Are you ready to start on the journey of a lifetime? Are you prepared to put your blood, sweat, and tears all towards one goal? Are you ready to be a drum god?
Great, but what if you don’t have a teacher or simply don’t have the money to pay for lessons? It might make you feel a bit better to know that many legendary drummers, like Ringo Starr, Mick Fleetwood, John Bonham, and even Buddy Rich, never took a day of lessons in their lives.
Don’t get me wrong – lessons can be great. But there are other ways to learn the craft if you need to. Here are my 8 top tips to teach yourself drums.
1 – Get Some Gear
Before you start moaning about the price, believe me, I hear you. After all, if you can’t afford lessons, how are you going to afford the hundreds or even thousands of dollars it takes to get set up with a fully decked-out drum kit? That’s not exactly what I mean by gear, at least not right away.
What you will need to get started
At a minimum, a couple of good pairs of sticks and a practice pad if you can’t get your hands on a single drum for the time being. Lots of brands make great sticks, and I’d recommend a fairly standard pair of 5A hickory sticks like the Vic Firth Classics. This is a mid-sized, durable stick that is a good starting point for any style of drumming.
For a practice pad, find something that will simulate the feel of actually beating on a drum. Evans RealFeel is a good pad that gives you the right amount of bounce, plus it’s double-sided should one side ever wear out. You can even get a cheaper package of a pad and sticks like this Donner pad for about $20.
Another excellent option
For when you want to teach yourself how to play the drums is to pick up an electronic drum pad. You don’t have to go crazy and buy something professional like the Roland Ocatapad. Alesis makes a decent drum pad for under $100, the Compactkit 4, which has plenty of different drum sounds to choose from and comes with play-along songs to practice to.
If you really can’t afford these basic tools, one of the best ways to start learning the drums is with just your hands on your things. It takes a little more dedication and a lot more imagination to do it this way, but it can be done. Most drumming is in your head anyway.
2 – Get a Metronome
One of the most important aspects of drumming is keeping great time. After all, the drummer is generally both the beatmaker and timekeeper of any band. Now you may have been born with a perfect sense of time. But for the rest of us, there’s a simple solution.
You can either pick up an hourglass and keep time by counting the individual grains of sand falling through it, or get yourself a metronome. And yes, a metronome is yet another cost (starting to see that drumming isn’t the world’s cheapest hobby?), but it’s definitely worth it.
A good digital metronome, like Kilq’s MetroPitch, costs less than 30 bucks, so it shouldn’t break your budget. This kind of metronome also works as an instrument tuner. You can set any tempo you want and either watch it for a visual beat or else plug in headphones to get yourself a click track.
A metronome will help you get your drum strokes on the right beats and build up a strong sense of time.
3 – Make a Practice Schedule
What a surprise, right? Believe it or not, you’ll need hundreds if not thousands of hours of practice to become a good drummer. The key to getting in that much practice time is to set yourself a dedicated schedule that you can stick to.
Set aside a few hour-long blocks of time each week, or 20 minutes a day every day, that you know you have free. Make sure you are going to be able to focus and also make noise (if you have drums). Even tapping on a practice pad can drive your friends and family to distraction, so it’s best to find somewhere private.
Get yourself set up comfortably. If you have a drum kit, great. If you’re playing on a practice pad or electronic drum pad, sit comfortably and set your pad on something about waist height. Make sure the level is comfortable – you’re going to be here a while.
4 – Find a Teacher
Hold on – isn’t this article called “Tips to Teach Yourself Drums”? Well sure, but nobody ever really starts drumming from scratch or just makes up beats out of thin air. The fundamentals of drumming are out there and fully available online, so there’s no need to waste your time and energy reinventing the wheel.
Get on YouTube and find yourself some vids for beginners. Try searching “start playing drums” and “drumming beginner,” and you’ll quickly find thousands of videos that teach you everything from how to hold your drum sticks to how to set up your drums, and of course, how to play some basic beats.
After a few videos, you’ll probably find you have a favorite presenter. In the beginner’s game, it’s all about how good the teacher is at communicating with the audience. So you’ll probably choose the person who you understand the best. Or else just the hottest drum teacher. Whatever.
5 – Learn Basic Beats
There are all sorts of different styles of drumming, but the basics are the basics. In most any beat, you will have one hand doing the timekeeping, usually on a hi-hat or ride cymbal. The other hand plays the strong beats on the snare drum, usually alternating with a foot on the bass drum. For beginners, the other foot gets a free pass at first.
To learn beats, listen to any song. Which piece of the drum kit is keeping time? Try to keep time along with it. If it’s too fast, try a slower song. And count along with your timekeeping. 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4. You’ll probably start in 4/4 or standard time since 99% of modern songs are in this time signature. This means there are 4 counts in every bar.
Where to start
The most basic beat I can think of is the good ol’ “boom-chick” beat. The “boom” is your foot on the bass drum, and the “chick” is your hand on the snare. Your other hand plays all the counts on the hi-hat.
Written out, it would look something like this:
1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4
Hi-hat: HH HH HH HH | HH HH HH HH
Bass and Snare: B S B S | B S B S
After you practice timekeeping, take a break from that and just try to bang along to the bass-snare-bass-snare alternation. When you think you’re ready, try mixing it all together. It won’t be easy, but keep at it and practice until it starts to feel natural. You just played your first beat!
6 – Learn Drum Notation
The way I wrote out that beat above isn’t in any real system. But it’s also not too far off from standard drum notation either. Each part of the drum kit that gets played in a beat, whether it be the bass, snare, hi-hat, crash, or toms, gets its own line.
The times you are meant to strike that part of the kit are marked out with symbols, spaced out according to the relative time between strikes. If you can get a handle on the basics of drum notation, a whole new world can open up to you.
No longer will you have to rely on simply playing along to the songs you know. You can look online and find the drum parts for songs of all types and see what the drummer actually plays on each of them.
7 – Practice Rudiments
There’s more to drumming than just striking the right drum at the right time. That’s sort of the brainy part – getting your uncoordinated limbs to start doing two, three, or four things all at once.
There’s also a bit of technique to master so that you can physically manage to play some of the beats and fills that you’ll hear your drum heroes pulling off. Things like rolls, triplets, paradiddles, and flams are all techniques that involve gripping your sticks slightly differently and striking in unusual patterns.
The Vic Firth website gives examples of the first 40 rudiments you can learn to help you master drumming. You can also find numerous YouTube videos showing you how to play them correctly.
8 – Protect Your Ears
Once you’ve started on your path to drumming domination and have managed to get yourself some great practice drums, don’t forget about the little guys who got you there. I don’t mean your two dozen IG followers. I mean your ears!
Rocking out on a drum kit can easily generate noise over 90 decibels and even up to 130 dB. Continued exposure to 90dB and over can cause hearing damage. So when you start to play, find some good in-ear monitors or earplugs to wear, like Vater’s Safe Sounds. Protecting your hearing from the start will help you be able to play for the rest of your life.
Looking for Great Drums?
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Also, have a look at our comprehensive reviews of the Best Bongos, the Best Congas, the Best Hang Drums, the Best Cajon Drums, the Best Drumsticks, and the Best Jazz Drum Sets currently on the market.
Tips to Teach Yourself Drums
So those are my top 8 tips for teaching yourself how to play the drums, and each one will add another level to your drumming game. Lessons are a great idea, too, and they can save you a lot of time and frustration. But if you have to or just really want to do it all on your own, don’t think for an instant that you can’t.
Put up some rock god posters on your walls. Walk around with your sticks in your back pocket. Be proud, my friend, for you are a drummer!
Until next time, let your music play.