Introduction: How to Play the Drums

Learning to play the drums is intimidating. People often tend to believe they have no rhythm or that drumming just requires too much natural talent, but this is not true. As is the case with any musical instrument, anyone can learn with enough practice and the right amount of discipline.  This instructable is designed for someone who wants to learn the basics and get on started on the right track to becoming a drummer.  This instructable is not an exhaustive guide containing everything you need to know, but it will introduce basic concepts and provide you with a guide to learning.  If you already know how to play the drums, you will gain little to no knowledge from this instructable, as it is all pretty basic.  The procedure I've outlined in these steps is my suggestion to the user.  This is the process I went through to learn, and I feel that it was successful.

Step 1: Acquire the Things You Need

Time. Practice makes perfect. It’s pretty simple; if you don’t invest the time to learn and practice, you will never get better. Spending a few hours a week practicing should be enough, but practicing more never hurt anybody.

• Drumsticks are the first thing you’ll need. A packaged set of sticks with multiple pairs can be purchased for $10 - $30.

Drum pad. Once you have something to drum with, you’ll need something to drum on. To avoid annoying your roommates or family, a drum pad is the best bet. Drum pads are relatively quiet and typical pad is around $20, although you can find them for north of $100 if you want one with a metronome.

Metronome (recommended). Drumming is all about keeping a steady tempo. A metronome is a device that produces metrical clicks at whatever tempo you choose.  This allows you to have more structure when you practice. Whether you think you have rhythm or not, a metronome is a must.  As previously stated, you can buy drum pads with metronomes built-in.  This would be a good investment.  A standalone metronome can cost anywhere between $10 and $100.

Note:  Make sure you buy a metronome that you can either hook up to a speaker or is loud enough to hear over your drum. 

Rudiment Book (recommended).  If you don’t know how to read music, it’s ok. Learning note values is not difficult. If you can do basic addition you can learn note values. This will help you in learning and practicing different rudiments, which are fundamental to drumming.  There are tons of different books out there, but they all have different variations of largely the same exercises.  Go online (I list a website at the end of this step) and find a book with a high user rating, and you should be set.  If you search, you can also find tons of exercises online for free.  

Lessons (recommended).  Unless you’re a prodigy, taking lessons from an experienced drummer will help you learn and hone your skills much faster than you would if were to practice on your own. There are also many video lessons online (sometimes for free) that are a viable alternative, but make no mistake that a video lesson is no replacement for a weekly one-on-one lesson.

Drum set. Once you learn the basics and have determined that drumming is something you'd like to continue with, a drum set is the next logical purchase.  You should be confident that you can and should move to the next step before you make this purchase.  It is important to note that this is not something you would want to go and purchase right away.  You wouldn't buy an expensive car if you didn't know how to drive, so you shouldn't buy a drum set unless you know what you're confident in your fundamental drumming skills.  You need to learn the basics and have them down long before you should consider making this purchase. You could literally spend tens of thousands of dollars on a drum set if you wanted to, but unless you’re a professional drummer a beginner or intermediate set for between $400 and $800 will do the job.

Note:  In my videos on this instructable I use an electronic drum set.  Electronic sets are great if you live in an apartment or somewhere you can't make a lot of noise.

Note:  Musician's Friend is a great website that sells practically anything music related that you could ever want.

Step 2: Learn the Basics

The first thing you need to learn is how to hold a drumstick.

There are basically two different techniques for holding drumsticks. They’re called “matched” and “traditional”. In both techniques, you hold the stick a few inches down from the center of the stick. Drumsticks never need to be held tight, as they need to bounce off the drum head.

For the matched technique:
1. Hold both sticks with the hand over the top of the stick.
Note: It is called matched because both sticks are held in the same way, or "matched".
2. Position the stick between the thumb and the area of the index finger between the two middle knuckles
3. Use the rest of your fingers to support the stick.  They should not be gripping the stick tightly at all.
4. Play the drum using strictly your wrist.  No motion should come from the arms.

Note: In all of my videos on this instructable I use the matched technique.  This is the most common technique and likely the only one you'll ever need to use. However, It is always good to be well rounded and learn both.

For the traditional  technique:
1. Hold the stick in your left hand from underneath the stick.
2. Let the base of the left stick rest on the curve between your thumb and index finger
3. Position the rest of the stick between your ring finger and index finger.
4. Let your middle finger lightly rest on top of the stick
5. Place your pinky finger below your ring finger for support.  
6.  Hold the opposite stick (the one in your right hand) using the "matched" technique (even though technically it is not matched since both hands are different).
7. Play the drum by rotating the left wrist and moving the right wrist up and down.

Note: In the past, the marching snare drum was carried on a sling over the right shoulder and was slanted down towards the right. The traditional technique exists because drummers needed their left hand to hit the drum at an angle.

Step 3: Learn Rudiments and Rolls

A rudiment is a pattern of sticking that serves as the basic building block for drumming. While there are many different rudiments, I will only give examples of a few of the basic ones.

• Single Stroke Roll (RLRL RLRL)

The single stroke roll is simply an alternate sticking pattern.  Alternate hitting the drum with each hand as shown in the video.

• Double Stroke Roll (RRLL RRLL)

A double stroke roll has alternate sticking, but instead of a single stroke of each stick you do a double stroke.

This can be done easily at slow tempos, but when the tempo is increased there is a different technique.
1. Hit the drum like you would normally
2. As the stick bounces back off the drum head, the bottom end of the stick will rebound into your fingers.
3.  As this happens, push the bottom of stick back to your palm.

• Paradiddle (RLRR LRLL)

A paradiddle is a very useful rudiment.  To understand it, it helps to be familiar with the term "diddle".  A diddle is a rudiment that consists of consecutive strokes played with the same hand.  A paradiddle is two strokes with alternating hands, and then two strokes with the same hand.  This allows you to lead off the next set of 4 stokes with your opposite hand.  This is especially useful when doing fills on the drum set, as you often need to crash (hit the crash cymbal) with a certain hand.

• Buzz (RLRL)

When you imagine a drum roll in your head, you are more than likely thinking of a buzz roll. To perform a buzz roll:
1. Use alternate sticking.  
2. Instead of letting the stick bounce off the drum head, press the stick back into the head creating a buzzing effect.

Note: When you do this fast and in succession, it sounds like a long buzz.

• Flam (LR RL)

A flam is a like a single stroke but with a small stroke of the opposite stick added in just before the main stroke (which is typically accented). To do a flam, hit both sticks against the drum head at almost the same time, but not exactly at the same time.  One stick should hit just before the other.

Other rudiments can be found here, or in your rudiment book (if you have one)

Step 4: Learn Drum Set Basics

Hopefully once you’ve reached this step, you’ve already spent a lot of time practicing. This is good, because you’ll need those practice habits to learn to play the drum set.

The best way to start is to first identify the type of music you want to play, although it is always good to be well rounded.

To play the drum set, you need to be familiar with the concept of a fill. A fill is a measure of almost pure improvisation that bridges the gap between sections of a song, often accented at the end by a hit of both the bass drum and crash cymbal.  You’ll notice some fills in my examples, but they are very basic.  

Playing the drum set takes a fair amount of coordination. You can develop this with practice.  If it is your first time sitting down at a drum set, you are likely fairly intimidated.  In order to be able to play basic beats and play what you want, you need to develop interdependence between your hands and feet.  Since a drum beat is the sum of all of it's parts, you will want to start with each part and go from there.

Note: In the picture below I have tagged and named each drum, and given a few descriptions where required. 

I will describe the process of arguably the most basic drum beat you could ever play.

1. Start playing the hi-hat with your right hand (left hand if you're left handed, which also means you'll want your set reversed).  

2. Keep doing this until you don't even have to think about it.  

3. While you're doing it, think of what you're playing as sets of 4 strokes (these are called measures) and start counting "1, 2, 3, 4" in your head.  This is called subdividing.

Note: Not all measures are divided into 4 beats, but this is outside the scope of this instructable.

4. Play the snare drum with your left hand on the third beat of each measure.  

5. Again, keep doing this until you don't even have to think about it.  It should be automatic.  You should now be playing the hi-hat on 1, 2, 3, and 4, and the snare drum on 3. 

6. Play the bass drum with your foot on the first beat of each measure.  So you should be playing the hi-hat on 1, 2, 3, and 4, the snare drum on 3, and the bass drum on 1.

This is a basic rock beat.

Note: I've included videos of me playing a few of the basic styles.  I have been playing the drums for over ten years, and the drum set for over eight years.  Let it be known that I don't claim to be that great, so these videos are not without flaws.

Step 5: Get Creative and Practice!

In my opinion, one of the coolest things about the drums is that you aren’t bound to a set of notes. You are instead bound to a tempo, and what you choose to do within that tempo is up to you. Once you have the basic beats down and familiarize yourself with playing the set, it’s time to get creative. This is where drumming becomes a lot of fun. Keep in mind that when it comes to musical talent, you are never a finished product. You can always get better.

 The method you use for practicing is up to you, but here is what I often do.

1. Play a basic beat. A basic beat would be anything relatively simple for whatever genre of music you desire.

2. Vary your beat. Take what you have and start making adjustments. There are tons of things you can do here. Add some bass drum beats here and there or open the hi-hat on a certain beat. This is where drumming is fun!

3. Vary your fills. Play a basic fill every few measures and then start to change it. Use some rudiments (paradiddle, double stroke roll) and move them around set. Try accenting different beats of the fill or make your fills take up an extra measure before going back into your beat.  There are limitless things you can do here.

Tip: Another thing I do when I practice is listen to music and play along with it.

That's it. The more often you practice, the more quickly you will become familiar with the drum set. Now go out and start a band!

Note: The videos I have included in this step are of me following this technique for a basic rock beat and gradually improvising more and more.  In the interest of time and file space, I did an accelerated version of the process I just described.  I would typically play each variation for longer than just a few measures.

Note:  Due to me filming these videos myself, you cannot see my feet at all.  You will hear me playing the bass with my right foot and opening the hi-hat with my left foot, however you can't see the hi-hat cymbals actually separate because there aren't any.  This is simulated by my electronic set.