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How To Play the Drums for Beginners

By Yann, published on 21/02/2019 We Love Prof - AU > Music > Drums > Easy Drum Songs for Beginners

This is it. You have always wanted to learn to play the drums. Now you have finally bought your first drum set, taken your first drum lessons and know the difference between the snare drum, toms, bass drum and know which cymbals are the hi-hat and which the crash or ride.

Now, of course, any beginner drum lessons, including drum lessons for kids will include not just instruction in drum notation, but also pieces for practising your strokes, fills and drum rolls.

And this is all very nice, but of course, you want to learn how to play the drums so you can groove with the best bands out there, not spend all your time listening to a metronome and counting beats.

Naturally, it’s important for beginners to learn the rudiments of the craft. And that means doing the drudge work. Without a good technique, you won’t get the most out of your drum sets. Rolls need to be practised until they flow smoothly. You need to know stick control, how hitting with the butt or the head of your drum sticks changes the sound, what brushes can do and how to make the best of them. Improving your craft means practising, it means discipline.

That doesn’t mean you can’t use actual songs to practice your technique. Learning to integrate your drumwork into a musical piece is an essential part of being a musician.

So here are some easy drum songs you can play as a beginner, from some of your favourite bands.

Jazz Songs to Practice Along To

Easy jazz songs for drummers. Practise your jazz drumming with these easy songs. Photo credit: Deseronto Archives on Visual Hunt

Want to learn how to drum like Buddy Rich? Play jazz like Max Roach? Though learning to improvise is part of jazz music culture, you first need to understand the tempos of jazz, the rhythms used and the colour and tone of the music.

Drumming along to jazz numbers will help you in mastering your technique so you can move on to the more complicated and challenging music and improv that will eventually let you land your first gigs.

So here are some simple jazz numbers to play along to.

Cantaloupe Island by Herbie Hancock

You might find your drum teacher giving you Cantaloupe Island to help you with the concept of beat displacement.  Usually associated with the backbeat, the snare drums don’t fall exactly on the count, but slightly before or after it. It can be a full eighth note but is generally more around a 16th note. Original drummer Tony Williams also sometimes added buzz fills on these displaced beats.

It’s Only a Paper Moon

Salvaged from the oddly-named musical “The Great Magoo”, enough people had their hands in writing and composing this song, originally titled “If You Believed in Me” that it’s hard to tell exactly how it came about. It has been performed by a lot of different artists including Art Blakey. The latter’s interpretation is well worth listening to for any percussion student.

Bye Bye Blackbird – Miles Davis

Your drum teacher might have you play this jazz song. It has a lengthy drum solo that will help boost your confidence and give you plenty of experience in learning how to play the drum.

Hank Mobley: This I Dig of You

Some jazz compositions are irrepressible expressions of joy: the notes, the phrasing and the tones makes these scores (and you) feel like happiness is tangible, existent and running over from every cup.

If you were looking for an effervescent expression of jazz at its best to practice playing the drums to, take a listen to This I Dig of You – a fine jazz composition full of the above-mentioned qualities.

It is guaranteed you will not be able to refrain from tapping your toes to the slightly fast beat and, when it comes to the first drum solo, your hands, stickless, will be beating in time. Everything from the precise phrasing to the neat fills will call to your inner drummer.

And when the sorely underrated drummer Art Blakely flies into his solos (yes, there are two of them!), he makes full use of his sticks with rim shots, butt hits and lightning speed cymbal crashes.

If you are only just starting your drum lessons, perhaps only listening to this ditty would be enough to inspire you. However, if your drum teacher says you are ready to give it a go, don’t hold back!

Take Five by Dave Brubeck

Surely you know this one; if you’ve seen the 2016 film Sing, you heard Mike the Mouse blowing it out on his sax on the subway stairs.

Unfortunately, we were only treated to that small but memorable saxophone snippet that street musicians the world over know and play – including cartoon ones, apparently.

And, while nobody in their right musical ear would protest a well-played sax, unfortunately the fame of those few bars eclipses the intricate drumming that should be heard with it.

The opening snare and cymbal interplay alone are a worthy exercise that would promote any drummer’s skill; they challenge you to hear the discreet fills neatly tucked within the general mood of the song.

There is a generous solo that invokes the rest of the drum kit as well.

Interestingly enough, in contrast to the lighthearted flavour the sax brings, the drum solo sounds almost marshal, calling to mind troops lining up with determined intent rather than mice playfully breezing through their skills on the sax.

This composition is just over 5 minutes long, making it the most aptly named song on this list.

Every street musician playing sax knows Take Five! Street musicians the world over can blow Take Five on their sax! Source: Pixabay Credit: Candiix

Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue

If you already have a few drum lessons under your belt and if you know you way around a snare, you might try your hand at this mesmerising composition.

It starts gently, with brushes whisking across the snare’s head. Slowly, the listener is given to believe that this arrangement is just a prelude to expansion in expression…

And then, just before the two-minute mark, the tempo changes; brushes are stowed and actual sticks start beating out rhythm and tapping on cymbals.

There is elegant phrasing throughout this track that anyone taking drum lessons should aspire to master.

While it is a rather intricate score, the tempo is relaxed, giving beginners and intermediate drummers alike the opportunity to try their hand at it.

Besides, what a great tune to practice your brushwork to! 

Do you know the different drums that comprise a drum set?

Easy Classic Rock Songs to Play Along to

In My Life by the Beatles

This song has a mellow rhythm that’s perfect for beginners. The verse uses the bass drum, snare and hi-hat; then switches to the cymbals – both ride and hi-hat – for the chorus. The slow drumming makes switching the instrument constellation on your drum kit easy on you. It’s almost as though the Beatles had designed this song for teaching someone how to play the drums.

Ringo Starr offered simple and precise drum songs. Beatles songs often have a simple but very atmospheric drum part. Photo credit: alex.bretado on VisualHunt.com

Ticket to Ride by the Beatles

Another Beatles song for learning to play the drums is Ticket to Ride. It’s a bit more upbeat and rhythmic than In My Life, but that’s all the better for improving your timing. It doesn’t have any tricks. It begins with the bass, adding some colour with the toms and snare: bass-snare-bass-bass-snare-tom. You can practise double-handed strokes for a crisper tone.

Sunshine of Your Love by Cream

This song was first played by drumming legend Ginger Baker. It’s a wonderful song for practising your drum patterns and fills. It also teaches you how to use percussion instruments to create atmosphere in a song.

Learn more about Ginger and other famous drummers!

Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones

From the 1969 album “Let It Bleed”, this song is wonderful for beginners because it has a very classical rock’n’roll pattern using the bass drum, snare and ride cymbal. The start of the song is fairly stark, but has some drum fills later on. You can start by leaving them out, slowly adding them as you grow familiar with it.

Surfin’ USA by the Beach Boys

Within the same musical era but from across the pond, the Beach Boys were making a splash with their carefree songs promoting the California surfing culture.

Of their vast repertoire of harmony-rich tunes, Surfin’ USA is perhaps their best song to drum to.

This song has a medium tempo and a simple beat backing the verses – three counts on the kick drum, followed by a blast of cymbal and snare. And then, things pick up during the chorus…

Without much in the way of fills and hardly any rolls, this song is an ideal piece for beginners to practice changing phrases.

Bonus: if you watch the original video, you would see the simple drum kit Dennis Wilson plays on and, strangely enough, you would hear the drumbeats continue even though the drummer is taking a bow!

The Beach Boys promoted surf culture but, strangely enough did not rely heavily on drums! The Beach Boys did much to promote the surfing culture through their harmonies Source: Pixabay Credit: Free-Photos

Mellow Yellow by Donovan

If you are picking up drum sticks for the first time, this may be one of the easiest songs to master!

Unlike the aforementioned Beach Boys song, Mellow Yellow is drum-heavy, yet the licks are simple, incorporating a slow roll between verses and chorus.

The tempo never changes through the entirety of this dreamy-sounding song – he sounds like he’s singing in his sleep and the repetition of ‘mellow’ leads listeners to believe in a state of utter relaxation.

Would you believe Paul McCartney is doing both the whispering and backing vocals?

Mighty Quinn by Manfred Mann

This seemingly nonsensical tune, penned by American Bob Dylan but made famous by our Manfred Mann has a rather intricate drum line, almost inaudible for the cacophony that permeates throughout the song.

It is actually a rather forceful beat that drives the rest of the ditty – not that you’d think so hearing that bit of flute at the opening of the song.

In fact, this song is full of contradictions, both in the lyrics and in the musical phrasing.

At times regular in its tempo and innocuous in its beats; other times the drums emit a power that belies the absurdity (and grammatical incorrectness!) of the words. Perhaps you might think of the drums representing the Mighty Quinn himself?

You’ll not see nothing like the Mighty Quinn – an English teacher’s nightmare but a drummer’s paradise!

Easy Drum Songs From Your Favourite Rock Bands to Play Along To

Whether you want to learn how to play funk or heavy metal, you will need to know the typical drum beats, how to use that drum pedal and play drum rolls and fills.

How to play Billie Jean by Michael Jackson on drums

When you learn how to play the drums, you might want to try the percussion part of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. “Billie Jean” uses a common drumbeat often called the “money beat” that is very easy to learn.

The snare drum will land on the counts of two and four – commonly referred to as a backbeat. The bass drum comes down on one and three.

When you learn how to play this piece, learn the drum part first until you have the switch between snare and bass down pat.

Then you can add work with the pedal for the hi-hat. It is played as a one-eighth note – when counting, tap the cymbal pedal twice for each count. This will improve your hand-foot coordination.

Also discover the parts of modern drum kits

How to play Teenage Dream by Katie Perry on drums

For a lighter tune with a catchy rhythm, try “Teenage Dream” by Katie Perry. It’s a mid-tempo song with a simple, unassuming drum part that will teach you rudimental drumming techniques

AC/DC’s You Shook Me All Night Long

A characteristic part of rock band AC/DC’s drummer Phil Rudd’s style is the absolute absence of fills. This makes his songs a good way to learn how to play the drum. “You Shook Me All Night Long” does have a few particularities that will challenge you to bring your drumming up to another level. It’s mostly in the rhythm: the kick drums fall on the count of one and the OFFBEAT of three – that little hitch while you say “…three AND four”.

Heart-Shaped Box by Nirvana

First played by legendary drummer Dave Grohl, “Heart-Shaped Box” has a very simple drum melody, but is perfect for learning the little technical points, frills and rim clicks that liven up a drum solo. It’s also great for becoming well-rounded and working on your dynamics. Dave Grohl’s switch between the quiet verses to the heavier choruses is a wonderful example of the kind of control that makes drumming an art form.

Learn the drums with this beginner song. Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” is good beginner piece for the drums. Photo credit: Oldtasty on Visual hunt

Live Forever by Oasis

This song is well known for its drum intro. It’s a rewarding piece for beginner drum practice as it slowly moves up from the floor tom to the snare to increase the volume, setting up the guitar’s entrance. The ride cymbal gives the beat in eighth notes; the bass drum comes in once on the count of one and twice on three, with the floor tom coming in on two and four. Since these also correspond with cymbals, it will help you learn to synchronise cymbals and drums.

Black Sabbath’s Black Sabbath

An interesting song for the modern drummer – a slow song that still has a lot of tempo to it. Its perfect for experimenting with drum fills; it also has a triplet ride pattern that will challenge you as a beginner percussionist without being too hard to master at that skill level.

Metallica: Sad but true

Lars Ulrich has been much maligned as a drummer but the fact is he excels, especially in accent drumming: using cymbals strategically to underscore a lyrical phrase.

In no song is this more evident than in Sad But True. Note how the cymbal crashes highlight the accusations in every verse:

  • Hey-hey! I’m your life; I’m the one who takes you there.
  • They-they! They’ll betray; I’m your only true friend now!
  • You-You! You’re my mask; you’re my cover, my shelter
  • Do-do! Do my deeds; you’re the one who’s shamed!

On the surface, this song has a straightforward beat but is nevertheless a bit tricky to play.

It starts with a dragging groove; indeed it seems the beat itself wants to slow the song down! That impression is sustained through its offbeat fills and that long pause preceding the guitar solo.

Even the extended syllables and falling notes in the chorus gives the whole song a nightmarish quality… but it is a dream for many to master these unique drum licks!

Kashmir and Heartbreaker by Led Zepplin

Some call them snooze-inducing and others hypnotic while still others maintain they are the very pulse of the psychedelic era: whatever your personal opinion of the drum scores for these two songs, they are admittedly two of the best rock songs to play on the drums.

John Bonham had a way of marrying hi-hats with kick drums that gives both of these songs an almost innocuous (but not that easy to replicate) sound. Also, his transitions between verses does not steal focus from the song but rather tantalisingly introduces each section.

Both Kashmir and Heartbreaker are great songs for anyone playing beginner drums because of their intricacy and how the beats are phrased.

Practicing that hi-hat-kickdrum combo will surely improve your coordination and, the more you play it the more you will build strength, speed and stamina.

What more could anyone taking drum lessons want?

Judas Priest: Breaking the Law

Not only is this an extremely fun song to listen to, it resonates as an anthem of those who feel marginalised and disenfranchised… but you’d only know that if you listened carefully to the lyrics.

It’s beat is a bit faster than some of the other songs on this list. Still, many drummers aver that it is the perfect tempo to strive for in rock drumming.

Another reason this song is so great for anyone aspiring to learn the drums is that all of the drum parts are clearly heard and only a bit more complicated than ye average rock beat.

So, if you’ve mastered paradiddles and can play a range of fills already, you might try building up some speed by Breaking the Law!

Playing the song, of course; not actually engaging in crime.

Discover also the long history of drumming

How To Practice Well-Known Songs Outside of Drum Lessons

If you are truly passionate about playing the drums, you will want to practice during every spare minute. But you may be finding yourself frustrated by your usual drumming lessons and want something a little different to learn that kick technique or master the ride cymbal.

Play along with your favourite artists

Put your favourite music-video DVDs or band CDs into the player, check out your playlist or simply switch on YouTube and watch and listen to the drummer. Don’t try to follow the melody, simply tune in to the drumming voice or look exclusively at the drummer in a video. Listen to it a few times like that, then start drumming in time with the band’s lead drummer. If you’re unsure of the way it goes, the drum line for most pop and rock songs are available as sheet music through an online music shop. Learning how to read music is an essential skill in classic drum lessons.

Learn to play the drums with modern songs. Learning how to use your drum kit can be approached from several different angles. Photo credit: nikolaymarushchak on VisualHunt.com

Play along without your favourite artists

If you don’t have an ear for music that lets you keep up with the most famous drummers of all time, you can instead take online drum lessons. This YouTube channel walks you through how to play a great number of modern songs.

Or you can download a drum and bass track of the songs you want to master – basically, only the drum grooves from the song, without the guitar player or bass guitar or vocals.

Another option is to download a backing track that will have all the parts EXCEPT the drum, so you can play along with a virtual band without another drum set confusing you.

Get a tutor

Obviously, if regular drum lessons are not cutting it, you might not want to deal with yet another drum course with a teacher taking care of several different students at once. The best is to go for a private tutor or consider online drum lessons. Though it can be more expensive, it might be a good idea to have the teacher come to your home and give a private lesson. He or she can work more intensely, as well as to motivate you to stick with drums with interesting pieces to practice on.

Superprof has a wide selection of drum tutors near you to help you improve your drumming. Why not check out our drum lessons Edinburgh, or London?

Now learn more about the drums and drumming…

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