Drums – Learning

There is a lot of wisdom over in the ‘Drums’ thread but as a new drummer I’m really interested to hear about other people’s learning journeys. (To be clear I’m talking here about playing a physical drum kit rather than a drum machine, though no doubt the line is blurred in some cases.)

I have been playing for about 6 months now. I wasn’t sure how committed I would be when I started, or how long I would persist for, but I have felt motivated to practice pretty much every day, and I’ve really enjoyed making progress. I don’t intend to stop any time soon.

My own experience has been of learning on an electronic kit, with some occasional turns on an acoustic kit. I had one face to face lesson at the beginning which was useful to an extent, but I wasn’t musically on the same page as the teacher so since then I have been learning myself using various online resources and books.

How did you learn? Any turning points in your progress? How do you practice and develop? What resources do you recommend?

One comment from a drum teacher’s video has stuck with me – we massively overestimate what we can achieve in a short period of time – and we massively underestimate what we can achieve over a long period of time. That is my experience from learning drumming so far. Seems highly relevant for other contexts too!

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Great thread!

I’m a year in and I’m really focused on a free jazz style of playing, so probably different than some as I’m not worried about timekeeping, though I do practice a little of that and my partner and I have a few pieces that call for it.

I’ve never had a formal lesson* and I’m 99% self-taught on the other instruments I play (bass and clawhammer banjo), so I’m out here going my own way. Fortunately there is a wealth of inspiration and advice online. I also just sent a video of me playing to an online music acquaintance and asked for a critique of my traditional grip and they had some useful pointers that were specific in the way that many videos on YouTube are not, s I can see how taking lessons could be very helpful. I tend to go at these things with obsessive interest and persistence and wind up with strengths and limitations that add up to my style.

Looking forward to reading this thread!

*Edit-I played snare drum in the sixth grade, but that didn’t last because they cut the band program at my school that year. They never cut any sports programs though!

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I think in-person lessons are mostly helpful for learning how to hold the sticks and have someone tell you about techniques you don’t know before you make bad habits muscle memory. I didn’t take a lesson until years after I started playing and realized I was making some mistakes that were making certain things harder than they needed to be.

My biggest tip for a beginner is don’t worry about limb independence. Don’t think of playing drums as playing multiple things at once. Whenever a friend sits down at a kit who doesn’t play they try to start with the hi-hat or kick and then add other parts on top but when you’re starting you don’t have the muscle memory to keep something going with one limb while playing something else with another.

Look at drum machine style notation of patterns. Play as slow as you can. Hit the individual drums on their own. Hit the simultaneous drums together. Think of it like playing chords if you’re coming from a guitar or piano background. Things either hit together or they don’t. It’s all one polyphonic pattern not multiple monophonic lines. Once it stops feeling weird play it faster.

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Interesting to hear your approach, did the choice to use traditional grip relate to the jazz style you’re playing in?

I don’t want to pretend it wasn’t 75% because it looks cool, lol! More seriously, my thoughts was that maybe in my search for intuitive phrases I might stumble onto more natural “jazzy” things, though I’m not really trying to swing exactly.

My trad grip feels pretty natural now and makes sense to me for my non-dominant (left) hand. I’m working on adjusting my left hand bounce and involving my left hand fingers more, but I am a ways off. Honestly my goal is to play something like blastbeats with a vintage bop sound in free jazz/experimental music settings. I can pull off very short bursts, so it seems working on technique makes the most sense. Some things I have tried were either premature on my part or not great for my personal hands.

I’ve noted a lot of trad grip variation in players I admire, so I don’t worry too much about doing it exactly one way. Nothing hurts and that’s my test- weakness from unused muscles following a new technique is one thing, but tension/pain is a big indicator for me to change what I’m doing.

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Realized I didn’t answer the actual questions.

Mostly self taught. When I had been playing bass for about a year (I think around 16) I got a drum set and just tried to play different beats. I took lessons for a bit years later which was helpful for basic technique but it wasn’t for me long term. Trial and error and playing with others mainly I guess for about 15 years off and on based on living conditions.

Being told where to hold the sticks to get rebound. Learning heel-toe (which I figured out naturally and then found out there was a name for) and shank-tip (which I saw on YouTube and made 16th notes way easier). Really any technique that minimizes effort.

Also learning to play open-handed. I was listening to Billy Cobham during COVID lockdown and figured I had more free time than ever to relearn how to play. I’m right handed so keeping time with my non-dominant hand felt weird at first but it opens up your access to the kit a lot. I still play cross handed when I’m playing fast hardcore beats or something since my right hand is stronger but open handed for less frantic stuff allows for some cool fills and hi-hat/ride patterns.

Mostly just playing. Sometimes with a metronome. Listening to others and trying to copy them.

Drumeo’s YouTube is a gold mine. If there is a drummer you particularly like watch them play.

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oh man. i love this thread!

i started when i was ten. i had already studied voice and some piano, but drums were just immediately “my” instrument. was always studying formally, always did everything i could - concert band, orchestra, marching band, jazz band, percussion ensemble, etc. went to undergrad and grad school for jazz performance, 26 years later i’m playing and teaching and it’s my favorite thing.

oh, so many turning points. every few years it seems like i discover something that “changes everything.” fell in love with jazz in my teens, that was a huge one. developing an ear for avant garde classical music was another. finding the monome community and electronic music as a whole was yet another. too many to name! some are musical turning points, some technical (oh man the traditional vs matched grip struggle), some setup/sound/tuning/etc.

these days i focus more on how fast i think than vocabulary or chops. i practice things that challenge coordination and my ear - one pattern over another, using a metronome in a way as to be extra challenging - never writing things down so i have to hear them. every now and then i’ll transcribe something that sounds interesting. i’m fortunate to be playing enough between bands and teaching that i don’t have to worry about “maintaining” anything, so when i practice, i can get conceptual and focus on my ear and mind.

i have a hard time finding free online resources that i like or agree with. a lot of people have gotten great things from popular youtube channels - it’s very possible (and likely!) that i’m just jaded since i’ve been studying for most of my life. if these channels help you, that’s great!

personally i recommend getting a teacher, preferably one in person, if it’s feasible for you. aside from that, i recommend using youtube as a live footage streaming service! watch drummers as they play. observe how they move. try to spend most of the time on drummers playing in bands as opposed to influencer types. just my two cents.

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Chiming in to say I am learning drums. My wife surprised me with an electronic kit for Christmas after we played a taiko drum game at an arcade. I’ve been having lessons for a couple of years and… still kind of suck, to be honest. I haven’t been practicing as much as I should and got really down about playing a few months ago. My teacher is a very patient man, though, and helped me through the rough patch (which, coincidentally, meant that I didn’t give up lessons).

I don’t think I’ll ever be a drummer in a band, but am finding the process of learning about rhythm and timing and dynamics to be really useful in other aspects of creative life.

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When approached in the right way, books like Stick Control or Progressive Steps to Syncopation are very deep wells of practice material. On the surface, Stick Control is nothing but series of Right/Left combinations. But now turn all of the “rights” into left hand on the snare, all of the “lefts” into the kick. Throw a ride pattern on top of it. Figuring out this approach to the book was huge for me. Also, always practicing with a metronome but have the clicks land on the &'s (or the a’s if you’re feeling really bold)

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That is good to hear. I started learning partly to help me with programming drums. I have already got a lot out of it in that regard, enough to have it made it very worthwhile already. So I guess there are a lot of possible goals to pursue. I’m also not sure about being a drummer in a band, but I would like to experience playing live with other musicians at some point.

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Drum books are excellent ways of learning, and they’re often laid out in a way to progressively challenge the student. I had previously faked my way through jazzy sounding drumming but after studying John Riley’s bop and post bop books a during lockdown my playing is much more convincing and I feel comfortable enough improvising.

Billy Martin of Medeski, Martin & Wood has a great book on claves that I would recommend for anyone looking to practice limb independence.

I think semi regular check ins with a teacher is super useful - when you’re too busy trying to keep time and keep your limbs moving it’s easy to ignore the fact that you’re playing the hi hat too loud or getting sloppy with your left leg.

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It’s also fun to set the metronome to 4/4 (or something else if you really want a challenge) and play with your kick and snare to that meter but play odd tuplet patterns with your hi-hat or ride. Idk how useful it is unless you’re going to play prog or math rock but it is an interesting puzzle to decipher.

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I dont play drums, but I spent some time over the last decade trying to figure out how to program and sound like a real drummer, or as close as I can get, using a VSTi drum app (mainly BFD, awful company tho).

I find this guy is waaaaaaaaay above my pay grade but he always gives me things to think about, and I hope some of it sinks into my programming/understanding of live drums by osmosis, and anyway, it feels relevant to this thread… :slight_smile:

EDIT: And if any drummers who stumble in here uses the KMI BopPad, I’d be interested in your experiences playing with it :slight_smile: https://www.keithmcmillen.com/products/boppad/

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I started taking lessons with a really good drum teacher/classically-trained musician when i was around 15. Kept at it until i graduated high school, at which point i quit the lessons to focus on college, which in hindisight was a mistake, but i got far enough that i’m still pretty decent.

In my opinion, you can get very far with just a couple of rudiment books and then just learning, listening, and playing whatever songs you like. My fave books are:

To be honest, besides the infrequent practicing with those books, air drumming to anything and everything was probably pivotal for me, haha, still do it to this day, but the callouses are not there all the time anymore, so it can get painful if i get too into it :joy:
I do believe, though, that in-person lessons can be very valuable, since (as everything else) bad habits picked up in the beginning are very hard to get rid of later on. But with all the youtubes and tiktoks these days, and it being easier to record oneself, perhaps it’s not as obligatory as it used to be.

Old video, because why not:

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Sonny Igoe taught me the lifetime exercise in the late 90s. It is a collection of the most important rudiments played one after the other to tempo. Great for stick control, technique, feel and timing.
Tommy Igoe teaches it. Google him.

I would be interested to hear more about this, as someone who has learned with matched grip, and wondered if I should get into learning traditional grip as well.

Some previous (less-than-complimentary) discussion about the BopPad in the MIDI That Goes Thwack thread…

… and the Erae Touch thread…

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sure!

so, since i was always studying all percussion, i learned with matched grip and didn’t really think much about it until high school, when i got into rudimental drumming. even though i played tenors, traditional grip on snare looked so cool - so i started figuring out how to hold the stick that way and got a very ground level of proficiency on it, and stuck with matched without too much turmoil.

in college, i was the only matched grip player in a collection of trad-grip jazz majors - including my mentor. so i decided i wanted to switch, i knew there wasn’t anything “magic” about the grip (my own mentor’s words - “it’s just a grip”), but i felt like it was a cool part of the instrument’s history and i wanted to check it out.

it mostly went okay. i was diving into jazz as a whole in a new way, so maybe some of my issues with the grip were hidden inside my general unfamiliarity with the genre. i was also playing in a hardcore punk band at the time, and did WGI on drumset… basically, it felt right to play matched in those situations, and i started to notice how i had a short little adjustment period every time i’d go into a different playing situation. i started to feel like both grips were suffering because of it.

one practice session, i was working on a bob moses transcription in john riley’s beyond bop drumming, and was getting frustrated with the movement and a tempo ceiling. i decided, “what the hell. i’ll try it matched.” and was amazed to find i had lost next to nothing, chops-wise, and that i was pretty easily able to push the transcription to the desired tempo. i decided that day that i would switch back to matched grip for everything. this was towards the end of undergrad!

what i realized as i returned to some basics to re-acclimate myself to the grip is that i had accidentally created two sides of my playing, technique-wise. i was mostly practicing comping patterns and general jazz timekeeping things. long story slightly shorter, playing time felt really great with trad grip - but movement and everything else never felt right. that has nothing to do with the grip itself! it’s just how i studied it, and my own physical tendencies.

i was happily matched for a while, and in grad school many years later flirted with the idea of returning to traditional grip, since i felt like it was a more comfortable position for my left arm. i was dealing with some body pain, and trad seemed to be a quick fix. i played exclusively trad for a month before eventually returning to matched, since i realized that either way, my left hand needed fixing. i’m also still playing mallets and other percussion so matched is just the best idea for me, to keep things consistent across instruments.

SO! the moral of the story here is, if you’re interested in traditional grip, absolutely check it out! it’s a part of our instrument’s history, it looks cool… why not? not to mention, there are zero drummers (at least that i know of) who only play trad grip. everyone has to know matched, either way. so, check it out! see how it feels!

every now and then, i’ll just trad grip in the middle of improvising, often to do a little thing i stole from milford graves, where he uses his left elbow to manipulate the pitch of the snare while also being able to strike the snare with the left stick. i’ve had a lot of back and forth but for me, but matched has been the move. listen to your body and do what works for you!

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Thanks for sharing that! I’ll definitely explore it and see if it takes me anywhere. I saw a video of Buddy Rich doing fast single rolls just with his left hand, using traditional grip of course. It seemed more plausible to achieve that with the grip he was using… I don’t know, I guess others could do it finger style with a matched grip. What he does bears little relation to anything I can do on a drum kit anyway! It’s interesting to me that different techniques might have different affordances, so I will keep it as an avenue to explore. Useful to hear your experiences though, I won’t get too hung up on trying to master it if it’s not inspiring me.

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You can check out Jojo Mayer too if you’ve never seen him, i wouldn’t mind reincarnating into his left hand.

I’ve fallen into some ig/tiktok hole of people doing a lot of push/pull and single-hand swipe rolls lately as well, so much good stuff out there (and there’s always the good old-fashioned rim rebound trick). Not helping me resist my long temptation to build a small e-kit.

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