Learn To Play Drums!

This article is for anyone who has ever wanted to play the drums. Read our tips and tricks for beginners, and you'll be well on your way to being a drummer!


Drum Kit

Drums Are Important

The drum is an ancient instrument. Drums were amongst the first ever human experiments in music. The drum kit however is a relatively new invention. As such, the drum kit is a blend of the primal and the contemporary. Drums are a powerful and easily identifiable 'untuned' instrument that create rhythms or patterns with different sounds and timbre. In addition, it is an instrument which often sits in the background and together with the bass creates the foundation for other instruments.

Parts of the Kit

The Bass Drum

The bass drum is the biggest drum in the kit and is played with a foot pedal. It sits at the centre of the setup. Some bass drums have a hole the size of a roll of duct tape in the front drum head. This allows the air inside the drum to escape and avoids putting too much pressure on the front drum head. This also allows for dampening the sound of the drum - try it out by folding a towel and lying it inside the bass drum, against the front or back drum head. You can change this up depending on what room you're playing in, and what best fits your sound.

The Snare Drum

The highest pitched drum in the kit is called the snare drum. It has strands of metal called snares attached to its underside, which is what gives it its unique sound and makes it great for 'rolls'. The metal snares vibrate against the drum when struck, giving it a multidimensional sound. It's worth spending some time getting to know this drum and how it sounds when you hit it in different ways. The snare is often used as a fundamental part in a basic beat, and you'll be using this a lot!

The Toms

Usually, a drum kit has three toms - rack tom 1 and 2, and a floor tom. When you hear big dramatic fills in a rock song, this is usually what's used! They have a deeper, fuller sound than the snare and are usually used for fills rather than keeping a basic beat.

Cymbals

There are usually three types of cymbals in a standard drum kit:

  • The hi hat: consists of two cymbals on top of each other. The hi hat can be controlled with the foot pedal and can be struck with the drum sticks also. You can make a shorter, staccato sound by hitting a closed hi hat (with your foot all the way down on the pedal) and a stronger, fuller sound with the hi hat open (foot off the pedal). You can also play just with the pedal - try pressing your foot on the pedal and see what you can do with that sound. For beginners, the hi hat is usually left closed, as using the foot pedal can be difficult to do at the same time as playing.
  • Ride cymbal: the ride cymbal a single cymbal. It often plays a similar part to the hi hat but with a more open sound.
  • Crash cymbal: the crash cymbal is used for highlighting certain points in the music e.g. with a hard strike in the start of the chorus. It has the fullest, loudest sound of the three cymbals. It can also be used in a climactic section of music to replace the hi hat and play the same rhythm but with more sustained, full hits.

Drumsticks

When finding the right drumsticks, it's best try out a few different styles and makes to see what's comfortable for you. Most drumsticks are made from hickory wood but they can also be made from maple, oak, aluminium, carbon fiber and plastic. It all depends on the sound you want but the most important things is making sure that they are comfortable to play with.

All manufacturers have a 7A model which is quite light, thin and short. These are great for children. Models 5A and 5B are quite an average size. Here you get more stick and more weight, so they're great for adults playing rock where you'll need to hit the drums harder.

Drum Stands

Drums sound best if they are placed on stands so that both drum heads can resonate freely. Placing the stands properly ensures there are no other elements effecting the vibration of the drums - for example, if one was against a wall, it could dampen the sound. It's also important to make sure that the toms which sit on the bass drum are suspended without making contact with any other part of the kit. This will ensure a clean sound. The tops of cymbal stands are padded to ensure that there is no contact between the metal from the stand and the cymbal, which could damage the cymbal. There is a plastic or rubber collar on the thread and two pieces of felt which go under and over the cymbal. There is also a winged screw attached on the top so the cymbal does not fall off if gets hit hard. If you are planning to play styles of music which require more powerful playing, investing in durable stands is a good idea to protect your precious drums and cymbals!

Bass Drum Pedal

The bass drum pedal or kick pedal is a very important part of the kit. Whilst they can be played without adjustment, it is possible to change the angle of the footplate, the speed of response via the spring and the length of the beater rod. The pedal should feel responsive, easy to play and the beater should strike on the centre line of the drum. To avoid damaging the wooden hoop of the bass drum, make sure a small piece of rubber is fitted where the pedal meets the drum. There are a few different techniques you can choose to play the bass drum - a great drum teacher will be able to talk you through these in your drum lessons. Heel up, heel down and foot and leg are just a few of the approaches you could implement to harness the full power of your leg muscles and make a deep, rich sound.


Setting up a Drum Kit

Here is an example of a standard drum set-up:



  • The bass drum is set up and the chair is set at a distance so the knee is not bent under 90 degrees.
  • Place the hi hat the same distance to the chair as the drum pedal and the chair.
  • The snare drum is placed in between the bass drum and the hi hat so the drummer can strike the centre, with the drum stick held normally and the elbow is placed out from the torso.
  • Toms are placed as shown above so they can be struck with ease.
  • The cymbals should be placed as shown above.

Tuning and Getting a Great Drum Sound

When adjusting the sound of the kit, a really important thing to consider is the drum heads. The drum heads impact on the sound and projection of the drum. A drum has two drum heads: One on the top called the batter and one on the bottom called the resonant. The batter head is the one which should be struck and the bottom one is for resonance and carrying the sound. Both drum heads impact the sound in different ways and through accurate tuning, can work together to find your perfect sound!

When a drum is in tune, it means that the drum head is even across the whole of the surface and you can hear the same note/pitch if you carefully strike the head where the tension rods are. You do not need to tune the two drum heads to the same pitch but this will give you more sustain.

When tuning a drum there are two ways to go about it:

  • Tuning from the bottom with a loose drumhead
  • Finetuning: tuning a head which is already tightened

A Blend of Art and Science

Tuning your drum takes practice but is a good way of exploring your drums and finding out what sounds good to you. Here's some advice for tuning a drum head from the start:

  • Your drum head should not be tight at the start
  • Tighten all the screws (tension rods) with your fingers before using a drum key. Finger-tight is the point where they just start to offer resistance.
  • Imagine the snare drum is a clock face and use the drum key to apply tension one turn at a time at opposite numbers on the clock. For example, one turn 12 o clock, 6 o clock, 3 o clock, 9 o clock until all the tension rods have been turned. Then test the sound and apply more, or less as desired.
  • Tuning drums is both art and science: use your ears and don't be worried if it takes some time to get a sound you like.

Changing Drum Heads

There are no definite rules for when to change drum heads since it often depends on how often and how hard you play. A good rule of thumb is that when the drums begin sounding less resonant and tuning the drum no longer helps, you should consider changing the drum heads

Choosing New Drum Heads

There are many different types of drum heads and manufactrers to choose from. There are many exciting options out there, but if you just want a new and functional setup for your kit, then all the biggest manufactorers like Remo, Evans and Aquarian have a good version of the "standard model".

The standard combination usually consists of a combination of single and double layered heads with or without coating.
Here you can find some of the most popular setups:
Standard-setup 1 - For playing heavily:

  • Top head: Clear double layered head, e.g. Remo Clear Emperor
  • Bottom head: Clear single layered head, e.g. Remo Clear Ambassador

Standard-setup 2 - For playing dynamically:

  • Top head: Clear single layered head, e.g. Evans G1 Coated
  • Bottom head: Clear single layered head, e.g. Evans G1 Clear

Tricks for Changing Drum Heads

Remove the old head by loosening the tension rods using the drum key. Give the exposed rim a good clean and place the new head on the drum. Give the hoop a clean and 'sit' this on top of the head. From here, apply tension using the fingers ad the key and help the new head settle by pressing it with both hands in the centre of the drum. From here, treat the new head as you would in section 4 and tune to your desired taste!


Learn to Play Your First Beat!

This is a rhythm common in pop and rock songs - you can play along with most songs in 4/4 time using this beat.

To start off with you should be sitting by the kit and hold the left drumstick over the snare drum. Then you will cross your right arm over the left in order for you to reach the hi hat.

Put your feet on the pedals (right on bass drum and left on hi hat). Your feet should be resting on your heels. Without thinking about the tempo, play the drums in this order:

  • First strike is the bass drum and hi hat together
  • Second strike is the hi hat alone
  • Third strike is the snare drum and hi hat
  • Fourth strike is the hi hat alone

This is Rock 1 in full without a tempo.

For finding a good starting tempo take a watch which shows second. Try going through the rhythm so the four beats fit with four seconds. When you have mastered this it is time to get the tempo up. It has to be about twice as quick so the first and third points fit with the seconds so the sequence now only takes two seconds.


Beginners - Some Tricks to Get You Started

Practise Makes Perfect!

The only way to get better is by practicing. It is important to remember that you will benefit more from 10 minutes a day every day, rather than practicing for an hour just before your lesson.

Co-ordination

Learning to play drums means that your hands and feet need to work together. In the start it will be easier for some than others but this is not central to your future development. Co-ordination, like anything else, can be trained and the key is to practice it no matter your level of skill.

Tempo - Tempo - Tempo!

When learning something new you should set your expectations as low as possible. Before you think about performance, practise at a slow tempo until you've got it right. Then, gradually increase the speed and you'll be away!

Break it Down!

If you have new material which is hard to learn, try focussing on the most difficult parts, and practising them in isolation. If it's a long phrase divide it into smaller parts. This makes it much more manageable and prevents you from just playing the whole piece through and learning your mistakes

Play Along with Music

Make your practise more exciting and rewarding by playing along with the track you're learning. This way, you'll get to hear how your part fits in with the whole ensemble. This is also good practise for playing with other people!


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