite a challenge. One may feel tempted to seek out cheaper cymbals to save one’s budget. However, this method will result in either a loss of desire to play due to poor sounding cymbals, or a loss of money when one realizes they should have just purchased decent cymbals in the first place.

The way to tell which cymbals are worth buying is usually by only buying the ‘professional’ lines of cymbals from manufacturers. If a manufacturer does not have a professional line of cymbals, one should probably find a different manufacturer.  

When it comes to good sounding cymbals, there is no alternative to purchasing good quality.


EIGHT – Buy A Decent Kick Drum Pedal

When one looks at the kit now in addition to the skill level that must be evolving along with the regular practice, one will see that it is now time to replace that cheap original kick drum pedal. 

There are several types of bass drum pedals, but there are three main pedal drive systems. That is an assembly that connects the pedal to the rotating beater assembly to ‘drive’ the beater against the drum head when the pedal is depressed.


Three Main Types of Bass Drum Pedal Drives

  • chain-drive
  • belt-drive
  • direct-drive

The Chain Drive uses a small chain similar to a bicycle chain to connect the pedal to the rotating beater assembly. The chains are typically made of metal and are quite robust. This form of pedal drive can last for years as long as the chain is maintained properly.  

The Belt Drive utilizes a belt in place of a chain. One might think that a belt will not last as long as a chain, but with modern technology, the belt drive has resurfaced as a viable option.

The last of the three main drum pedal drive types is the Direct Drive pedal. This type of pedal drive utilizes a solid arm that connects to a pivot at each end. One end being the toe end of the pedal and the other being on the far side of the rotating beater assembly.

The direct drive pedals are typical of high value to those drummers who wish to play with speed and have precise pedal action. Due to a lack of slack in the assembly faced by the pedals, these pedals are more precise than other drive types.


NINE – Buy A Good Hi Hat Pedal and Stand

With the kit’s quality slowly building, it would be a false assumption to have overlooked the hi-hats when purchasing new cymbals. Depending on the quality of the used kit one purchased, the hi-hat pedal and stand might require upgrading at this stage in the drummer’s development.

As the drummer progresses and practice sessions start evolving into live performance sessions, good quality, and stable hi-hat pedal and stand become essential.  

A quality hi-hat pedal and stand will be sturdy and solid in construction. The stand needs to have secure fittings and should not come loose after a short time. The stand should not require multiple adjustments while playing unless the techniques used dictate for specific alterations.


TEN – Upgrade Snare Drum

While we are discussing the kit’s upgrading, it is now time to focus our attention on the snare drum.

When we replaced the heads earlier in stage six, we should have also replaced the snare heads. If the shell is in good condition, we could replace the snare wires with a good quality set and do a overhaul of the snare to ensure all components are now decent. The sound is what the drummer wants.

If the snare is not exactly as the drummer wants, this might be a good time to replace the snare with a higher quality used or even a brand new snare.

If purchasing a higher quality used snare, pay close attention to the shell as this is highly important being the base structure of this particular piece of drumming equipment.


ELEVEN – Upgrade Hardware

As a drummer progresses and becomes better skilled, there will be fine nuances of the kit that are noticed and addressed. A lot of these nuances will be likely related to the hardware. Perhaps a tuner or two keeps coming loose, or a tom stand is not as secure as one would like. Either way, this is an excellent time to go over the hardware and upgrade anything that has seen better days.


TWELVE – Upgrade Shell Cosmetics

The drum kit is by now basically a pro custom kit. The components have all been upgraded, addressed, and maintained. Replacement parts are already replaced as needed. The tuning of the kit should now be almost a subconscious act of the drummer.

A drummer may wish to liven up the appearance of the kit and re-finish the shells. One can sand down wood shells and apply a stain or clearcoat to make a wood shell look incredible. Alternatively, if one is so inclined, there are several ways a shell could be painted that would make it truly stand out.

Even drum shell wraps could be applied for all manner of graphics and art that could make the skin appear to be a professionally built custom kit.

These sorts of final steps to altering the kit are purely cosmetic. However, if a live performance is regularly occurring, this step is likely to take place. Remember that a crowd that sees a flashy drumkit will automatically have a higher opinion of the drummer, even before a single beat is struck. A picture speaks a thousand words as they say. Yet, you can’t fool one’s ears as soon as the drummer starts playing.

Now, it is great to have a walkthrough of the basic equipment and some fundamental steps to procuring it. However, learning to drum or getting back into drumming is more than just knowing how to be frugal and not purchasing a new kit before it is needed.

Drumming also requires a smart approach, like any other trade or skill.

Learning an incorrect technique can hurt one’s ability in the long run.

Moreover, it makes it more difficult to progress by having to unlearn and then re-learn technique.

This is why it is essential to get into (or back into) drumming with some common sense. Here is a 5-step program to beginning drums the smart way. One should use these steps alongside the essential drumming equipment stages. With the equipment essentials list, these tips save a lot of time and grief and help a drummer save money while getting started the right way.


5 Steps To Begin Learning the Drums


ONE – Sitting Posture

One of the first things a new or returning drummer should keep mental awareness of is their posture. Proper posture will play a major role in determining the length of time a drummer can play before suffering lower back pain.

A drummer who slouches forward will not play for long without noticing physical fatigue or pain in their back. It may also be true for those who lean to one side or another. The idea is to sit up straight with the legs helping stabilize the body rather than carry weight. It ensures that both feet will be available for pedal controls. It also helps maintain good posture for the drummer in general.

A critical factor in ensuring the drummer does not suffer physically detrimental effects is via a properly engineered drum throne. A cheap throne with poor padding will not do the drummer’s back any good. A poorly considered drum throne will generally cause the drummer to feel lower back pain. It can do so in a reasonably expedient fashion.

This need for comfort and proper posture reinforces step three of our essential equipment stages required for a drummer, as mentioned above.


TWO – Proper Grip of the Drumstick

The first step to proper stickhandling is understanding how the rebound is affected by a fulcrum. In case one requires a refresher in geometry and physics, we will go over the concept.

The idea is to use each hand’s thumb and index finger as a sort of controlled hinge. The stick should be considered a teeter-totter, like those which are found in old children’s playgrounds.  

The concept is that the stick should be held lightly in the central area, close to the fulcrum point, which is the point where the stick balances.

Holding the drum stick in this region allows for the maximum rebound of the stick from the drumhead without causing the stick to travel in either direction unnaturally.

Holding a drum stick properly allows the drummer maximum control to utilize the sticks’ rebound off the drumhead. 

It allows the drummer to strike the drumhead repeatedly and at a pace otherwise not possible by using one’s arms or even wrists to control the action. 

There is a decent video by Cameron Fleury explaining the concept here.


THREE – Get Used To Ear Protection

One step that a lot of new drummers miss is getting used to ear protection. 

When playing drums at first, it may seem to be exciting and fun with no risk. However, a new drummer has not yet experienced long term hearing damage that will result in hearing problems down the road. 

In preparation for the potential hearing issues, a drummer should act accordingly with smart preventive measures. It could be from using a pair of earplugs to using ear protection guards such as hearing protection earmuffs or noise-isolating headphones.

Wearing these from the beginning can make learning, playing, and practicing the drums much more natural. Furthermore, providing long-term solutions to hearing problems that are bound to occur should one not protect oneself against harm is critical.


FOUR – Drum Tuning

Remember the tales of knights of old? It has something to do with drumming, so just bear with this analogy. The knights of old would have a squire. Moreover, that squire would do as they were told, lugging things around, maintaining the knight’s sword and armor.

The squire would learn all they could from the knight to become a knight themselves one day. Not that that was the case in real life, but the movies certainly like to portray things that way.

Drumming is similar in that the key to becoming a good drummer is by learning every aspect of the drums. One of the most important aspects of a drummer’s success is tuning the drums.

It is not even a bad idea for a new drummer to take on drum tech’s role for a local drummer in an organized band. Alternatively, ensuring the drummer at least takes some lessons from a drumming coach on proper drum tuning is important. 

Knowing how to do a tuning check and correct any possible tuning issues is an essential aspect of learning the drums and should not be downplayed in its importance.


FIVE – Learn Proper Technique

Summing up all of our steps is our final thought relating to technique. Learning the proper techniques from the beginning can help a drummer accelerate their ability by not falling into poor technique pitfalls.

Technique includes some of the things we have discussed, including posture and stick handling. However, there is still more to technique than just these things.

Technique includes learning different genres of music while learning different beats and styles. A versatile drummer is one who adopts aspects of several methods. Furthermore, great ability is found when one can play in multiple styles using different techniques.

The point here is that specific lessons are the emphasis on step five. Learning different techniques through proper instruction build one’s repertoire and ability as a drummer.


Some Final Thoughts And Useful Tips

In summing up drumming essentials, there are several steps one can take to reduce costs when first starting or returning to drumming. The twelve steps outlined above can help a drummer save money and build a professional level kit as their ability progresses.

Using the twelve-step gear essentials and the five steps to learning drums effectively will give one a total of seventeen steps to becoming an accomplished drummer. 

Although each individual will have a different timeframe for these steps, each one should be carefully considered.


Tips For Learning Drums Fast

A good tip when learning drums is to implement multi-sourcing of educational sources. 

Do not be afraid to get some drum lessons. It should be encouraged. 

A smart idea would be to acquire drum lessons from more than one teacher. Doing so will allow the drumming student to learn techniques from multiple sources, which will invariably expand their knowledge and ability.

Gear Tip: Remember that the drum kit does not have to be a name brand to be ‘the best’. The shells need to be in good condition, physically speaking. Nothing else for the drums matters as one will be upgrading the majority of the components, at very least the heads, and likely re-finishing the shells for cosmetic reasons.

Too often, new drummers are drawn into the buying process by eager music store employees. The latter usually works on a commission basis. 

The idea of a shiny new drum set can dissuade a parent who sees the price tag. The parent should know there are cheaper alternatives.

It’s important not to fall down the shiny object rabbit hole and focus on quality where it matters. Many a great drummer started on a used kit, which would later become part of a professional kit years later. 

Having a little foresight can do more than just save a drummer some money. It can help the drummer build a professional kit over time without spending a ton of money all at once.


Sources

  1. “Beginner Drum Lessons” Drumeo, https://www.freedrumlessons.com/drum-lessons/beginner-drum-lessons.php, Accessed July 14, 2020.
  2. John S., “How To Play Drums: The Complete Guide For Beginners” takelessons.com, https://takelessons.com/blog/how-to-play-drums-z07/, Accessed July 14, 2020.
  3. “Drum” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drum, Accessed July 14, 2020.
  4. “Base Drum Pedal” Google Patents, https://patents.google.com/patent/US4691613A/en, Accessed July 14, 2020.
  5. Phillip Richardson, Dr. Rob Toulson, “Fine Tuning Percussion – A New Educational Approach” Anglia Ruskin University, http://robtoulson.rt60.co.uk/rt_docs/PRandRT_ARP2010_DrumTuningEducation.pdf, Accessed July 14, 2020.
  6. Rob Toulson, “The Resonant Tuning Factor: A New Measure for Quantifying the Setup and Tuning of Cylindrical Drums” Audio Engineering Society, Accessed June 30, 2020., http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=19325, Accessed July 14, 2020.
  7. Rick Mattingly, “All About Drums: A Fun and Simple Guide to Playing Drums” Publisher: Hal Leonard, 2006, ISBN1476865868, 9781476865867, https://books.google.ca/books?id=hYYSAQAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false, Accessed July 14, 2020.
  8. Samantha Landa, “How drummers can prevent hearing loss” Drumeo, https://www.drumeo.com/beat/how-drummers-can-prevent-hearing-loss/, Accessed July 14, 2020.