Help me be a drummer
November 19, 2010 7:29 PM   Subscribe

I want to learn to play the drums and need advice on how to start a new hobby from our talented metadrummers out there!

I played brass instruments in the 70's so have music knowledge however here we go with a new hobby. I played around on drums when I was a kid but now have the urge and time and quite a lot of different musical tastes to pursue drumming.. From the beginning what do I need to buy and what is a good starting drum set to get. Musicians friend has been mentioned as a good place to get starting gear. Should I start with a practice pad or get a noiseless set-up to begin: then get a drumset. Thanks for the help. Ready to rock and roll.
posted by Upon Further Review to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: As a first set for someone that hasn't really played before, I would recommend picking up the cheapest playable set you can find off craigslist, like in the $100-$200 range, preferably with cymbals. Drums tend to last a long time, and they are loud and take up lots of space. This means there is a good market in used gear. This will give you a feel for playing and allow you to learn the basics and decide you want to invest the money into new set, as well as what type of set you might be looking for.

Alternatively: One problem with drums is that they are loud, and heavy. That makes it difficult to play along with music or your friends, or practice at odd hours. So personally, I would recommend an electronic setup like the Roland VCompact (~$750) set as a first set. It will also give you a wide selection of kits to play with, so you can get a feel for what you like. I traded in my epic rockstar set years ago for a Roland VStage set and have never looked back.

Investing in an acoustic set is a bit trickier. Plan to spend ~$1500 before you are done, it really isn't worth buying trashy stuff new because it will sound like crap and get out of tune or break on you. Different sets are geared towards different types of music, and while a basic set isn't too expensive, with the cymbals and hardware it starts to add up pretty quick. I would suggest a Pearl or Yamaha entry level 5 piece set (~$500-750), as they are fairly versatile and robust. Add in a Zildijian cymbal (I would recommend the A series) pack with stands and hardware (cymbal stands, snare stand, bass pedal, "throne", etc. If you want to go up a level I would look at Drummer's Workshop sets, and A Custom cymbals. Stay away from Tama sets and Sabian cymbals unless you are into metal or heavy rock. For entry level sets I would probably stay away from other brands, there are other decent manufacturers out there such as Ludwig and Mapex, but they aren't as well known and it will be harder to resell if you change your mind.

I can't recommend any great ways to evaluate a set if you don't know how to play or what to listen for, but you can look carefully at construction quality. The tom mounting hardware on the bass drum is often skimped on in cheaper sets, for instance. Cymbals can be heavy and get hit hard, is your stand double braced and solid enough to not fall over? How are the lugs attached to the drum bodies, is there hardware poking through the shell? What type of wood was used, and how thick is it? And so on. Check out the section "Evaluate a Drum" in this free book.

As with any instrument, rudiments are very important. I would recommend learning how to count out and play the basic 4x4 drum pattern. Also start practicing the single paradiddle, and it's many variants. A practice pad is a good thing to have, getting the rudiments deeply ingrained into your muscle memory takes time, and it is nice to zone out in front of the TV and just bang away whatever you are practicing.
posted by sophist at 8:43 PM on November 19, 2010

Do address your question more directly: Yes, get a practice pad. Noiseless setup, not so much. It has been my experience that without some direct feedback and immediate "fun", interest in musical instruments tends to drop off quickly. A silent set isn't that fun to play, especially all by yourself. You would be better off with a cheap electronic set.
posted by sophist at 8:52 PM on November 19, 2010

Practice pads are great when starting out, especially if you want to cut down on noice.

I'd agree with Sophist that it's worth getting a book and/or DVDs (however you learn best) for the 40 international drum rudiments. Once you get those down, everything else gets easier as you chain things together.

I'd say that if you want to go with an e-drum kit, Roland is the way to go. Yamaha isn't bad either, but it's a lot less noise and space than an acoustic kit will need, and plugging in headphones to listen to your feedback as you practice is nice.

For acoustics, see what's available around you on CL, but I'm personally a Pearl and Zildijian guy myself.

One other thing I'd mention is get a GOOD drum throne. I realize that you can buy a cheap one for as little as $30, but consider that you could easily be sitting on it and playing for long periods of time, especially if rehearsing with a group. Being able to adjust the seat position for good posture and comfort pays off really fast. I personally prefer a nicely padded motorcycle style seat to the round bar-stool style, by YMMV.
posted by BZArcher at 9:25 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is a little out of the box, but do you happen to own an Xbox 360? If so- and I'm sure the drum purists will castigate me thoroughly- the Rock Band game series (in particular the latest, Rock Band 3) might be the best, cheapest way to get started playing drums.

The base game drums run $130 new, although they are apparently kind of chintzy, while the aftermarket ION kit is $250. The ION at least is, as I understand, MIDI-capable so you could route it through a computer/MIDI controller and not need the XBox at all if you want a fairly cheap entry-level drum kit.

However, if you do have an XBox, you could also pick up the RB3 title. It sounds like a terrible way to learn the drums, but... the game out of the box has:
  • A very extensive set of drum training modules to get you perfecting those paradiddles and other common patterns
  • A freeform mode to just go nuts on the drums
  • And 80+ songs (plus thousands more to download) that will help you play something increasingly close to the actual drum track for a lot of tunes
The songs themselves have 8 levels of difficulty with each song, from the very basic counting rhythms of "Easy" all the way through to "Expert", with a parallel "Pro" mode that makes use of the full set of cymbals. Over the last year or two, I've watched at our weekly Rockband nights as average people go from barely able to keep a beat to easily keeping some complex rhythms and footwork going without breaking a sweat.

So yes it sounds goofy, but hey for $300 you could have an entry-level midi drum kit (which will be quiet if you play it through headphones), as well as a trainer software package that happens to double as a pretty fun party game. And as with any instruments, if you're so awesome a year from now that the ION drum kit is severely holding you back, you'll also be much smarter about buying the right kit.
posted by hincandenza at 9:40 PM on November 19, 2010

It depends on what you're into. Some people really like electronic drums and they're perfectly happy hearing them through headphones.

Personally, the physical sound hitting my body is part of the fun (my neighbors do not agree however) so old fashioned drums are much more satisfying. Even better is playing a properly miked drumset through a big PA. I can't tell you how cool that is.

Anyway, I haven't seen electronic drums that perfectly capture the nuance of sticks on drums and cymbals.

If you have a place to play where you can make the noise without people nearby delivering death threats, I highly recommend going down to your nearest used music gear store and buying a really cheap set. You'll need a high-hat, crash cymbal, ride cymbal, snare, bass drum, and at least one tom. Get multiple pairs of drum sticks (5b perhaps). The drums won't sound good and the hardware will be crappy, but it won't hurt your playing any (I toured with people who played on equipment like this; it's okay).

Once you can do the basic rock beat, get yourself some over-the ear headphones to block out as much sound as possible from the drums. Play along to songs. Just do the beat at first and play steadily through the breaks and fills. Then start working to match exactly what you hear on the records. You'll get a feel for what drummers do to help the song along, build tension, etc.

Then go find some people to play with.

And most of all, just have fun.

Good luck!
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 10:40 PM on November 19, 2010

The main thing you are missing if getting something like that ION set is the "drum brain". While you can hook it up directly to your computer and use it for MIDI triggers, you will then also need a MIDI soundcard and a decent software setup on your computer. Even after that, it will still be inferior to even the cheapest Roland electronic kit as far as pad quality, response, sound selection and on the fly customization. That being said, I would say it is a good option to consider for price and fun factor.
posted by sophist at 10:40 PM on November 19, 2010

Yeah, I actually picked up an ION to start playing the drums again in Rock Band after a long time away, and I spent a lot of time and money upgrading and replacing just about every part of it.

If you want to play both rock band and v-drums, I would seriously consider buying a good MIDI set and then buy a 360 (or PS3) drum brain and run the drums through it, rather than buying an ION and a proper MIDI brain and eventually spending just as much, if not more, upgrading the ION kit. If you go that route, Doc's is a really, really good resource.
posted by BZArcher at 5:38 AM on November 20, 2010

Oh - just missed something. The ION brains may be "technically" MIDI, but they do not have a MIDI port to work with any proper drums or software - they run through a USB connection to the console of choice.

If you already have MIDI drums, they are selling an adapter that can be hooked in, but I don't think it's actually out yet.

The previous method (which worked fine for me and others) was to buy both brains (the ION brain after market is $99), and use Y splitters out of each trigger / pad into both the MIDI brain and the ION brain.
posted by BZArcher at 5:44 AM on November 20, 2010

Pretty much what others have said: there's a lot of decent used stuff on craigslist, etc.; don't go cheap on the throne/seat; depending on noise issues, electronics might be an option. (Although, honestly, if you have a bunch of old bed linens around - blankets, sheets, pillow cases, etc. - with a regular acoustic kit, just remove the top head and stuff each drum full. It reduces the volume quite a bit - but not completely - however keeps the "real feel" of striking an actual drum head, which some electronic set ups can't quite mimic).

Also, while you can often scrimp with the drums themselves, spend a bit more on pedals: you'll notice the difference with a good chain-drive bass drum pedal and a decent hi-hat stand.

Otherwise, the deep, dark secret with acoustic kits these days is that most people can't tell the difference between the sound of mid-range kits and the really expensive ones (not to say there aren't any, just that in most situations they sound similar to most listeners, and even more so you're miking/amplifying them). However, the one place to check regarding quality with mid-range acoustic drums would be the bearing edges (the rim of the drum shell that the playing head sits on top of). With really cheap drums, the bearing edges are uneven, which will throw off the tone, no matter how carefully you try to tune them. Moreover, the angle of the bearing edge (literally how much of the shell makes contact with the head) will impact the overall tone produced.

With that in mind, while you can go modest on a set of drum shells, pay the extra for decent, professional quality drum heads (instead of the no-name ones that the cheaper kits often come with). More than almost anything, decent drums heads will give you a good sound. That, and learning to tune/tension them properly. There are videos on youtube detailing the tuning options available, but the bottom line generally is to make the surface tension at each lug is consistent across the drum surface. I can't believe the number of people I see playing expensive kits that sound like crap because they can't/don't tune the heads evenly.
posted by 5Q7 at 11:42 AM on November 20, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks to all for for all the great feedback: This is why I enjoy this site so much, I'll probably use a practice pad, then focus on fundamentals: then pursue possibly roland or cl for a starter,
U tube videos are great too!
posted by Upon Further Review at 10:56 PM on November 22, 2010

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