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There’s a lot more to drumming than just whacking some sticks on some drums. Drumming is one of the few musical instruments where the entire body is often in motion, and all four limbs can be at use simultaneously.
When a new drummer is beginning their drumming journey, it can be challenging to know where to turn and learn first on drums. This guide will help to shed some light on what may seem like an obscure subject.
We will begin by discussing the basics and then move into some basic first lessons that are of great value. By the end of this article, one will have a clear understanding of the steps to learn to play the drums.
What are the Very Basics of Drumming?
When it comes to drumming, the basics are a pair of sticks and a drum. That is just about as basic as typical drumming gets. We could drop it down further to a hand drum only, but where is the fun in that?
A typical drum setup consists of a snare drum, bass drum, cymbals such as a hi-hat, ride and crash, toms of various sizes, drum throne, and drum sticks. Let’s take a brief look at each.
Basic Drum Gear
Snare Drum – The classic drum of the marching band (ever hear of the little drummer boy?). The snare drum is usually right in front of the drummer, off to one side.
The drum has a shell and two heads, one top, and one bottom. The bottom head has an adjustable set of snare wires which can vibrate against the bottom head for the traditional snare drum sound.
Bass Drum – The bass drum is the deepest sounding of the drum set and is struck via a mallet known as a beater. The beater is attached to a foot pedal activation assembly, which swings the beater into the drum when the pedal is depressed. Bass drums are typically mounted sideways with the striking head facing the drummer.
Cymbals – Cymbals, such as the foot pedal controlled hi-hats, are a typical component of the standard drum set. Cymbals are metal plates with a mounting hole in the center and have the traditionally known cymbal ‘crashing’ sound. Hi-hat cymbals are mounted facing each other, and the pedal can move the cymbals against or away from each other for varying sound. Most other cymbals, such as the ride cymbal and crash, are mounted on their stands and ring out when struck.
Toms – Toms are drums of various sizes ranging in size between the bass drum and the snare drum. Some are even smaller than snare drums. The toms are the drums traditionally mounted above the bass drum, but the larger toms can be floor mounted.
Drum Throne – The drum throne is the stool where the drummer sits.
Drum Sticks – Although the drum sticks may come in brushes or mallets, the most common are the standard wooden drum sticks. Often with nylon tips, the drum sticks come in various sizes to suit different styles and types of drumming.
Aside from knowing the components of a drum set, there are various other lessons essential to a new drummer progressing appropriately. Let’s take a few of the basics that a new drummer should learn first, after learning what about each part of a drum set.
Drum Stick Handling
As necessary, if not more important than knowing each component of a drum kit, it knows how to hold a pair of drumsticks properly.
Holding the drum sticks incorrectly will ingrain the improper method into a new drummer’s mind. This practice will inevitably lead to a need to re-learn the technique, which might be difficult after being previously learned.
For this reason, it is essential to learn how to hold drum sticks from the beginning properly.
One of the most important things to understand is that of the concept of a lever and a fulcrum point.
Consider a child’s playground teeter-totter, also known as a seesaw. The playground equipment is a long board with a seat at either end and a pivot in the middle. When two children of equal weight sit on either end, the board can balance with both children off the ground.
The middle of the seesaw, where it pivots, is known as the fulcrum point. That is, the point of balance where one side is equal weight to the other side.
The same concept is applied to drum sticks. The fulcrum point is when one can hold the drumstick between the index finger and thumb, where the stick is balanced.
Holding a drumstick near the fulcrum point is that the drum stick will quickly ‘bounce’ off the drum head when struck, due to being balanced in the drummer’s hand.
What if a Drumstick is Not Balanced?
If a drumstick is not balanced in the drummer’s hand, the tip might be hefty, causing the stick to want to remain at rest on the drum head. If the tip is too light, the stick will have too much reflection off the drum head and will require extra effort to return the tip to the drum head for a second hit.
By balancing the stick in hand, the drummer can take advantage of the fulcrum point and use it to allow the drummer to strike the drum head faster than if the stick was out of balance.
Furthermore, a balanced stick has been shown to require less effort to repeatedly strike a drum head, allowing for less stamina reduction in the hands and wrists. Thus, allowing a drummer to play faster and for longer with less effort.
You can achieve this fulcrum using different grips.
Good Posture While Drumming
We’ve all had someone tell us to sit up straight at some point in our lives. Well, we are going to hear this again, right now. A drummer’s posture must be well maintained, or the drummer could face annoying lower back issues.
Of course, a good drum throne, such as the DW 9000 series Airlift, will help. There is one thing that a drummer should not buy in poor quality, and that is a drum throne. A right throne is essential to good posture while drumming.
Keep in mind that drumming requires both hands and often both feet as well. With this in mind, it is not out of the question to understand that at times a drummer’s entire weight rests upon their buttocks as both hands and feet could be simultaneously at use.
With all a drummer’s weight transferring through to the throne, it is reasonable to understand the value of a decent throne, and it’s effect upon a drummer’s posture.
Proper posture will help the drummer to have increased stamina and fend off fatigue. It will also help to prevent lower back injuries. So, make sure that one is sitting up straight and yet comfortably so when drumming.
Foot Positioning for Drumming
There are two basic types of foot positions when pedals are involved. There is the heel up position and the heel down position.
These two positions are typically applied to the bass drum foot.
The concept is this when the foot rests upon the pedal, the entire foot is making contact with the pedal. The heal up method uses the ankle to pivot the foot, depressing the pedal. The foot never leaves the pedal surface. It is known as the heel down position.
Heal Up Method
The same position is taken with the heal up method, except there is one significant difference. When the pedal is depressed, the drummer lifts their leg, which raises the ankle off the ground and pedal. Only the ball of the foot maintains contact of the pedal on the lift phase.
When the drummer wants to strike the drum, the drummer lowers the leg and maintains a somewhat rigid ankle position on the downstroke. This heel up method of lifting the leg will provide more power to the pedal depression allowing for a more substantial hit to the bass drum than is typically delivered with the heel down method.
Some drummers do not use their entire foot on the pedal. Some drummers only float their legs and gently keep the ball of their foot on the pedal with their heel off the pedal and ground altogether. Depending on whom one is speaking with, this can also be considered heel up.
The foot’s motion should feel comfortable and not effortless but should not be painful or cause cramping.
Ear Protection for Drummers
A new drummer will find drumming highly exciting at first and likely not want to wear earplugs. However, this is something that new drummers should be paying attention to for their long-term hearing. Almost all drummers who don’t wish to go deaf will wear ear protection.
Wearing ear protection can be distracting and will inevitably muffle the sound of the drums. Many new drummers struggle with this situation, so it is a good idea to start getting used to ear protection early when learning the drums.
Moving on from the more physical basics explanation, let’s dive into some of the practical sorts of lessons that are important for new drummers to learn first.
Setting The Inner Clock – Metronome Practice
One of the most important things for a new drummer to do is train more than just their body to play drums. One must train their mind as well. Moreover, a large part of training the mind for drumming is to program one’s inner timing clock.
When first learning the drums, recommendations abound that state that counting is essential to learning to play new beats, this may be true, but most experienced drummers say that they no longer count. Counting is something that a drummer does to familiarize themselves with a new beat. A part of the counting process is training the mind to the new beat’s timing being learned.
One of the best ways a drummer can train their mind for timing is to play using a metronome.
Metronomes are relatively inexpensive and are going to be much more precise in their timing that a human. For this reason, practicing to a metronome will help to ingrain the timing into the mind.
Think of learning timing like riding a bike. Counting a new beat is like the training wheels on a bike. Once one has mastered balance, the training wheels come off.
The more one uses a metronome for practice; the less one will need to count, the faster one will have timing ingrained upon their mind.
A Practice Song Collection for Drummers
Many professional drummers still play along with their favorite songs. Moreover, new drummers should also be doing this.
When a new drummer is trying to expedite the learning process, it is a great idea to make up a sort of hit list of songs that are all simple beats. These songs don’t even need to be entire songs, perhaps just looped recordings of simple beats.
Having a few different beat mixes to play along can help the learning process. Furthermore, mixing up the beat time signatures can also really help the drummer learn versatility in their technique to switch between time signatures.
5 Basic Drum Rudiments for Beginners
- single stroke roll
- double stroke roll
- flam stroke
- double paradiddle
Rudiments are basic stick patterns that make up the majority of all beats. There are many of these basic stick patterns and about five, which are considered the basic rudiments of drumming.
These five basic rudiments are the basic building blocks of drumming and should be practiced without fail. Even an experienced drummer should be practicing some form of rudiments, if not clever variations of the basics.
Single Stroke Roll
The first of the basic rudiments is the single stroke roll. It is a stick pattern that simply alternates left to the right stick.
Example stick hits: L, R, L, R, L, R, L, R
There are multiple and seemingly endless variations in which the single stroke roll can be adapted to when it comes to transferring the practice from a drum pad to a kit. However, this is recommended on a practice pad with a metronome at first and repeatedly.
The initial concept here is to develop that inner clock. Getting one’s timing in sync with a metronome is a great way to train the brain to be a beat keeper.
Once the timing seems natural and fluid with the metronome, one should transfer the practice over to a kit and start experimenting with slightly more complicated variations. However, keep it as simple as possible at first, don’t try to be a master drummer right from the beginning. Remember, this stage is programming the mind’s inner metronome.
Double Stroke Roll
The double stroke roll is very similar to the single stroke, except that it is double. For example, the sticks hist would be: L, L, R, R, L, L, R, R
This essential rudiment helps a drummer develop the initial ability to extend a hit into a subsequent hit. For fast double strokes, the drummer must maintain the proper stick handling, as discussed earlier.
The drummer should be mindful of the fulcrum stick holding position and rebound a stick onto a head multiple times. The double stroke roll is the perfect rudiment to begin this training and turn it into second nature.
When a drummer wants to make a hit sound thicker, the drum flam stroke can be used to achieve the desired sound. However, what is the flam stroke rudiment? The flam stroke rudiment is like a single stroke, by both the left and right, played at nearly the exact time, but slightly off.
The concept is that the drummer will hold one stick higher than the other and strike the drum head at nearly the same time with both sticks. The effect is a slightly overlapped hit sort of sound. Depending on how ‘tight’ the two single hits are to one another, the dynamic of the overall strike can be modulated by the drummer.
This rudiment seems to be simple, and by design, it is, however, it is much more challenging to master the finesse of the flam stroke.
For example, one practice flam pattern is to alternate the left and right sticks as to which is held higher, and thus which stick strikes the drum first.
The flam stroke rudiment helps a drummer practice finite control and hones in timing.
Drumming rudiments sometimes have funny names if one hasn’t become previously accustomed. The single paradiddle is one that falls into this category.
The concept of the paradiddle is relatively straightforward.
The paradiddle is a single alternating stroke, double stroke pattern.
Example Single Paradiddle Stick Pattern: L, R, L, L, R, L, R, R
The paradiddle is simply a combination pattern of the first two basic patterns. However, it is one of our five initial drumming rudiments that a drummer ought to learn first.
Again building upon a prior rudiment is the double paradiddle. This drumming rudiment takes a left, right alternating pattern from the first quarter of the single paradiddle and doubles the section. Here’s the example double paradiddle stick pattern: L, R, L, R, L, L, R, L, R, L, R, R
As one can see, it isn’t precisely doubling the entire single paradiddle pattern, just the first single stroke portion of the sequence.
There are many aspects to drumming, and the instrument can easily be considered one of the most challenging instruments to learn. With all four limbs, drummers must obtain skills that can be difficult to learn without proper techniques.
Following specific steps and learning the proper techniques is an essential part of learning how to drum. From posture to stick handling, to practicing proper rudiments, drumming is a difficult skill to learn, but it is also a highly rewarding one.
- “Drum Rudiment” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drum_rudiment, Accessed July 16, 2020.
- “Drum Rudiments” Free Drum Lessons by Drumeo, https://www.freedrumlessons.com/articles/drum-rudiments.php, Accessed July 16, 2020.
- “Flam – Learn To Play Flam Drum Rudiment!” 40 Drum Rudiments, http://www.40drumrudiments.com/flam/, Accessed July 16, 2020.
- James Payne, “Bass Drum Foot Position On The Pedal” YouTube, https://youtu.be/tX_Idv__Seg, Accessed July 16, 2020.
- “9000 Series Heavy Duty Hardware” DW Drums, http://www.dwdrums.com/hardware/hw.asp?hw=dwcp9100AL, Accessed July 16, 2020.