How to Play

Learn how to play the Drums | Drums for Beginners

hi-hat
Written by Ryan

Learning how to play the drums isn’t easy. Fortunately, we’ve put together this guide of drums for beginners that should make things a little easier. If you don’t have any experience, don’t worry; we’ll show you that it’s entirely possible to learn how to play the drums for beginners.

Rhythm

The rhythm is one of the most important elements of music. It is the core of every song; you can change the key of a song, the pitch, even the instruments, and a song would still keep the same “vibe” or “feel”; but if you change the rhythm or the tempo, it becomes a completely different song.

We are all very receptive when it comes to rhythm. This is probably because it is the oldest form of music. Do you know what the first instrument was? Your palms. Our ancestors produced the first music by clapping, so the propensity towards rhythm is rooted in all of us. Although today’s drums are much more complex, the essence is basically the same.

In the text that follows, we are going to learn basic things about drums and how to play it. Let’s begin!

Drum elements

When it comes to drums, the number of elements can vary. Some forms of percussion have only one element (Cajon) and other can have a few dozen. However, there are couples of elements that can be defined as the basic drum set.

Bass drum

This is the biggest element of the drum. It is played with the foot by pressing the bass pedal. The standard kit has one pedal, although some drummers (usually in metal genres) are using two pedals, and it is called “double bass pedal”. Its main characteristic is that it produces a very low tone.

Snare drum

Unlike the bass, the share produces the high and sharp sound, because of the strained wires under its skin. It is played with a pair of wooden sticks. There are different ways to hold the sticks, but we will come back to it later.

Cymbals

This is a thin element that can be made of different kinds of alloys. There are many kinds of cymbals (crash, china, ride, splash, etc…) and they are usually differing by their diameter.

Hi-hat

It is an element that is constructed of two cymbals, one on top of the other. It is played with a stick, but it can also be modified with a foot; by pressing its pedal, the hi-hat is “closed” (i.e. the two cymbals are connected to each other) and by moving the foot out of it, the cymbals are “opened” (i.e. the cymbals are separated as the top one goes up).

The Toms

These elements are similar to the bass drum but just smaller. They are usually located above the share. The standard drum kit contains three toms; however, there can be two or even one. The smallest tom is located on the left side, the medium on its right side, and the biggest is called “floor tom” or just “floor” because it has three legs (so it is touching the floor, unlike the other two toms) and is located on the right side of the drummer.


Drumsticks

Although it is not actually part of the drums kit, sticks are a necessary element as drummers use them to hit the drums. There are many kinds of sticks – they are mainly differing in weight and size. The best advice is to try different sticks in order to find the one that suits you the best.

There are different ways to hold your sticks. It mostly depends on the music genre that you are into. There are two basic ways: Matched grips and Traditional grip.

 

Matched grip is called “matched” because you should hold both of your sticks in the same way. There are three categories: French grips, American grip, and German grip.

           

French grip

The sticks should be located between your thumb and your index finger.

           

German grip

Unlike the French, while using German grip your palms should be located from the side, rather than above the stick.

           

American grip

This kind of grip is somewhere in between previous two; your palms shouldn’t be on top and neither on the side, but somewhere in the between, at the 45-degree angle

 

The main characteristic of the traditional grip is that you should hold your sticks in different ways. With your right hand, you should hold your stick in American style and with your left hand just like it is represented in the picture on the right. These techniques are mostly used by jazz players, so you probably shouldn’t start with this one, but rather try to master it once you learn a few of matched grips.

Now, no matter what style you chose, you have to remember two things. First of all, you should never hold the sticks at the very end, but rather let approximately two or three centimeters of it out of your hand. This way you will gain more control and will be able to play more naturally. Besides this, you shouldn’t hold your sticks too tight. If you do so, not only that you will probably fell pain in your wrists and palms very fast, but you will also have troubles with keeping your beats sound smooth.


Metronome

Before you start practicing, you should probably consider getting a metronome. It is a device that is producing short, high, and repetitive notes in the equal time interval. This is a great device because it will allow you to build your playing skill in a proper way, i.e. to always keep a constant tempo. In the beginning, drummers tend to play fast fills that they have mastered, but on the other hand, parts that they don’t know very well, they play slower. This way you can lose a sense of a constant tempo and timing, and that is the most important thing for a drummer. Metronome won’t allow you to stay off the tempo, as you will clearly notice when your tempo doesn’t match the tempo of the metronome. You shouldn’t try and learn how to play the drums without a metronome.


Rudiments

Now that we have learned all of the parts of the drum, and proper ways to hold the stick, we can start practicing. The basic patterns for beginners are called rudiments. These are the basic skills that need to be adopted before you actually start to play drums. Now we will see what those rudiments are, but before that, just a little bill of necessary theory.

            4/4 time signature

4/4 time signature means that you have four beats in one bar. What is a bar? It is that interval from the first to the fourth beat. You just have to count it – 1, 2, 3, 4. That is a bar. It should be mentioned that there are many different time signature like 3/4, 7/8, etc, but for now, we will stick to the 4/4.

Of course, this can also be represented as 8/8 or 16/16 time signature; it is the same thing, just twice as many bets. There are more beats but they are also played faster. All of these time signatures are called even rhythms.

Let’s try to apply this to the share hits. The letter R means right hand and the letter L left;

4/4: R  L  R  L

What does this mean? It means that you have four beats in this bar and that you should hit the snare with your right hand, then left, right and left again. OK, let’s go further;

4/4 R  L  R  L
L  R  L  R

Now we have two bars – when you finish with first you should continue to the second one in the same tempo. The trick there is to end the first bar and to start the second one with the same hand (the 4th beat of the first bar and the 1st beat of the second one should be played with the same hand). This may be little tricky at the beginning, but it will feel natural in almost no time;

8/8 R  L  R  L  R  L  R  L

In this case, we have 8 beats per one bar. As you can see, you should hit your snare 8 times. Try to count while hitting the share, at least in the beginning until you get the feel. One tip, if you count, you should do it like this: one, two, three, four, five, six, SE, VEN. Split the seven into two parts, so the “ven” is eight. You should do this because seven has two syllables, so it may feel unnatural to pronounce two syllables and to play one beat. Besides this, you can also come up with the word that has 8 syllables, and to repeat it (for example, individualization);

4/4 R  L  R  R
L  R  L  L

This is another pattern for practice. The trick is to play the last two beats with the same hand. Remember to keep the constant tempo!

8/8  R  L  R  L  R  L  R  R
L  R  L  R  L  R  L  L

This is basically the same thing, just with more beats.

6/6  R  L  R  R  L  L
L  R  L  L  R  R

Don’t let this 6/6 time signature scare you; it is still an even rhythm. It’s the same thing like 4/4 just with two additional beats. This is so far the most complex pattern, so don’t worry if you can’t master it right away. Be patient and slow down as much as you need in order to play it properly, and then, gradually, speed up the tempo.


Snare and Bass

Once you have mastered these patterns it is time to include the bass drum as well. We will use the letter S to represent snare and letter B for bass.

4/4 B  S  B  S

In our first example, you should play alternately bass and share. If you are right-handed, you should play the share with your left hand, and vice versa (because you will play hi-hat with your dominant hand).

4/4 B  B  S  B

It this case, the trick is to finish the pattern with the bass and to start the next pattern with it.

8/8  B  B  S  S  B  B  S  S

This is 8/8 time signature so we have 8 beats – two bass and two shares alternately.


Beats

When you come to this point, you have almost learned to play drums (the beginner level of course; you can’t expect to become Lars Ulrich in a few weeks!). This is a very tricky process, as you have to train your hands and feet to work independently. The symbols for the bass and share are still the same (B and S), and we will add H, representing hi-hat.

4/4  H  H  H  H
B   S   B   S

This is the simplest version. Just in the previous examples, only that now you have hi-hat beats through the bar;

4/4  H  H  H  H
B   S        S

Now we miss one bass. Your right foot will probably press the pedal impulsively when you hit the hi-hat, but don’t worry because this is perfectly normal. With a little practice, you will manage to separate your hands and feet.

8/8 H  H  H  H  Ho  H  H  H  Ho
B  B   S          B  B   S

You have probably mentioned the new symbol Ho. When you see this symbol, it means that you should play “open hi-hat”. As you probably remember, “open hi-hat” is played when you move your left feet of the hi-hat pedal. So, on every 4th beat you should do precisely that – raise your foot from the pedal and hit hi-hat.

8/8  H  H  Ho  H  H  H  H  H
B  B    S    B   B  B   S  

It gets further complicated. This time you should play open hi-hat and share at the same time. So, you have to hit the hi-hat, hit the share, and to raise your feet from hi-hat pedal, all at the same time.


Songs to practice with

When you learn all of these patterns and feel comfortable playing them, you have almost learned to play drums. The other very important thing that you should practice is listening to songs, i.e. the drums in it, and to try to repeat it. We will mention a few songs that are relatively easy to play and can serve as a great training.

White Stripes – Seven nation army

This is one of the simpler songs there is. It starts with the bass and then the snare and hi-hat are added. This is a great song for the beginners.

Queen – We will rock you

Another very popular song that is basically consisted only of one bar that is repeating over and over again – B  B  S. You can also add floor tom to every of these beats.

Green Day – Wake me up when September ends

This song has a very catchy drum part at the beginning. It goes B  B  S three times and the fourth one has an open hi-hat at the end B  B  S  Ho. The rest of the song isn’t so simple, so you can either practice just this part, or you can play the whole song but in a simpler way. Just try to follow the tempo.


Conclusion

A lot of people think that playing the drums is an easy task. “There aren’t any notes” they often say. However, although the drum isn’t a melodically instrument, it is certainly the most important one in a band; it drummer makes a mistake, everything falls apart.

Of course, it is impossible to learn how to play drums overnight, so you shouldn’t expect to become a virtuoso in just a few months. In order to become skilled at playing drums, you have to take your practicing very seriously; with dedication and regular practice, everything can be achieved.

All in all, there are two most important things that you should remember when it comes to playing drums – keep practicing and keep the tempo constant.

About the author

Ryan

Hey! I'm Ryan and welcome to my site. I love everything musical; drums, guitar.. you name it, I've played it! I'm here to share my experiences, so head over to the contact page if you have any questions. Peace!

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