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How to Play the Drums and Progressively Improve

By Yann, published on 22/09/2018 We Love Prof - AU > Music > Drums > Learning to Play the Acoustic Drums in a Progressive Way

“Few occupations pass the solitary hours more fruitfully than playing a musical instrument.” -Stephen Hough 

A Canadian team from McGill University in Montreal conducted an MRI study where the results were published in a magazine called Nature Neuroscience. The study went on to show that music increases the number of synaptic connections between neurons. It increases the number of neurons and neuronal prolongations which favours cerebral youth.

Whether you play the electric or acoustic guitar, violin, saxophone or set of drums, playing music is good for the brain and creativity.

But in order to learn how to play drums in an effective way what should be done?

Superprof is happy to provide some tips and tricks to learn how to play the drums with or without professional lessons.

The Drums: Knowing Your Own Motivation

It’s not enough to buy a drum set, have it at home and motivate yourself to play. If your motivation is strong at first it will slowly fade away as you learn.

For many people, the drums can seem like an easier instrument to learn in comparison to the electric guitar or trumpet but this line of thinking is completely incorrect.

Becoming a talented drummer requires a lot of work. You will need to know how to hold a rhythm, how to play binary or ternary rhythms, guide other instruments in the band all while knowing how to improvise and perform solos. Those are many components to remember!

We all have moments in the day, week, month and year when we are a lot more motivated than at other times. Sometimes procrastination grabs a hold of us for a long time, more than one would like!

The brain responds to stimulation. To motivate oneself, you need to identify the correct stimulations and put them in the correct place.

Motivation can occur at various different times:

  • After a yoga or meditation session,
  • After playing ball with the boys,
  • Listening to your favourite band,
  • After buying beautiful new drumsticks,
  • Directly after becoming part of a new band,
  • When talking to people that motivate and inspire you,
  • While you are creative writing,
  • During a beautiful walk in nature,
  • Going to a concert or an art exhibition,
  • After seeing a play or movie that you absolutely loved…

The point is to identify what motivates you. Make a list of around 15 to 20 activities that motivate you and participate in some of them when you feel a drop in motivation.

Big trees in the woods Sometimes you need to recharge your batteries by taking a long way in the woods. This can reset your priorities and get you motivated again! (Source: Visual Hunt)

Pressing that “motivation button” might do the trick because it sends the right stimulation to your brain; to work on playing a percussion instrument.

If you have the right motivation and perseverance, striking a cymbal, the hi-hat, a snare drum or bass drum with your sticks will come easily and you will impress your music teacher during beginner drum lessons!

If you need more ideas, the book 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself by Steve Chandler comes highly recommended.

Make Yourself a Playlist of Songs to Play on the Drums

Making a playlist of songs you like or want to play on the drums is a great way to progress.

When you do make this fantastic playlist, think about separating the easy pieces from the complicated pieces of music. This is a very good idea because it will prevent you from becoming unmotivated.

The songs of Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis and The Who are examples that are not quite attainable for beginners to play.

If you do not know which songs to include in your playlist, rely on and trust in the knowledge of your professional drum teacher. If you are self-teaching yourself, here is a great list of songs to choose by many talented musicians that are suitable for everyone’s personal music preferences:

  • Billie Jean by Michael Jackson,
  • Yellow by Coldplay,
  • Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes,
  • Karma Police by Radiohead,
  • Highway to Hell by AC/DC,
  • Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door by Bob Dylan,
  • Zombie by The Cranberries,
  • Imagine by John Lennon,
  • Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day,
  • Let Her Go by Passenger
  • Fresh by Kool and the Gang
  • Moonlight Serenade by Glenn Miller…

Other songs are available with their tablature and drum score on the internet by searching “songs for beginners on drums.”

Some choose songs such as Highway to Hell and Boulevard of Broken Dreams to start and with time by listening and repeating the music their bodies and minds assimilated when to hit and what to hit.

Highway to Hell Some AC/DC songs can be played by beginner drum students. (Source: Visual Hunt)

Learning how to play drums, just like learning guitar and other musical instruments, requires vigour, perseverance and motivation in order to progress. The first couple of months are always the most difficult but also the most beneficial because during this beginner stage one acquires the groove, drum sounds and rebounds. All of this is essential for the future.

Plan a Short Term Goal and Announce it Publicly

The whole world knows that in order to progress playing the cello, bass, drums and so on, you have to work hard on the basics. The fundamentals lay the foundation for the future.

You have probably already said this to yourself: “Tomorrow I am going to take this seriously.”

Maybe you kept your motivation for a day, a couple of days or even a few weeks before dropping your practice sessions.

Why do you think this happened? 

There are primarily 2 reasons for this. The first one is that maybe your short team goal was not SMART.

A SMART goal must meet 5 criteria in order to be realized:

  • Specific: you need to know clearly what you want to do. Do basic things, write new songs, find a new song you enjoy playing, reach the 260 bpm on the 16th notes, learning how to use the double drum pedal…
  • Measurable: for example, once a day, once a week, once a month. A helpful tip: display a calendar, where you can see it, dedicated to your goals and make legible notes to measure your current progress,
  • Acceptable: A goal must depend on you and not on others. Joining a band or doing more shows can prove to be problematic,
  • Realistic: Set yourself a realistic goal, don’t be too ambitious at the start! If you say that you will do 3 hours of rudiments a day after coming back from work at 8 pm, this could prove to be a bit complicated and unrealistic,
  • Temporarily Defined: for example, saying that you will do basic rudiments every day for 10 minutes for 1 month is different from saying that you’re going to learn the basics. Goals need to be defined because if they are you will more likely stick with them. If they are abstract that is the key to failure!

Another reason why many give up is that they did not tell anyone. A commitment or goal to oneself is rarely held…

Whereas if you tell your music instructor, parents, boyfriend, girlfriend or best friend that you will, for example, learn to play the double pedal on drums 10 minutes per day during the month, chances are your loved ones will regularly ask you about your progress.

Also, if you missed a day, you will have to find an excuse and let’s be honest no one likes having to justify themselves…

Perhaps in the future, you will have an intermediate musician to play with. This can highly motivate both parties during drumming lessons!

Planning Your Drumming Week

A routine does sound boring, but they are essential when you want to learn something.

Being organized and having a schedule will allow you to master the right touch when hitting the cymbals. It will also help you synchronize the movements of your left and right hand.

To do this, one must be completely aware of the work to be done in order to become a better player:

  • Working on the dissociation of the hands and feet (timing is everything!),
  • Knowing how to play a different rhythm with your right and left hand,
  • Relaxing your wrists,
  • Increasing your hitting power.

The next step is finding the time:

  • How many days a week do you want to dedicate to your instrument?
  • At what time of the day can you play?
  • Which days of the week are best?
  • For how long each session?

Write down your available time slots and book them so that you can progressively learn the acoustic drums!

Planning your drumming week helps to set up easy to follow habits. Good habits are essential for progress, especially when playing a musical instrument!

Another important key, also boring, but extremely effective: deliberate practice.

Geoff Colvin speaks about deliberate practice in his book Talent is Overrated. He explains that talent is overestimated and a person’s abilities are not the reason why people have incredible results whether they are athletes, musicians or artists.

Success comes from hard work, motivation and deliberate practice. 

Deliberate practice meets different criteria:

  • It focuses on a specific point: one must not play everything but centre his attention on a technical point such as the drum roll rudiments,
  • It allows one to observe their strengths and weaknesses. To become a better player it essential to observe progress.
  • It is an extremely repetitive training,
  • Very physically and mentally demanding: one must go beyond their comfort zone (pieces of music already known and techniques that they master) to reach their learning zone,
  • Deliberate practice is not fun. You cannot be in your comfort zone to progress.

However, if you decide to use this technique, do not forget to have fun too! For example, devote 30 minutes of your training session to deliberate practice and the rest of the time to having fun banging on the drums!

Practicing the Drums without Playing: Active Relaxation

Musical Accessories A metronome is very useful to improve the tempo even without the instrument in hand!  (Source: Visual Hunt)

Did you know that it is possible to practice the drums without the actual instrument?

The best way to do this is to take advantage of breaks from work or your daily life and participate in active relaxation as opposed to passive relaxation (watching TV, scrolling through your Facebook feed…).

10-minute breaks will allow you to work several elements:

  • The basics or drum rudiments: rolls, taps and strikes. Anything can become the instrument: the cushions on the sofa, your thighs, a table top etc.
  • Working on your listening skills: without the distraction of an instrument, attention can be focused on other things such as the groove, pulsation etc.
  • The tempo: with a metronome it is possible to improve tempo even without the instrument, just using a practice pad or your own hands (maybe one day while playing drums you will be able to achieve a 240bpm on the 16th note!).

Enjoy your moments away from the drums by listening to other artists, other styles of music (jazz, funk or rock genres that are popular on the drums), go to music festivals, learn to sing different rhythms, read magazines that offer tips about drumming, learn the music rhythm theory…

Definitions to Progressively Learn to Play Drums

What is a playing pad?

A playing pad is a plastic accessory covered with a sheet of rubber to practice at home without making too much noise. These playing pads are present on an electronic drum kit.

What does bpm mean?

BPM means beat per minute. It is an acronym used to express the heartbeat or tempo of the music being played.

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