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How To Practice Drum Chops

Rob Mitzner  /  UPDATED Aug 22, 2022

Working on drum chops is a great way to improve your technique and come up with new ideas on the kit. It’s also tons of fun. The best part is that you don’t need to be an experienced player to benefit from this type of practicing. Beginners can chop it up too!

Here are a few tips to get you started. 

What are drum chops?

Drum chops are musical phrases played around the kit. They can be flashy bursts of notes (often linear patterns) or simple melodic phrases. They can be slow or fast. You can practice them by yourself or play them along with a tune in any musical style. Learning drum chops can help you be free on the kit and express yourself, and it’s also an awesome way to work on your listening skills. 

One common misconception about drum chops is that they’re just “the fastest thing you can play.” However, for drummers like Eric Moore, there’s always a musical method to the madness. 

When should you start working on chops?

If you’re just starting out on the instrument, it’s important to learn good technique and get the basics down before you get too deep into chops. The most important thing a drummer can do is play with good time. If you’re still working on keeping a steady beat, save the chops for later.

But once you’ve learned some rudiments and basic patterns, the world of drum chops will open up. For more experienced players, learning these techniques can unlock your mind to musical possibilities you didn’t even know existed.

Hand exercises

Rudiments are the foundation of everything. Sometimes when you hear a drummer play a phrase that sounds ridiculously complicated, they’re just using variations on basic rudiments and applying them around the kit. Paradiddles, flams, drags and ruffs are some of the most popular ones. Get familiar with them!

It’s also important to build technique with both hands and not become too dominant on one side. As some of the world’s best technical drummers will tell you, working on your weaker hand is a huge key to getting better (even though it can be awfully frustrating sometimes. Hint: practice with a metronome).

Foot exercises

It’s important not to forget your feet when you’re working on musical phrases. Simply adding a single bass drum note in the middle of the phrase can make it sound awesome. It’s important to get comfortable playing with your heel down on the bass drum pedal as well as with your toes up. There are also advanced concepts like the slide technique which can help you play with even more precision and speed.

Whether you play a double pedal or a single pedal, try playing some simple exercises with your feet (George Stone’s book Stick Control is a great place to start).

Putting it all together

Once you’ve spent time working on your limbs individually, you’ll be ready to try out some musical ideas around the drum kit. Choose a simple phrase that incorporates your hands and feet or grab some ideas here. It’s really important to start slowly and build the tempo gradually. Once you slow things down, it all seems possible! 

You want your phrasing to be clean, so keep your hands loose and your body relaxed, sit with good posture and try to avoid unnecessary movement. Gotta keep a good flow! Work on the interaction between your limbs and try some ideas out. Experiment and have fun with it. 

How To Make Your Chops Sound Interesting 

Play around with the rhythms

Drum chops are all about the phrasing and the way you group the notes. The best ones are often just slightly altered versions of the same idea, which is a concept called “permutations.” 

You can take your musical phrase and move the whole thing forward or back one 16th note, which is called rhythmic displacement

You can play it twice as fast or at half speed. 

You can use polyrhythms, which means playing two different rhythmic subdivisions at the same time (like playing in 4/4 time with your hands while your feet play in 3/4).

You can also change up your rhythmic groupings to make the phrase more interesting. One common mistake people make when they practice drum chops is just playing everything as fast 16th notes. Try playing your phrase as triplets. Use the same sticking and keep the order of the notes the same and suddenly you’ll have a whole new set of ideas at your fingertips.  

There are also more advanced polyrhythms like 5 over 4 that can take your chops to the next level. Check these out – they’ll blow your mind!

Change the texture

The other big part of making your drum chops interesting is being creative with the texture. Sometimes just changing where you play certain notes on the kit can breathe new life into your phrase. 

If your pattern is on the snare or toms, try moving one single note to the hi-hat. Or play all the left hand strokes with your bass drum instead. You can use the rims of the drums, or even the wall of the studio. Try some different textures and instrumentation and use your ears as your guide.

Change the sticking

Sometimes playing the same rhythm with different stickings can unlock new musical ideas. Try starting your phrase with the opposite hand, or use double strokes instead of singles. Use the rudiments as a starting point for coming up with fresh ideas. You can even try some fancy stuff like crossing your hands over each other or twirling a stick (note: don’t try this in a live playing situation until you’ve really got it down)!

The bottom line

There are no rules when you’re exploring new ideas on the kit, so the most important thing is to open your mind and try new things. Once you can play with solid time, good taste and dynamics, practicing drum chops is an awesome way to expand your musical vocabulary and take your drumming to the next level.

Looking for the fastest way to get faster? Click here for a free 10-day course – it’ll change the game!

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Rob Mitzner is a New York-based session drummer who has recorded for Billboard Top-10 charting albums, films and Broadway shows, performing live at Lincoln Center, The Smithsonian, Caesar’s Palace, The Blue Note, Boston Symphony Hall and for President Obama in his hometown of Washington D.C. He is currently working on a drum book with Hudson Music and has also been featured in Downbeat Magazine and Modern Drummer, and on the national TV show “Trending Today” on Vice. Rob holds a B.A. in Music and Political Science from Brown University, and is a proud endorser of Paiste Cymbals, Remo drum heads, Hendrix Drums, and Drumdots.

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