Best Way to Learn to Play the Drums – A Guide to Getting Started

 

So the first question you may be asking is – are the drums easy to learn? Short answer, no. The sticks may be very easy to pick up and bash a few heads (drums, not people) but it will take a lot of practice and dedication to master them. That shouldn’t put you off though, as we looked at, playing an instrument, especially the drums, is invaluable and will help you in your life in more ways than you can imagine. But before you can be the master of mesh, the ruler of rims, they symbol of cymbals, you must first learn the basics. That’s right, no guts no glory. Below we have looked at a few things to get you started. 

 

For Starters

Before we get into it, here is a complete standard 5-piece drumset, just so you know what to expect:

Setting up

Before you start practicing you will need to set up your kit. Here is a simple guide to get you up and running. As per the guide, if things feel a bit off, adjust your throne (the drum stool), play around with your hi-hat angles, move the tom drums. Once set up, you should feel comfortable hitting everything around you. This will be different for each player depending on their height and reach. Maybe you have one arm much shorter than the other? In which case you may want to adjust your ride cymbal so that it is closer to you. Play around with it but don’t worry too much as you will quite quickly start to feel where everything should be or if you are having to stretch. You should also make sure that you set up an inviting practice area. You want to make the space feel comfortable and welcoming so that you are encouraged to practice. Some people find it helpful to practice in front of a mirror so that they see how they look and check their posture.

 

Lessons

What can be the difference between a fantastic future drummer and one that struggles, are the lessons and learning the ABCs of drumming. Most of us at Rookie Rhythm have had lessons in one form or another. The worst thing you can do to yourself or your kid is to leave them with a teacher who isn’t clear and doesn’t instill the right techniques, habits or joy. Some teachers look like they would rather be elsewhere or it may be that they are using a cookie-cutter approach – a one lesson fits all style. This will lead to either you/your kid becoming disheartened or not improving at the rate you would hope. That is not to say that because progress is slow, that you should blame the teacher! Everyone has their own pace, but a few things you want to look for in a great teacher:

 

  • They can play the drums well! (This one’s a given, but crazily not always the case)
  • They are stressing the importance of technique and rudiments – this will often involve a high level of structure to lessons and practice. If you/your child are only playing along to snippets of songs and then practicing the same at home, then you might want to look elsewhere. Each week should be about improving a technique. A single roll on the Tom, then the drum, then cymbal, then with your weaker hand, then at 90BPM, then 120BPM, etc. Unfortunately, this is the proper way to progress and what will make you great in the long run – not how well you can play along with ACDC’s Back in Black on your 2nd lesson. When starting you should be looking at exercise books not songbooks (sorry!).
  • They teach you theory as well as the practical aspects (such as odd time signatures like the use of a ¾ and lesser-known drumming techniques ). Also that they try to give you a wider understanding of percussion, music and its history. It shows that they are engaged with the drums and that they are trying to engage you.
  • They should be positive – never negative! It is fine for them to constructively criticize and give advice to help you improve (it’s their job!), but if the comments are ‘you just aren’t good at this’ or ‘I don’t think you will be ever able to do this’ major warning bells should go off. Again this is obvious, but not always picked up on.

 

Parents – if your kid is having lessons then you should be able to pick up on their tone when you ask them how it was. If they seem a little defeated and this goes on for a while, try and find out why as it can often be because of poor teaching, even if they are reluctant to say it is. Often kids will blame themselves for not being good enough, even when the teacher is lousy. Probe into what the teacher has said about their skill and progress. Also if they are only practicing rock songs and nothing technical, change teachers, it will only hurt them in the long run. Drumming should be about having fun, mucking around and playing to your favorite songs/pieces, but trust us, if you don’t learn the basics then it will be not fun when you try to play your favorite 3/4 song at 175bpm. By nailing the basics you are setting yourself up for endless fun in the future. One thing we would say is that drum teachers are not babysitters. If your kid is under 5 then you probably don’t need to put them into lessons just yet.

 

Online lessons

Not everyone has the luxury, time or money to have private lessons in person. Thanks to the wonderful world wide web you can have lessons online now that are pretty incredible. The lessons that we would recommend are with Drumeo. Having been voted the best education website by DRUM! Magazine for 3 years in a row, they are pretty special. You have access to live lessons, community support and a host of other features. They have downloadable lessons to listen to offline, as well as a practice time-table and world-class teachers. Whilst nothing can beat having a one-on-one lesson with an incredible teacher, this comes pretty close all things considered and at $30 a month it is the cost of 1 lesson. In fact, if you sign up for a year you get a free drum practice pad which we have reviewed ourselves!

 

Free online lessons

If you are not ready to commit to lessons (which we would suggest you do as soon as you can), then there are a number of sites and videos on youtube that offer great introductory lessons and tips, such as how to play the rudiments. The following video is a great tutorial, giving a practice ‘track’ for beginners:

 

Look and Listen

An often overlooked area of playing an instrument. Observe others play, whether in person, on Youtube or even yourself! Whilst it usually seems like the best way to learn how to do something is to get stuck in, it can often be counter-productive. If you are building a TV cabinet you would want to read the instructions first, not just start building. The same applies here. If you watch others – how they hold the sticks, how they strike each head, how they work the pedals. These are invaluable bits of information that you have available to you. As we said above, listen to yourself. Record yourself playing and see if you are keeping in time with the metronome. The more time you spend watching others do what you are trying to do, the less time you willl take in doing it yourself!

Practice tips and mistakes

We have dedicated a page to the most common mistakes beginners make when learning and some tips to help get going. You can read it here.