Help us bang the drums!
July 24, 2010 10:15 PM   Subscribe

Help me and my sons (10, 7) learn to play the drums.

So we just scored an older Alesis DM-5 electronic drumset that the local store was closing out at a silly price.

I've been playing music (guitars, keys) for decades and am pretty good at programming pop/rock drums, but I've never learned to play them physically. My kids can both read basic music and play various instruments at a very basic level.

My own aim is to improve my drum programming which has gotten a bit static, and I'd like the kids to be able to hold down enough of a beat to jam with their friends. If they decide to get serious about drums we'll deal with that later... right now it's about having a quick blast.

We're all pretty much self-starters and much more interested in banging out our own stuff than working through a bunch of covers, but I would really like some good basic texts that I can use to make sure no-one is developing stupidly bad habits. The kids would also appreciate some good, basic, fun beats -- they enjoy a challenge so long as there is a reward at the end of it.

Lessons are probably not going to happen unless they come from me as they are already in lessons for other instruments and life is too short.

However I'm really encouraged by how FUN they consider the drums and I'd really like to harness that while managing to inject some useful stuff into their heads.

Books/DVDs are probably the most helpful, but really any resources you can point us at (which aren't on the first couple of pages of Google results) would be really helpful.

For instance: what little I've read about the Moeller method made a whole lot of sense and the kids immediately felt how much easier it made the drums to play. Stuff like that, which can be used immediately, is really what I'm after. They were also really interested in some of the rudiments and enjoyed figuring out what a paraparadiddle was -- they're both pretty mathematical and all that stuff makes sense to them.

Anyway, any suggestions gratefully received.
posted by unSane to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Drummerworld is a great resource with tons of video lessons and a very active set of forums with helpful, friendly people.

Other than that, try to balance your time between practicing fundamentals and having fun. Fundamentals are important and you need them to play, but if you aren't enjoying it, you'll dread practicing and won't get very far in general. Spend some time just jamming to songs even if you have no clue what you're doing. Not long enough to develop bad habits, but enough that you see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I'll add more later if I think of anything, but basically just have fun with it. And check out Drummerworld, it's a great site.
posted by DMan at 10:29 PM on July 24, 2010

My husband is a drummer. He took lessons as a teenager and did find them wildly successful, but he always says he really got his style and chops by playing along with his favorite bands (on tape, back in the day). Practice, practice, practice; play, play, play. In the beginning it's going to be slow going but the more they just get in there and bang around, the better they're going to get.
posted by cooker girl at 10:32 PM on July 24, 2010

Thinking back to my drumming education, it involved the following books (the first two in particular are pretty much universal for drummers):

Stick Control (Stone)
Syncopation (Ted Reed)
Realistic Rock Drum Method (Carmine Appice)
Modern Reading Text in 4/4 (Louis Bellson)

Appice's book is pretty applied and teaches you actual rhythms that drummers would use in rock songs, but the other three are simply pages and pages of rhythm patterns written out in standard music notation. They're basically scales for drummers. My teachers would give me a set of these and tell me to work at them at varying speeds, play with one hand, then the other, then with bass drum and hi-hat, then play 8ths on the hi-hat and play the patterns with the left hand, then play them with a jazz feel, and so on.

This is pretty much the formal method to learning drums. The problem is, it can be kind of a drag, and if overly emphasized, might turn someone off the instrument. You need to balance it with playing live along with songs and with a band, so you learn rhythm and drive and how to fill, and also so you have some fun on the instrument, which motivates you to practice the rudiments. Though that's kind of common sense for learning an instrument, I guess.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:50 PM on July 24, 2010

These lessons are great and can be viewed online for a a dollar or so with free previews. The teacher is the Jazz drumset professor at U of Michigan.
posted by lee at 1:25 AM on July 25, 2010

If learning a lot of stock rhythms is good, maybe you could all play a few games of HORSE.

Each person takes it in turn to pick a rhythm (out of the book, made it up, who cares) and play it for N bars. If they make a mistake, they lose that round. Otherwise, everyone else has to play the same rhythm for the same N bars. Anyone who makes a mistake must take a letter from the word HORSE. The last person to reach the full word HORSE wins.
posted by emilyw at 1:55 AM on July 25, 2010

lessons are sooooo borrrrrrinnnggg. be like me; skip the lessons and just find a good pair of noise-canceling headphones and hook it up to any mp3 player and just play along to songs. start off with just the basic beat of the song, and as you get better, add the embellishments, the ghost notes, the crash hits, etc. playing along to songs is way more fulfilling than trying to read guitar tab.
posted by Mach5 at 4:50 AM on July 25, 2010

Start with bongos.
posted by ovvl at 5:54 AM on July 25, 2010

Lessons really helped me out. The other thing you might consider (especially with the kids) is getting a copy of one of the various Rock Band games for your console of choice and an ION drum rocker brain - just unplug the DM5 brain and plug the triggers into it and you'll be ready to go.

For a good rudiments DVD, try Steve Dodge's 40 international drum rudiments.
posted by BZArcher at 7:06 AM on July 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mike Johnston is by far the best teacher I've seen doing stuff online (for me at any rate), and definitely recommend checking out some of his lessons and possibly looking at paying to get full access.

Apart from that, reading what I could find online and then playing along to music I like has gotten me further than I probably ever expected to get. Like Mach5 says, just working on songs you like until you get it... May take weeks, or months, but generally even stuff I could never attempt I have come back to months later and suddenly something has clicked, and that teaches me a whole new set of rudiments as well. The more I listen to stuff the more I get an idea for what is being #done on drums, even on stuff where I have no hope of ever playing it myself, I can hear and imagine exactly what is being done now.
posted by opsin at 9:58 AM on July 25, 2010

Stick response is important. I'd strongly recommend (at least in future) replacing the rubber snare pad on your electronic kit with something with a more realistic bounce.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:27 AM on July 25, 2010

If having fun is your primary goal, I would spend most of my time playing along with your favorite albums, as others have suggested. Start with simple pop and rock tunes, and emphasize playing solid time rather than keeping up with fancy fills and complex grooves. Good time and a solid feel are things that any decent drummer needs to emphasize.

In my experience, learning to play drums well can be a mysterious process. There's not really an "all-in-one" textbook or video to recommend. Ted Reed's Syncopation and Stone's Stick Control are classics, but they are really designed to be used in conjunction with a good teacher. (Flip through the pages and notice how little "instruction" these books contain.)

You and your kids might like to pick up one of the "play along" book+cd packages. A classic is Steve Houghton's Essential Styles series. Many of the styles will probably be more advanced than you need (you probably won't have much use for the 3/4-samba style), but the pop and rock tunes at the beginning can be fun (although the tunes themselves can be a little cheesy). Other books are out there, so maybe the thing to do is browse online or at a music store. The Steve Weiss music store is great for drums and percussion.

Besides play-alongs, one thing you could emphasize is independence/coordination of the limbs. There are lots of books on coordination out there. Maybe a good one for your purposes is Time Functioning Patterns by Gary Chaffee. It's really a book for advanced players, but I think it lays out the principles so well that even a beginner can make good use of it, especially one that already knows how to read music (as I assume you and your kids do).

Learning good technique is also important. You've already discovered the Moeller technique, so that's an excellent start. If you're looking for a good technique book, I would recommend Joe Morello's Master Studies. Again, not necessarily a beginner's book, but it has material that beginners can use.

As you look around at resources, feel free to memail me if you'd like further guidance. Good luck!
posted by crLLC at 7:31 AM on July 26, 2010

Thanks, everyone.

One supplemental question: open or closed handed? I've tried both and open handed I hit the snare with a lot more force and don't bash my sticks together or rap my knuckles, but my left hand is a lot more tentative on the hi-hats. I feel more comfortable right now closed but I'm thinking open may be the way to go in terms of developing power.
posted by unSane at 12:58 PM on July 26, 2010

Control and limb independence are what you'll need to move forward in your technique, not power. I can't really formulate a good argument as to why closed is better, aside from the fact that's it's standard (at the least it will be more convenient, as most kits assume you'll play closed). Power is best left until you can play with balance - relatively even volume on the hats, snare, and bass drum - or else your snare will dominate. This is quite a challenge and will take a long time to achieve, so don't stress about it.

If you're rapping your knuckles a lot, try adjusting the kit. Raise the seat and the hats, and lower the snare. But also keep in mind this is one of those things beginners do until they learn control. You might as well get comfortable with crossovers now instead of avoiding it while playing open.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:37 PM on July 26, 2010

Thanks, Paul, that helped.

I was surprised at the amount of progress I was able to make in just a couple of days, from not being able to play anything at all to being able to bash out most of the basic rock patterns I could think of with sloppy exuberance, and a few slaphappy fills thrown in as well. I think maybe programming drums has been a big help.
posted by unSane at 6:19 PM on July 26, 2010

Here's an update which you might find interesting. We ultimately ditched the electronic drums and bought a full kit (a used Premier XPK birch kit with Sabian cymbals) which is both much more fun and more importantly much much easier to play. It was a bit more -- but not that much more -- but I was instantly able to play a bunch of things which I'd had difficulty with on the electronic kit.
posted by unSane at 6:30 PM on August 12, 2010

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