How to play drums is a great search engine query! Now, I’m going to assume that if you typed that into Google, you’re probably reading this (thank you) looking for an answer. So, here’s my attempt at it.
When trying to answer how to play drums I don’t think there are rights or wrongs, but only commonly accepted beliefs. These include:
- Solid time keeping is probably the most important aspect of playing the drums
- Certain specific technical best practices help you achieve power and speed
- Some styles, phrasings and grooves are more popular / trendy than others
- The chops (speed and technicality) versus pocket (groove and feel) debate will rage on
But beyond that, in terms of how you choose to play drums, the world is your oyster. That’s the beauty of it; freedom to express yourself however you like.
Jojo Mayer, the modern master drummer.
Any of the key skills that are required to play drums can be developed with practice. Put enough time, patience and perseverance, and you too can become a great drummer. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Tipping Point (2000), suggests that you can master anything if you spend around 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. And whilst this sounds daunting, it’s also reassuring that there’s somewhat of a measurable metric! But think about it, realistically, you don’t need 10,000 hours to become a decent drummer… But the quest is irresistible!
Now, for those who have a natural predisposition for the instrument, all it simply means is that things will come to them more easily. If you’re thinking “I have zero rhythm” before you’ve even sat down behind the kit, you’re setting yourself up for failure; don’t do this.
Below are what I consider to be the key technical / practical skills, and the transferable skills essential to address the how to play drums query.
Technical / practical
These are the skills directly linked with how to play drums.
Having good control of time and keeping a steady beat is paramount. It establishes trust with your audience as well as your bandmates. How? Well, audiences will feel taken care of because they know what to expect; there will be no sudden increases or decreases in tempo, and they’ll be able to focus only on shakin’ their booty.
On the other hand, having good time means you’re letting your bandmates play the best they can because you’re holding the beat down (in a good way). Similarly, having a good concept of time and being aware of tempos will make a song feel good. Think that if you play your favourite song too slow or too fast, it can break its feel and vibe.
To me being able to sight read doesn’t just help with being able to do gigs where charts are required, but practicing this skill, to me, reinforces your reaction times. In other words it strengthens the connection between your mind and body… Decreasing the time from the moment the thought is generated (or what you’ve just read) into you playing it.
Yes, you’re correct in thinking that how to play drums involves moving your hands and feet both at the same time and interdependently. But this isn’t something you’re born being able to do, it’s a skill you develop, and not just randomly either. One such technique used in developing this octopus-like ability is referred to as using ostinatos (short, repeating patterns). Here’s a great example of a melodic ostinato with the feet over hands soloing; follow this link and be wow’d.
Richard Kass – Drum Interpretations #1 – György Ligeti “Hungarian Rock”
When you see drummers playing at blazing tempos, they’re playing as tension free as they can. They achieve this by letting the stick (and pedals) do most of the work. Playing drums isn’t about “hitting” things, but more about throwing the sticks and controlling their bounce (known as the rebound). Having good technique means being able to do more, at faster tempos, more easily.
To play musically, a drummer needs to understand the music he or she is playing and be sympathetic to it. This is a big aspect of the how to play drums question. Obvious as it may seem, generally-speaking you wouldn’t play metal grooves with a jazz ensemble, unless that’s what’s required.
This which has several implications, from the gear you’d use (e.g. drum sizes and woods, drum skins, type of sticks, cymbals, etc), to the tuning of the drums, the techniques you’d use and the touch you’d need. This, to me, all falls under the “taste” umbrella; knowing what to play and when to do so.
Key transferable skills
These aren’t necessarily directly linked to the drums but are just as important as the technical ones.
Being able to actively listen to the music you’re playing, as well as paying attention to what each instrument is doing helps you be more musical. Likewise, being able to pay attention what your band members say is just as crucial. Listening is an important aspect of communication.
Physical and mental awareness
In order to develop good technique, being aware of your body and, likewise, knowing your mind in order to get the most out of your learning are crucial!
You need to be able to develop a consistent practice routine; carving out time into your daily schedule to sit behind the kit. Similarly, dedicated practice time versus playing along to songs for fun are different things altogether. The difference is that developing your skills involves the former, whilst having fun and decompressing involves the latter. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t incorporate play-alongs / fun to your practice.
Like I previously mentioned, getting good takes time. Patience is key in terms of achieving long-term results, but also being patient when learning something new; sometimes you have to practice something sloooowly at first to get it right. Only perfect practice makes perfect!
This is self-explanatory.
Hand in hand with open-mindedness, keeping a humble attitude will make you more receptive to learning new things from others. Particularly those who are farther along the road in their playing journey.
But again, all of these are completely useless unless you have the desire to learn, and put in the time.
I hope this has answered your question! If it didn’t, well, at least you didn’t get an answer like “one note at a time” or something of the sort. In any case, hopefully this has been insightful in other ways you weren’t expecting. Ultimately, there are no easy answers, or a magic trick, to the how to play drums conundrum (pun)!
If you’re keen on lessons get in touch and we’ll arrange a time! You can reach me by email, phone / SMS, or social media (links below):
So, here my thoughts and opinions on the topic of vintage and modern drums. There’s something inexplicably cool and desirable about vintage gear. It looks cool, it sounds great, and it always impresses people; producers love the old school stuff. Some argue that old gear may even be better made than their modern counterparts. Yet vintage can come at a price; but is it justified? Modern drums, by contrast, benefits from tried-and-tested manufacturing know-how, technological innovation, sound awesome too. Moreover, modern drums offer more in terms of variety, and has made available better quality drums available at more affordable prices.
As an outsider to this world of vintage drums, I wanted to explore, learn, and then compare the differences between vintage and modern drums.
What does vintage mean? The term generally refers to something of quality from the past that is back in fashion or is popular. For instance, certain drums from the 50s, 60s and 70s fall in this category. However, drums from the 80s and 90’s might not be qualify (irrespective of age and quality) as they’re not popular.
With this in mind, what is this popularity dictated by; the players that played them? Ludwig was popularised by Ringo and Bonham in the 60s and 70s respectively. Conversely, what makes stuff from the 80s less popular? With players such as Weckl or Porcaro, surely the drums they used must qualify, no? Apply the same logic to the 90s and popular players from this decade, and project into the future… Will Benny Greb’s or Jojo Mayer’s gear be considered vintage in the future?
John Bonham and his classic Ludwig Vistalite
Lots of questions, I know, and yet in my mind, recording technology (and trends in production) in each decade one has been a big implication in what we hear from vintage drums.
For the sake of this article, let’s stick to a vintage period that’s usually priced higher in for sale drum forums: 50s to the 70s.
As mentioned above, vintage drums definitely have a particular vibe, and not only do they sound good, look stunning and have their individual charm. Yet, it’s important to research and know the right (or best) decade for the brand you’ve got your eyes on in terms of sound, build quality, hardware, etc. And whilst this means you might pay a premium price, the drums are likely to maintain, or increase in value. Back in the day, things were built to last!
Conversely, depending on how well these drums have been looked after, they may be fragile and require lots of upkeep. As a result you may want to keep them for studio use only. Similarly, original spare parts may be difficult to get, which also means that not having all original parts brings the drums’ value down.
It’s worth noting that early manufacturing processes in the defined period may not have been as consistent, i.e. drum shells may not be fully round, nor the bearing edges be completely flat. On a similar note, and not wanting to go into too much detail, is wood quality. Mature woods are denser, which will affect the sound and character; so were woods used back then allowed to mature?
Last but not least is the issue of “pre-international” drum sizes. Prior to standardised drum sizes, some manufacturers, such as Premier, John Grey and some Gretsch kits, made their drums with slightly oversized diameters until the late 60s. This difference in size means that you need to purchase pre-international heads, which companies like Remo still make. You can find more information on the Not So Modern Drummer website here.
- Look beautiful
- Sounds great
- Producers and engineers love ‘em
- Increases in value over time
- Lots of upkeep
- Fragile; sometimes maybe kept in terrible conditions
- Difficult to get parts
- If not all original parts, devalues lots
- Only certain periods / decades are more valuable than others
When considering a modern set of drums, innovations in both manufacturing and the instrument’s development have benefited the needs of players of all levels and budgets. The general consensus these days is that entry-level kits from the top brands are built just as well as, or much better than, their vintage pro-level counterparts.
Some of these innovations have meant consistent modern shell construction, e.g. roundness and well-cut bearing edges (of which there are more options to suit more styles). Similarly, sound palettes have expanded thanks to experimentation with more woods, such as bubinga, oak, mahogany and new ‘sandwich’ combinations, such as the revolutionary Tama Starclassic Performer Birch / Bubinga. Furthermore, tiny details such as new resonance-giving tom mounts, or tension rods with higher thread count, like Drum Workshop’s True Pitch, give players more control over their sound.
Tama Starclassic Performer
Yet, unless your budget is very high, modern drums, could be argued, lack individual character. With some of the large drum companies now being owned by conglomerates, manufacturing is outsourced to the East in an effort to reduce costs where shells are manufactured for several brands under the same roof. And whilst this isn’t necessarily a negative, labour force know-how and craftsmanship, could be argued, are traded in for cost-savings.
- Better built
- More choice and options
- Better hardware
- Lack of individual character
- Homogenous manufacturing
- Cost-saving over craftsmanship
If you don’t want to compromise on modern manufacturing but still want that vintage vibe, look and sound, some manufacturers offer a solution to that. Companies like Gretsch’s Broadkaster is a re-issues of their classic formula, whilst others aim to recreate classic sounds of yore like Canopus’ Neo Vintage line all of which benefit from old school specs, but with modern know-how and technology.
Whether you’re in the market for a drum set, be it vintage or modern, at the end of the day, it’s the way it sounds to you that really matters. Just because a vintage set of drums is “a must”, unless you’re buying a collector’s piece, if you don’t like how it sounds, what’s the point? Same applies to a modern set! And if you’re after something that’s a bit more niche or custom, then smaller and independent companies like Q Drum Co. (USA), British Drum Co. (UK) might offer what you’re looking for.
Q Drum Co. Copper Drums
For vintage drums in the UK, contact David Jeans at Orange Tag Drums. And for all your modern drums needs in London, visit Bell Percussion!
In this article, we explore how to find your drumming roots.
I decided to get introspective and go about finding my drumming roots are to trace my lineage; my drumming family tree, if you will. Now, of course, I know who my favourite drummers are! But I wanted to look deeply into my earliest influences would shed a light into how these had an impact on my perception of rhythm, phrasing and groove.
In order to do this, I had chat with the person responsible for introducing me to music that influenced and inspired me at the earliest stages of my life; my mum. And, before we get going, it’s worth mentioning that I was born in 1983, which will help contextualise everything below.
MY DRUMMING ROOTS: 1980s & EARLY 1990s
During this period mum introduced me to some great artists and bands of a variety of different genres. Among these were Queen, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Phil Collins, John Denver, Elvis Presley, Neil Diamond, Barbara Streisand, and KC & The Sunshine Band.
It wasn’t actually until researching this article that I realised the impact that he’s in my life and where he fit in my drumming roots. Hal, who was part of the famous Wrecking Crew collective of session musicians in the 60s, played on most of the records that mum exposed me to. In retrospect, the take-away lesson from Hal was that, no matter who he was playing with, he played what the song and artist required of him.
The Beatles were my first favourite band; they probably still are – everything about them was catchy, and sounded great. Reflecting back on it, Ringo taught me that the drums could not only drive a song, but could also be catchy and a hook. In this context, a grooves don’t always have to have a solid back beat on 2 and 4. He taught me to appreciate the drums as a musically expressive instrument more than just a time keeper.
At the time, my knowledge of Queen extended only to the Greatest Hits records that were out at the time. Roger Taylor’s massive drum tones, feel, and songwriter approach to his parts were integral to the songs. In addition to this, how he chose to accent the back beat with slightly opened hi hats, like on Somebody To Love made a big impact on me.
Ralph Jones (Bill Haley & His Comets)
Listening to Bill Hayley’s music, there was an innocence to it particular to the 50’s with a rebellious streak that packed a punch. At the time rock ’n’ roll grooves were still being played swung over straight eighth guitar riffs, such as Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On and Jailhouse Rock. And yet, what captivated me about Jones was his snare sound on those records, and his feel, and those killer snare rolls. His playing also taught me about using the bass drums as a means to accent notes rather than just provide a steady pulse.
MY DRUMMING ROOTS: MID 1990s
With my drumming roots firmly planted, by the mid 1990s I was bit more aware of the world, myself as a person and already playing guitar for a couple of years. I was on my own journey of musical discovery. Important bands that I started discovering, in no particular order, were Dire Straits, Faith No More, Criminal, Megadeth, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Metallica and Cannibal Corpse, but the earliest ones from this period were as follows.
My first instrument was actually the guitar, so the focus of my musical foundations was more global than instrument-specific. I viewed songs as the sum of their parts with every component being as valuable as the other. With Nirvana writing such elegantly simple songs, Dave Grohl showed me that drum tracks needed to have energy; playing with intent and power. That keeping it simple is sometimes the best policy.
As for both my drumming roots and music development, Metallica are still one of those bands that I hold dear in my heart. I’m a huge fan of all their studio albums except, really, for Reload and St. Anger… With that in mind, Lars’ drum sounds, feel, grooves and fills made a huge impact on me. They complimented James Hetfield’s riffs flawlessly. Looking at the song-writing credits on their albums, Ulrich was right next to Hetfield, teaching me about partnerships and working with other musicians to draw the best out of a song. Yet more specifically, on a style level, Lars taught me all about landing on 1 but crashing on 2 with the snare. Signature stuff, and so effective!
Ok, so I was a bit of a late starter as a drummer, but as a kid, my cousin introduced me to Billy Cobham’s 1973 album Spectrum. This has got to give me some credibility as a drummer, I hope! The drums on that album were fast, furious, yet had a tribal feel about them. Their tone was open and natural, and the music was syncopated. But, beyond this, the album introduced me to odd time signatures early on. And because of this, and the fact that this stuff was never explained to me as a kid, odd time signatures were never about odd time signatures, but about feel and how music could flow in different ways.
Before Wikipedia was a CD version of the internet called Microsoft Encarta. On the ’95 edition, which we had, if you searched for “Rock music” or “Electric guitar”, you’d get some audio samples from a couple bands. One of these was Soundgarden’s track Nothing To Say” from 1988’s Screaming Life / Fopp. The sample was only 30 seconds long or so… But that slow, brooding groove, the grace notes, off-kilter accents over the dark riffs and soaring vocals became a big part of my drumming roots.
Finding my drumming roots has been a great exercise, and a fun one at that! It’s let me revisit great memories, and given me a better understanding of myself as a drummer. I would totally encourage you to do the same if you haven’t. If you’re interested in listening to the albums that I refer to above see the list below then check ‘em out on Spotify, Apple Music or preferred music streaming service.
The Beatles Help (1964), Rubber Soul (1965), Anthology 2 (1996), Beatles For Sale (1964), Live At The BBC (1994) – Drums: Ringo Starr
Phil Collins … But Seriously (1989) – Drums: Phil Collins
Dire Straits On Every Street (1991) – Drums: Jeff Porcaro, Manu Katché
Pearl Jam Ten (1991) – Drums: Dave Krusen, Vs. (1993) – Drums: Dave Abbruzzese
Nirvana Nevermind (1991) – Drums: Dave Grohl, Bleach (1989) – Drums: Chad Channing, Dale Grover
Soundgarden Screaming Life / Fopp (1990), Superunknown (1994) – Drums: Matt Cameron
Billy Cobham Spectrum (1973) – Drums: Billy Cobham
Megadeth Countdown To Extinction (1991), Youthanasia (1994) – Drums: Nick Menza
Queen Greatest Hits I (1981), Greatest Hits II (1991) – Drums: Roger Taylor
Metallica Master Of Puppets (1986), Metallica (1991) – Drums: Lars Ulrich
Bill Haley & His Comets Greatest Hits (N/A) – Drums: Ralph Jones
Criminal Victimzed (1994) – Drums: J.J. Vallejo
An ancient Chinese proverb says “to know the road ahead, ask those coming back”. In your journey to becoming a better drummer, there’s no doubt that you’ll want to learn from
the best drummers around; those who are most experienced. So, how to pick a great teacher is an important part of the process. With this mind, I wanted to bring some food for thought to the table when searching for tuition.
It starts with establishing a difference between a great drummer who teaches and a great drum teacher. Is there really a difference? I believe there is, so we’ll explore these below.
Let’s start with the things both groups have in common.
To my eyes there are basic elements that can make a great drummer and a great drum teacher very similar. At the end of the day, both groups are knowledgeable drummers!
When it comes to the differences, I believe the devil is in the detail. Great drummers come in many shapes and sizes. Some focus on technical proficiency and speed, some on pocket and feel, and some are great at both. And whilst some may specialise in different styles, they all have in common a great sense of time, musical sensibility, and are active listeners. Yet, when it comes to teaching, their approach might be more geared towards a lecture on a particular topic.
In contrast, a great drum teacher is the drummer who is able to provide guidance, nurture and develop skill. The focus, therefore, turns away from his / her own abilities and towards the student’s. This translates to understanding where you stand as a player, identifying your goals and getting to know how your mind works to use to effectively communicate with you. This goes in tandem with spotting areas that need development and creating tailored solutions for these. In doing so, being patient and supportive, keeping fun in mind, yet always challenge to push you forward.
To sum up, I think it’s important to acknowledge that some drummers are better teachers than others. This doesn’t make anyone worse or better drummers or musicians than the other by any stretch of the imagination. Some like teaching, and are great at it, some don’t like teaching and therefore prefer not to. Conversely, it’s important to be aware that some may like teaching but may not have the aptitude, whilst some may not like teaching but be reluctantly be good at it!
The point of this article hasn’t been to box any one into two distinct categories. On the contrary, I hope that the paragraphs above have served as a guide for you, the student (and let’s face it, we’re all students), to help you in choosing your drum teacher.
Ultimately, you should explore different teachers, and find what works for you. Go to sites like www.drumteachers.co.uk, or its sister sites www.drumteachers.ca (Canada) or www.drumteachers.info (USA) to help you find the right teacher for you.
You should totally quit your job… Be self-employed! Face it, you’re not actually happy with what you do, are you? You could be putting your skills to a more productive, creative and fulfilling use. Testament to this is that everyone’s got a little business idea they’ve always wanted pursue. And the beauty is that it can be anything; from making pottery, or starting a fashion blog to starting a record label, and beyond. You could even strike out on your own doing something your current company doesn’t do as well as you think.
Fact is that you won’t just benefit yourself, but you’ll be doing your country a favour too. Why? Small companies form an integral part of the commercial ecosystem, helping a country better cope with economic ups and downs.
So, here are a few don’ts that will hopefully be helpful when deciding to say “I’m out!”.
Don’t do it blindly
Have a plan; one that’s clear and with achievable goals. Keep an open mind to the possibility that things change / evolve with time; so let your plan be adaptable. As a small business, being too rigid is a bad idea. Have a mission statement (a couple of sentences that defines all your business activities). This will help you focus your plans and goals.
Don’t do it with little money in the bank
When you decide to ditch your soul-less job, make sure you have a good amount of savings. You’ll need this you until you start breaking even / making a profit. Taking out a loan can be a good idea, but it puts you in debt… Better to owe yourself than someone else, no?
Don’t be stubborn
Be persistent and tenacious, but don’t be stubborn.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
Remember, you’re not the first person to strike out on their own to do what you’re about to do. Part of your research should be to get in touch with your future competitors who, don’t forget, will also be your peers in your chosen industry. Ask them for advise; you’d be surprised how helpful they can be… You can battle it out with them later!
Don’t go throwing your money away
Budget well and spend your money wisely. For example, Google Adwords and social media ads are money better spent than a pricey advert in a couple of issues of a well-respected magazine! Furthermore, networking and word of mouth are key to success: relationships! You might be better off paying to go to networking events to make yourself known.
Don’t NOT seek investment
There are people out there who enjoy helping start-up businesses. These investors got so much cheddar that it’s not about money, but about the thrill of creating something successful and being part of it. Don’t rule out this possibility; it’s definitely worth exploring it.
Don’t think you’re not worth it
Be confident, and fight for what you want. If you don’t do it, nobody else will do it for you.
Don’t listen to other people
People will tell you whatever advise they feel is important based on their experience, like a nostalgic recounting of their successes and failures… And whilst you might want to listen to them, at the end of the day, it’s yourdecision to follow your heart, so do as you please! Same applies to this article, so do whatever the hell you want!
In relation to online drum lessons, I believe that content, particularly meaningful content, is a good thing. On the one hand, you can never have enough of it; good stuff is good stuff, and it’s good for everyone. That said, sometimes you can have too much of it. This can cause option paralysis; I mean, where on earth do you start, right?!
Having recently ventured into Drumeo’s website to have a look around, I found something that I didn’t fully sit with me. On their homepage, if you scroll down a little bit, there’s a table called “How Drumeo Compares To Other Alternatives”. Have a look!
At the end of the day, and understandably so, Drumeo is a business. Like many other businesses, they have a Sales and Marketing function to establish their brand, develop new business, attract customers, and make money. Absolutely no issue with this; in fact, they’re very good at it, and I really like what they do!
I do think, however, that there’s a bit of a misrepresentation of the other alternatives, in particular private face-to-face tuition. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like Drumeo positions its online lessons as a limitations-free, and better service than the other alternatives.
My point here is that it’s not better, just different; a part of the learning process. Therefore, I believe it’s worth making a couple of general observations about online lessons. For starters, generally-speaking, most people find it difficult to find or make time to play and practice… And we’ve all been there! Consequently, just because a resource is available 24/7, it does not mean people will take full advantage of it. In fact, a service like Drumeo could be thought of like a gym membership, many people may have it, but not make the most of it.
Another key aspect is instant feedback and its one way system. Students, in most cases, are not able to spot their own mistakes, which means mistakes can’t be corrected in real time, unlike having a tutor in the room. This risks the formation of bad habits. And furthermore, the online lessons will not adapt to the student’s learning style.
Additionally, much like with any learning environment, a large consideration in choosing who to learn from, is the personal relationship you have with your teacher. In an online environment, this is a one way interaction. In addition to this, if there’s something you don’t understand, you won’t be explained it in more than one way, in real time. This is something that a tutor can do effectively, as they get to know the student personally.
Again, the point here is not to have a go at Drumeo but perhaps provide a more balanced, or detailed view on their slightly misrepresentative table. At the end of the day, the best learning is a multi-faceted process, one whereby you use all the resources available to you to maximise your development!