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.

 

Taken from the Drummer's Resource Podcast website.

Jojo Mayer, the modern master drummer.

 

Key skills

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.

Time

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.

Reading

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.

Co-ordination

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”

Technique

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.

Musicality 

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.

Listening

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!

Discipline

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.

Patience

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!

Open-mindedness

This is self-explanatory.

Humility

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):

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