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The Ultimate Resource For Beginner Drummers


Want to learn how to play drums? Whether you’ve just bought your first kit or you aren’t sure how to get started, this resource covers the basics of drumming.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to choose the equipment that works for you, watch videos that show you how to start playing drums, and even learn to read music.

 


Parts of the drum set

Some people call it a ‘drum set’ and others call it a ‘drum kit’. Whatever you call it, the drums are an instrument that has no right or wrong when it comes to how many pieces, and which pieces, you can use to create sound. For the purpose of this guide, we’re going to focus on the essential components to get you started on the drums.

This image shows a basic five-piece kit, which typically includes these drums:

  1. Bass drum
  2. Snare drum
  3. High tom (or first tom)
  4. Mid tom (or second tom)
  5. Floor tom (or low tom)

When we say ‘pieces’, we’re referring to the total number of drums in the drum set.

This kit is set up for a right-handed drummer. If you’re left-handed and would like to learn to play leftie, you can reverse this setup so the snare is on your right side. However, if you get used to playing a left-handed kit, it may be harder in the future if you’re ever in a situation where you need to use someone else’s drums.

Bass drum: Also known as a ‘kick drum’, this is the biggest piece of the kit. It rests on the floor, has two small ‘legs’ to keep it in place, and gives your rhythms that low ‘boom’. Drummers use a bass drum pedal (or ‘kick pedal’) with a beater (or ‘mallet’) to strike the surface of the bass drum. Most drummers use a single pedal, but some drummers (especially metal and rock players) might use a double pedal for quick patterns.

Snare drum: This drum sits right in front of you. The snare wires beneath the drum vibrates when you strike it and gives it its signature sound. If you want to change the amount of ‘snare’ sound, this drum has a lever (or ‘throw off’) and dial you can use to adjust the tension.

Tom-tom: Usually abbreviated to ‘tom’, this drum can come in a variety of sizes and is useful when playing drum fills and tribal rhythms.

Hi-hats: The hi-hat is a combination of two cymbals that sit together. They’re mounted on a hi-hat stand, and the stand’s pedal allows the top hi-hat to open and close.

Crash cymbal: These cymbals can come in a variety of sizes and add a burst of sound when punctuating or accenting notes in your drum parts.

Ride cymbal: Rides are usually the biggest cymbal on the kit and they have the biggest surface area. You’re more likely to ‘ride’ (play consistently) on this cymbal, and it has a distinct ‘ping’ sound.

You’ll also need drumheads (or ‘skins’) for each drum. There’s usually one head on the top (the batter head) and one head on the bottom (the resonant head) that together give the drum its full sound.

And of course, you’ll need drumsticks so you can hit the thing. We’ll talk more about those in the next section.

Note: You don’t need drums to learn how to play drums. While that might sound like nonsense, it’s true – you can create rhythms on any surface (including couch cushions and pizza boxes). If you can’t afford acoustic drums or live in an apartment, here are some alternate ways to practice.

How to choose drum equipment

What works for one player won’t work for another. A jazz drummer won’t play exactly the same kit as a metal drummer, and a new drummer might choose different gear than a pro drummer. There’s no such thing as ‘the right equipment’.

You can buy drums, cymbals, and other equipment in person at a music store (the most popular chain retailers include Guitar Center in the U.S. and Long & McQuade in Canada) or a local drum shop. Some retailers sell used drum equipment – just ask and see what they have in stock. If you’d rather buy equipment online, you can check Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Amazon, Reverb.com or Sweetwater.com.

As a beginner, it’s wise to start with either a new entry-level kit or a good used kit. Both will be budget-friendly, and you can always upgrade to something better if you move forward with your new hobby. Once you’ve learned how to play drums, you can dial in your perfect sound.

When buying drums, you should know that the bigger the drum (in width or depth), the lower the sound. The same goes for many cymbals: the wider it is, the lower the pitch. But other factors can influence the sound of a drum or cymbal – including thickness – and you’ll learn about different materials and manufacturing methods in the next section.

How to choose which drums to buy

With so many different drum kits out there, where should you start? As a new drummer, how do you know if the drums are good or not? Do drums come in different sizes?

When talking about the size of a drum, we use inches to refer to the diameter across the drum (such as a 14” snare drum or a 22” bass drum).

The standard five-piece drum set typically comes in the following sizes:

  • Bass drum (20”-22”)
  • Snare drum (14”)
  • Three toms (12”/14”/16”)

You might also come across 18”-20” bass drums, 13” snare drums and 10” or 13” toms.

We use inches to refer to the depth of the drum as well. When shopping for drums, if you see two numbers in the specs for a drum (eg. 14” x 5.5”), the first number is usually the diameter across, and the second number is usually the depth. Since you’re just learning to play, don’t worry too much about the sizes for now.

What are drums made from?

The two most popular types of drums are acoustic drums – traditional ones made out of wood – and electronic drums, which require headphones or an amplifier to be heard. For the purpose of this guide, we’re going to talk about acoustic drums.

These are usually made of wood, although they can also be made of metal or acrylic. The most common woods are birch (punchy, light, and inexpensive) and maple (warm and full). You might also find drums made of oak, mahogany, walnut, and other exotic trees.

To make drums, layers (called ‘plies’) are glued together and pressed into drum shells. The manufacturer will add a metal hoop (or ‘rim’) to either end, connecting it to the drum with lugs and rods (which are used to hold the drumheads in place and tune the drum).

Parts of the drum

This is the anatomy of a tom:

These are the parts of a snare drum (the one on the right has been turned upside down):

The most popular drum brands

You’ll come across many drum companies, but the most popular ones for beginner drummers are Tama, Yamaha, and Pearl. You can also find great drums by Mapex and PDP, who both make excellent entry-level and professional kits, as well as Ludwig, DW, Sonor, Gretsch, and Ddrum.

The best drum sets for beginners include the Tama Rockstar, the Yamaha Stage Custom, and the Pearl Export. All of these sets are relatively affordable, solid and reliable, and can easily carry you forward as you improve.

Of course, you don’t need to buy drums from the most popular companies. There are many other brands, including boutique manufacturers (more expensive) and no-name kits (less expensive). Drums are an investment, and if you plan to make drumming your passion, it’s worth considering brands that have stood the test of time.

How much do drums cost?*

A drum kit can cost as little as a few hundred dollars, or set you back thousands of dollars. The sky’s the limit when it comes to the quality and quantity of drum gear. As a beginner, it’s up to you if you want to start with high quality equipment or learn with the bare basics. Your wallet might dictate that decision for you.

Some stores will sell no-name drum sets for as little as $150, but they’re often low quality and made from unconventional materials. If you’re on a tight budget, we recommend looking for a better used kit ($250-450), which is more likely to stand up to wear and tear.

If you’re buying a new drum set from an established brand, you can expect to spend around $750-1000 for an entry-level kit, around $1100-1800 for an intermediate/pro level kit, and $2500+ for the really high quality stuff.

Many drum makers also give you the option to order custom kits. Those can cost anywhere from $2500 to $10,000+.

*All prices in this guide are in USD and reflect retail prices for new products unless stated otherwise.

How to choose drumheads

They used to be made from animal skin (hence the term ‘drum skins’), but these days drumheads are made from a thin plastic called Mylar. Most heads come in one layer (single ply) or two layer (two-ply). Two-ply heads are thicker and are less likely to break if you’re playing heavy music.

The most common drumheads are either clear (transparent) or coated (opaque or white). Clear heads will sound brighter and have more attack/punch, and coated heads will sound warmer and more muted. Some drumheads even come with built-in muffling rings to give you a more focused sound.

Many drum sets already come with a set of heads installed. Depending on the quality of the kit, these original heads may be of equal quality to others on the market, or they may be of lower quality. Either way, a new lower quality drumhead will probably sound better than a damaged high quality one.

Remember that we measure the size of a drum in inches across? You’ll need to know this when buying drumheads to make sure you’re getting the right size for your drums.
 

Write down the sizes before you go to the store.

 
When is it time to get new drumheads? If you notice pock marks or dents – or even worse, a tear – you won’t be able to get a proper rebound. You might even find that the head has stretched out and you can’t get rid of the wrinkles no matter how much you tighten it. Drumheads can wear out over time, and it’s a good idea to replace them regularly. A studio drummer might change their heads for every recording, a touring drummer might change their heads every few weeks, and a hobby drummer might change their heads every year or two. It all depends on how often you play and how good you need the kit to sound.

The most popular drumhead brands

There are fewer drumhead companies on the market than drum companies, so you’re most likely to choose from the three most popular brands: Evans, Remo, and Aquarian. All three have a variety of options for virtually any drum, so you may want to try a few in the store (or look up a video comparing products) to decide which heads sound best to you.

If you’re just learning to play drums, try not to get caught up on the ‘perfect sound’ just yet. Most drumheads will work great for any beginner. Later in this guide, you’ll learn how to change drumheads and tune your drums.

How much do drumheads cost?

The price of a drumhead can be affected by size, construction, and quality. A 10” tom head might cost around $14-20, while a bass drum head can cost from $25 all the way to $80.

Still not sure where to start? Listen to this podcast all about choosing drumheads:

How to choose drumsticks

While many drumsticks look the same at first glance, there are some subtleties that can make a big difference to your sound or feel. Since sticks aren’t expensive, you could try out a few models before you settle on the ones that you like best.

The most common sizes of drumsticks are 2B, 5A, 5B, and 7A. The smaller the number, the ‘bigger’ the stick will feel. Out of these four sizes, the 2Bs will be the thickest and heaviest and the 7As will be the thinnest and lightest. Because they’re so versatile, the best drumsticks for beginners are 5A or 5B.

Most drumsticks come in the same standard length, but there are a few that are a bit longer. You’ll find that the tips come in different shapes and materials as well.

For a thorough article on how to choose drumsticks, click here!

What are drumsticks made from?

Most drumsticks are made of hickory wood. These are the best for most styles of drumming. Maple is another common material, but they’re more lightweight. For really strong sticks, try oak or polyurethane.

The most popular drumstick brands

Like drumheads, the market for drumsticks is relatively small. The most popular brands are Vic Firth, Promark, and Vater, and you can find these in virtually any music store. Zildjian and Regal Tip sticks are also very popular. You might also come across smaller brands like Los Cabos and Wincent, or niche brands like Ahead. You’ll be able to find standard-sized drumsticks from any of these companies.

How much do drumsticks cost?

The average price for a regular pair of drumsticks is around $15, but they can cost you anywhere from $2 (no-name) to $30 (ultra-strong polyurethane). The per-pair price goes down if you buy in bulk. As a new drummer, there’s nothing wrong with picking up a cheap pair of sticks from the bargain bin, but you may notice irregularities in the sticks or one may feel different from the other.

How to choose cymbals

Drummers use cymbals to add washes, accents, and patterns to the soundscape. They can come in many shapes, sizes and thicknesses. Like drums and sticks, there are so many options on the market that you might want to try out a few different models to see what you prefer.

Most cymbals are made of bronze. Entry-level cymbals are often made from a B8 formula (92% copper, 8% tin), while high-end cymbals are often made from a B20 formula (80% copper, 20% tin). Some low-end cymbals are made from brass but won’t sound as good as bronze.

Parts of the cymbal

Types of cymbals

These are the most common types of cymbals, and the ones you’ll need for your first kit:

Hi-hats: The hi-hat is a combination of two cymbals that sit together. They’re mounted on a hi-hat stand, and the stand’s pedal allows the top hi-hat to open and close.

Crash cymbal: These cymbals can come in a variety of sizes and add a burst of sound when punctuating or accenting notes in your drum parts.

Ride cymbal: Rides are usually the biggest cymbal on the kit and they have the biggest surface area. You’re more likely to ‘ride’ (play consistently) on this cymbal, and it has a distinct ‘ping’ sound.

You might also come across china cymbals (which look inverted and sound trashy when hit), splash cymbals (which look like tiny crashes), and other cymbals used to add more effects and sounds to songs. You don’t need these as a beginner drummer, but they can be really fun to add later.

The most popular cymbal brands

The four most prominent cymbal makers are Sabian, Zildjian, Paiste, and Meinl. The first two companies especially have many great options for both novice and pro drummers. These are the main brands, but there are many other companies on the market like Istanbul, Bosphorous, TRX, Soultone…the list goes on.

The best cymbals for beginners

If you’re buying new cymbals and want the most bang for your buck, you should consider getting an all-in-one cymbal pack of entry-level bronze cymbals like Zildjian ZBT or Sabian XSR. If you’re really strapped for cash, brass cymbals like Sabian SBr, Meinl HCS, or Zildjian Planet Z could be a good starting point. You can also often find quality used cymbals on your local classifieds.

How much do cymbals cost?

You can get low-end brass cymbals for under $40, but it’s better to get entry-level bronze cymbals for optimal sound and durability. Crash cymbals can cost anywhere from $30 to $700, ride cymbals from $75 to $650, and hi-hats from $60 to $750. As you can see, it’s tough to properly answer the question of how much cymbals cost.

Expect to spend around $80 for an entry-level crash, around $90 for an entry-level ride, and around $80 for entry-level hi-hats.

Check out a more thorough cymbal buying guide here.

How to choose drum hardware

If you bought a drum kit that didn’t come with hardware (such as a seat or cymbal stands), you’ll need to pick up a few more things to complete your setup.

These are the most common types of drum hardware, and you’ll need all of these to build a standard five-piece setup:

Drum throne: This is your seat. Thrones come with either three legs (most common) or four legs (most stable). They can be raised or lowered and typically have a round or tractor-style seat.

Cymbal stand: You’ll need one stand for each cymbal (except the hi-hats). These stands have three legs (single-braced, or double-braced for extra stability) and can be raised and lowered. The two most common types of cymbal stands (aside from the hi-hat stand) are straight stands and boom stands. A straight stand expands upwards like a telescope, and has limited placement options around your drums. A boom stand not only expands upwards, but it has an extra ‘arm’ that sticks out to the side and can bring the cymbal closer toward you.

Hi-hat stand: This stand uses a pedal to raise and lower the top hi-hat, which will give you a washy sound when it’s open and more of a ‘chick’ sound when closed.

Snare stand: Your snare goes on this stand! Use it to control the height and the angle of the drum.

Bass drum pedal: This connects to your bass drum. When you use your foot to push down the pedalboard, it lowers the mallet (‘beater’) to strike the front of the drum. The beater can be made of different materials like plastic, wood and felt.

The most popular drum hardware brands

When you’re looking for hardware, you’ll probably see names like Gibraltar, Pearl, Tama, DW, and Yamaha. Most of these companies also make drums (except Gibraltar, who specializes in hardware). Other drum companies make hardware as well.

If you’d like to buy a good all-around bass drum pedal that’s solid enough for both beginners and pros, consider a Tama Iron Cobra or a Pearl Eliminator.

How much does drum hardware cost?

You can save a lot of money by buying used hardware. If you’re opting for all new stuff, drum thrones can range from $30 (very basic) to $350 (sturdy, extra adjustable and comfortable). Hi-hat stands can range from $50 all the way to $500, but you can expect to spend about $80 on average.

Straight stands ($30-100) are usually a bit less expensive than boom stands ($40-150). You can buy a cheap snare stand for $25 or a good one for $100+. And for a single bass drum pedal, expect to spend anywhere from $40 (low end) to $150+ (pro).

Which earplugs should I buy?

When buying drum equipment for the first time, don’t forget the most important drum gear to have: ear protection. As one of the loudest instruments on the planet, drums can cause hearing loss if you aren’t careful. Make sure you protect your hearing from day one!

While you can start with foam earplugs, they tend to block out too much sound and can make it hard to hear yourself. You can look for high-fidelity silicone earplugs that only block the most dangerous frequencies.

If you’re going to be playing along to songs or with a metronome, you’ll either need over-ear protection (while you listen to the music through earbuds), isolation headphones, or in-ear headphones that don’t let your cymbals’ high frequencies damage your eardrums.

For more info on the types of hearing protection and how drummers can prevent hearing loss, read this article.

How to set up the drums

It’s time to put it all together! It might look like a lot of pieces, but once you’ve done it a few times, setting up shouldn’t take longer than ten or fifteen minutes. Most drums and cymbal stands can be adjusted by releasing and tightening wingnuts.

Here’s how to set up a standard right-handed kit:

First, make sure you have a carpet or rug for your drums to sit on so they don’t slide around.

Next, set up your throne and snare stand. Loosen the wingnut closest to the feet, pull out the legs, then tighten.

Now open up all of your cymbal stands (except the hi-hat stand). Loosen the wingnut closest to the feet, pull out the legs, then tighten once the legs are most of the way open (don’t open them 100% or your stand will lose balance). You can now loosen the telescoping sections of the stand, raise the stand to the height you want, and tighten again.

Pull out the legs of the hi-hat stand. Make sure the base of the pedal is touching the ground. You can now raise or lower the height.

Move these stands to the side. Sit on the throne and place your bass drum in front of your right foot, leaving a gap of a few inches between your toes and the front of the drum. It should be angled slightly to the right. Loosen the two legs on it (make sure they’re pointing away from you) and tighten them once the drum is stable.

Attach the bass drum pedal to the bass drum. Make sure that when your foot is resting on the pedal, it’s positioned slightly more forward than your knee (it should be more than a 90 degree angle).
Place the snare on the snare stand and set it down in front of you. Adjust the height of the stand if you need to. The top of the snare should be just below your belt buckle while sitting, and the drum should be relatively flat (a slight angle toward you is fine).

Position the hi-hat stand so your left foot rests naturally on the hi-hat pedal. You should angle this stand away from you (slightly to the left).

Add the toms. If you have a tom holder on the bass drum, the smallest tom should go on your left and the mid tom should go on the right. The last (and biggest) tom should be close to your right leg and easily accessible.

If you have two crash cymbal stands, make sure they’re equal height. Position one to the left of the high tom and one to the right of the mid tom. The stand you use for the ride cymbal is usually much lower than the crashes. Place it to your right, just over the floor tom.

Take your bottom hi-hat cymbal (the slightly heavier one) and place it on the stand so the rod goes through the middle. Make sure the clutch (it looks like a few screws and felts attached together) isn’t still on the stand. Now remove the bottom screw and felt from the clutch. Turn it upside down and place the top hi-hat (the lighter one with the logo and model name) upside down on it. Replace the felt and screw. Turn it right side up and place it on the hi-hat rod. You can now loosen and tighten this so it helps you open and close your hi-hats.

Finally, add the crash and ride cymbals. Loosen the top wingnut of the stand. Remove the wingnut and the top felt. Make sure there’s a plastic ‘sleeve’ (it prevents the cymbal from rubbing – metal on metal, so to speak). Place the cymbal on the stand so it rests on the bottom felt, then return the top felt and the wingnut. Don’t over-tighten or the cymbal won’t be able to move enough when you hit it. Adjust the stand so the cymbals are angled just slightly toward you (and we mean just).

How do you take down the drums? Do everything in reverse!

How to set up drums ergonomically

While you’re setting up your kit, you should be thinking about ergonomics: how to position everything so you’re comfortable and not straining or reaching. If you can find the setup that works best for your body, you’re less likely to end up with a stress injury.

How to put on a drumhead

You’ll need a drum key to change drumheads and tune your drums. It’s a small tool that comes with the drum set if you’re buying it new. If you bought used drums, you can buy a drum key for a few dollars at any music store. This is what it looks like:

Use the drum key to loosen the tension rods around the hoop. Once they’re all loose, pull them out and remove the hoop. If there was already an old head on the drum, remove it and use a damp cloth to wipe down the inside of the drum and the bearing edge (the top edge of the shell).

Place the new drumhead on the drum. Replace the hoop and put the tension rods back in. Use your fingers to screw in the rods until you start to feel resistance (aka ‘finger tight’). Now you’re ready to tune!

How to tune drums

“Tune drums? But isn’t it a rhythmic instrument?” Whether you want each of your drums to play a specific ‘note’ or not, you need to tune your drums to get a good sound. When you’re learning how to play drums, you’ll be more inspired to keep drumming if they sound and feel good.

As you move forward in your drumming journey, you’ll notice that every drummer has their own method for tuning drums. While they might be slightly different, all methods are generally based on the same foundation.

Here’s a video on the basics of drum tuning:

Whether it’s a snare drum, a bass drum or a tom, once you’ve finger tightened your tension rods, you’re ready to tune. Moving in a star pattern, give each tension rod a full turn. Hit the drum. If it sounds flat, give each rod another quarter turn. Make sure there are no wrinkles in the head.

For snare drums, you can make it tight right away. Toms don’t need as much tightening to find the sweet spot. Bass drums are all about attack and response, so you can start by tightening just enough to smooth out the wrinkles and try it out from there.

If your bass drum echoes too much for your liking, you can put a blanket or towel inside.

For a full walkthrough on tuning drums, check out the article here.

How to count music

A-one, a-two, a-one, two, three, four! The most important thing about drumming is keeping time. In a band, the other musicians are relying on you to be their metronome. You learned to count a long time ago, but here’s how to do it in the context of drumming.

In most popular music, the most important number is four. If you clap along to a song on the radio, you’re probably clapping on the quarter note pulse (one, two, three, four). A ‘bar’ (or ‘measure’) can be divided into four quarter notes. Being able to count bars and quarter notes will help you stay organized when you’re learning your first drum beats and fills.

So a bar can be subdivided into four quarter notes. You want to count each note in the bar from one to four. Sometimes, we’ll add ‘and’ (usually indicated with a plus sign, +) to stay on time and divide the counts further.

It’s easier to stay on track if you count out loud. Turn on a rock or pop song and try it while clapping or tapping on your legs.

A bar of four quarter notes can be divided into a bar of eight eighth notes, and can be further divided into six sixteenth notes or thirty-two thirty-second notes, but you’ll learn more about this in the next section.

How to read music

One amazing thing about music is that you don’t need to be able to read it in order to play it. Many drummers don’t know how to read music (or ‘charts’) and have learned just by feeling the groove. However, being able to read music not only helps you communicate with other musicians and learn new songs, but it can be a crucial skill if you decide to become a professional drummer.

Here are the very basic concepts you should know if you want to start reading drum music.

How to read sheet music (standard notation)

The staff

The staff is made up of lines and spaces, each of which represents a different part of the drum set. On the left hand side you might see two short vertical lines (‘percussion clef’), which indicates that you’re looking at drum music.

The legend

This is a roadmap that shows you which note in which position corresponds with which drum or cymbal.

Note and rest value

Each note (or rest, the absence of notes) has a value, or duration. In non-percussion music, this might mean that you hold a note for a certain period of time. For drums, all you need to worry about for now is the position of these notes or rests.

Time signatures

The time signature tells you how many beats (or pulses) are in a bar, and the note value (duration) of each beat. In a time signature, the number on top is the number of beats per bar, and the number on the bottom is the note value.

In 4/4, the pulse is based on four quarter notes.

In 3/4, the pulse is based on three quarter notes.

In 6/8, the pulse is based on six eighth notes.

These are just three common time signatures you’ll find in most music. You might also see 2/4, 5/4 and 7/8, among others.

Tempos

One other thing to note is how we talk about tempo (speed). We measure the rate we play music using Beats Per Minute (BPM). The ‘beat’ usually refers to the quarter note. 60 BPM is slow to mid tempo, and 120 BPM is relatively fast.

RLRL sticking

You might see some drum exercises labeled with Rs and Ls. These are usually to be played on one drum, and can be referred to as ‘sticking’. The R refers to striking the drum with the stick in your right hand, and the L refers to striking it with your left. So if you see RLRL, it means right hand/left hand/right hand/left hand. This combination of R and L can come in many variations, and can be played on the feet as well.

This exercise shows the sticking for a paradiddle:

How to read drum tabs

Many drummers find tabs (short for ‘tablature’) the easiest kind of music to read. Tabs use Xs and Os to display drum and cymbal hits, and are usually ordered from the lowest sounding piece (the bass drum at the bottom) to the highest sounding piece (the cymbals at the top).

Like a simplified version of standard notation, drum tabs use a staff and legend. These are the basic abbreviations you’ll see on tabs:

Drums (o)

B, BD, or K: Bass drum/Kick drum
S or SD: Snare drum
T1: First tom
T2: Second tom
FT or T3: Floor tom or third tom

Cymbals (x or X [accented])

H or HH: Hi-hat
C or CC: Crash cymbal
R or RC: Ride cymbal

How to hold drumsticks

Most drummers hold drumsticks using matched grip, which means both hands are in a similar downturned position. However, many marching drummers and jazz drummers use traditional grip, which has one hand turned up and one turned down. In this guide, we’ll focus on the common matched grip.

Relax your hand with your fingers slightly curled, kind of like how you’d hold a pencil. Place one stick into that hand so the butt of it touches the fleshy part of your palm (by your pinky finger). Most of the control will come from your thumb, index finger, and middle finger, so you can lightly let your ring and pinky fingers curl around the end of the stick. You want your hand to be around three-quarters of the way down the stick.

You can see how the drummer is loosely cradling the sticks in this picture:

Once your placement looks like this, turn your palms down:

When it comes to grip, many beginner drummers make two critical mistakes: ‘pointing’ the index finger along the stick, and holding the stick too tight (the ‘death grip’). Make sure you don’t pick up these bad habits!

There are three common positions in matched grip:

German grip: Palms down, useful when you want a lot of power in each hit.

American grip: Hands turned up slightly, a good ‘base’ position for most styles of playing.

French grip: Thumbs up, good for intricate, controlled playing, or a softer stroke.

Watch this video for a good introduction on how to hold drumsticks using matched grip:

Beginner drum lessons

Before you sit down

Listen to a song and tap your foot. You’re probably tapping on the quarter notes. You can also clap along or just ‘air drum’ on your legs to get the rhythm.

Earlier, we mentioned how important it is to count out loud while you’re learning. Be patient: most people don’t get the coordination or timing down their first try. It can take a few attempts (or more) to get the hang of it. Try not to get frustrated. Think about how great it’ll feel when you finally nail that beat!

Check out this podcast episode and 10 tips for new drummers.

How to use a metronome

A metronome uses a sound (often a click or beep) to keep time. When you’re learning to play drums – or any instrument, for that matter – you should practice with a metronome. The regular pulses will help you develop a good sense of time, emphasize an even amount of space between notes, and help you internalize different tempos.

For studio drummers or live drummers who rely on their drumming being able to match up with other instruments, lights, or samples, being able to play with a metronome is a critical skill.

Traditional metronomes are mechanical, but most modern versions (also known as a ‘click’) are digital. You can buy a dedicated electronic metronome or download an app like Pro Metronome, Tempo, or MetroTimer. Most digital metronomes come with a visual representation of each pulse as well.

Earlier in this guide, we mentioned that we measure the rate we play music using Beats Per Minute (BPM). Set the metronome to 50 BPM. Each pulse represents a quarter note. Count out loud along with it to get a sense of the beat: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +.

How to play drum beats

You can play an infinite number of patterns on the drums, but first you need to get the basics. This is your very first drum beat. Once you nail this, you’ll be able to play along to many of the songs you hear on the radio.

To build your first beat, focus on just three pieces: hi-hat, snare, and bass drum.

(In the video, Jared counts to eight. If it’s easier to follow along with the video for now and count twice as many numbers, you can ignore this paragraph. It all sounds the same in the end.)

For each quarter note ‘tap’, you want to tap twice on the hi-hat, making sure the notes are evenly spaced. Count to four – one and two and three and four – and then restart counting to four again. Add the snare drum when you count two and four.

Now forget about the snare drum. While you play the hi-hat part, add the bass drum on counts one and three.

Next, let’s put it all together. Bass drum on one and three, snare drum on two and four, and hi-hats the whole way through.

Start at 60 BPM. When you’re ready, you can speed it up. Try 65 BPM. When that’s solid, move up to 70. Eventually you’ll be able to do this at 100 BPM and faster, but that’s for later.

Once you can play this simple rock beat, try learning a basic drum fill.

How to play drum fills

A drum fill (short for ‘fill-in’) is a pattern or beat that is used to transition between two sections of music. Many songs use a drum fill to transition from a verse to a chorus. When practicing, you might play a fill at the end of a four or eight bar phrase.

Check out the first fill in this video:

For an article that walks you through the full video, click here.

This fill only lasts for one bar, so we call it a ‘one bar fill’. While counting out loud, you would play four notes on the snare (four eighth notes, that is – which takes the same amount of time to play as two quarter notes) followed by two notes on the first tom and two notes on the second tom. Watch the full video above for a detailed demonstration.

Try playing one bar of a simple rock beat, then playing this fill. You can also play three bars of that beat before going into the fill.

Ready to try some other ones?

(Click here to get the sheet music)

How to play rudiments

Rudiments are fundamental sticking patterns that help make up the foundation of drumming. Some are most commonly used in snare drumming and marching bands, but you can find many across all genres of music.

There are 40 essential drum rudiments. You’ve probably heard of the most common one: the single stroke roll, or drum roll! It alternates right and left strokes: RLRLRLRL.

The double stroke roll means playing two strokes on the right and two strokes on the left: RRLLRRLL.

The paradiddle combines single and double strokes: RLRRLRLL.

The flam is a quiet note played ever so slightly before a louder stroke: lR rL lR rL.

Once you’re comfortable with the basics of drumming, spice up your playing with these five ideas from The Best Beginner Drum Book.

How to warm up on drums

Warming up doesn’t just mean stretching before you play; it means that when you sit down, you play some simple exercises that will slowly get your blood flowing. Like many sports, drumming requires a lot of constant movement, and you want to make sure your body is warmed up.

Start with some dynamic stretches (like wrist circles, elbow pivots, and shoulder circles) 30 times in each direction.


 
In this video, you’ll learn how to warm up your hands with a few different exercises. This will also get you practicing some basic rudiments:

And in this video, you’ll learn how to warm up your whole body by moving around the drums. If it’s too fast right now, cut the tempo in half and slow down the video.

How to practice drums

Now that you have the basics of drumming, you’ll want to get into a regular practice routine in order to build muscle memory and stay in good playing shape. Like going to the gym, the more you do it, the more you want to do it. But unlike going to the gym, we think it’s a lot more fun from the get go!

If you don’t have regular access to a drum set, you can get a practice pad (a quiet rubber pad for practicing patterns). This is a good way to work on your sticking and keep your wrists and arms moving when you aren’t on the kit.

Always go into your practice routine with a plan. Make sure you know what you want to accomplish. Are you working on a specific beat? Are you trying to increase your speed by 10 BPM? Are you learning a new song? Keeping your practice sessions varied will also motivate you to play more.

Try to practice every day, whether you’re setting aside 30 minutes or two hours. If you can get into a regular routine, you’ll start finding it hard to skip practice and you’ll find that you’re improving more quickly than you’d ever imagined.

To read the full article on setting up a solid practice routine, click here.

How to find a drum teacher

While there’s nothing wrong with teaching yourself to play drums (especially with the abundance of online videos and resources), many new drummers can progress more quickly with a drum teacher. There are a few ways to find one.

Local drum lessons: You can talk to your local music shop and ask if they have any private drum teachers. You can also sometimes find teachers advertising in your local classifieds. With a local drum teacher, they will be able to see what you’re doing and quickly help you correct any issues.

Skype lessons: Many drummers offer remote lessons by Skype or other video platforms. You can find established players on social media (Instagram is a good start) and see if any of your favorite drummers give lessons. While they aren’t standing right beside you, they’ll still be able to get a good look at your technique and a good listen to your playing.

Online courses: Drum education platforms like Drumeo have a huge archive of video courses and lessons for any playing level and style. You’ll also be able to get curated lesson plans to make sure you’re staying on track and progressing in a natural way. And you can send in videos of you playing and have a teacher respond with tips and suggestions.

When looking for a drum teacher, you should find someone who you feel comfortable around, and who has at least a few years of teaching experience if possible. It should be easy to get a hold of your teacher, and you should like the way they play! They should ask you about your goals on the drums, and have a good sense of what you should and shouldn’t practice in order to get there. A good teacher holds you accountable to your goals and helps you achieve the mindset of a successful drummer.

In this podcast episode, we go more into depth on what to look for in a drum teacher and any red flags to watch out for:

The 7 biggest mistakes beginner drummers make

Before we had the internet, it was tough for new drummers to avoid common mistakes, especially those who didn’t have a private teacher. Luckily you wanted to get ahead of the game and get mentally prepared, which is how you found this guide, right?

These are 7 of the biggest mistakes you can make as a new drummer:

  1. Not warming up: Your body is part of your instrument. If you aren’t warmed up before you play, you won’t be able to do as much, you’re more likely to injure yourself, and you’re more likely to be sore later.
  2. Not protecting your ears: If you don’t wear ear protection, you could end up with hearing loss, which can affect not just your musical life, but the rest of your life.
  3. The ‘death grip’: This is the ultimate bad technique habit. Gripping your sticks too hard makes it difficult to play, won’t sound or feel good, and can cause an injury.
  4. Ignoring your non-dominant hand or foot: While learning new rhythms and techniques, many new drummers focus on their stronger hand or foot. If you ignore the weaker one, you risk sounding inconsistent (especially when playing drum fills) and might find it difficult to keep up with more difficult patterns.
  5. Practicing without a metronome: Yes, ‘the drummer is the metronome’, but you’re a human, not a robot. A metronome is key to making sure you’re keeping good time, especially in the beginning. You might play a beat and think you’re on time, but playing to a metronome will keep you honest, expose any inconsistencies, and make you a more solid drummer.
  6. Not setting goals: It’s fine if you just want to learn a few fun beats to get started. But many new drummers don’t know where to go from there. If you set goals, you know what to work toward. Without a destination, it’s easy to get lost along the way.
  7. Moving on before you’re ready: As they say, perfect practice makes perfect. It’s a bad idea to say you “good enough” about a skill or pattern before you’ve mastered it. You will end up struggling with more advanced skills because you don’t have a solid foundation. Take the time to perfect what you’re working on before you move forward.

Here’s what one of the world’s top drummers has to say about doing too much before you’re ready:

Get better faster

Learning to play drums is a patience game, no matter how you slice it. There’s no silver bullet or shortcut to getting better. It takes careful practice and repetition. But the more you work at it, the sooner you’ll improve and the more fun you’ll have.

Check out some of these beginner lessons that will help you get better faster:

Learn different genres

Most drummers will have a certain style of music they’re leaning toward. Whether it’s rock, jazz, metal, hip-hop, reggae, pop or something else, it’s worth learning the basics of several different genres so you can add more skills to your toolbox.

Want to learn all about playing your favorite style on drums? Click here to read some drummer-focused how-to guides on some of the most popular genres of music.

Here are some beginner lessons for jazz, latin, rock, and metal:

Are you ready to become an intermediate drummer?

How do you know when you’re really progressing, especially if you’re self-taught? Have you learned most of the essential skills? Are you ready to start looking for intermediate or advanced lessons? Watch this video to ‘test’ your knowledge of the basics.

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this guide and are looking for exercises and tips to help you get started on the drums, pick up a copy of The Best Beginner Drum Book.

For a full free video series that shows you step-by-step how to set up your drums, tune your drums, hold your drumsticks, read music, count, play songs and more, check out Getting Started On The Drums!

Samantha Landa

Samantha Landa is a Canadian metal drummer and writer. She currently plays with Dead Asylum and has spent the last few years as a touring session drummer with Nervosa and Introtyl. Sam has been featured by outlets such as Sick Drummer Magazine and DRUM! Magazine, and proudly endorses Mapex Drums, Sabian Cymbals and Los Cabos Drumsticks.

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