Rock the drums
September 17, 2014 5:26 AM   Subscribe

How do you practice drums? Looking for a systematic approach.

I've been playing drums for about 6 years. I'm strictly an amateur who is just having fun with them, but I would like to keep improving. Right now I don't have a systematic approach to practicing - I mostly play along with recorded songs and try to keep up and stay in time. I'm starting to read about different things I should do while practicing but I can't tell if I'm getting the whole picture. Can you fill in the gaps so I'm covering all the right bases?

Here are the things that keep coming up as things I should do during practice. Am I missing anything? Am I misunderstanding the purpose of any of these? Are any of these not really that important?

1) Rudiments - get the basic patterns down so I can apply them while playing.

2) Metronome - Play rudiments, fills, and whole songs with a metronome to ensure I'm staying in time and to develop my sense of tempo.

3) Play along with recordings of songs - make sure I'm playing the right beats and fills at the right time and staying in time.

4) Play through songs with no recording and no metronome - once I've got the song and the tempo down, get used to keeping the tempo and playing song without prompting from the metronome or recording.

5) Play with other musicians - learn to keeping time in a group and also to play off others.

Any input into "what I should be doing to practice drums effectively" is welcome.

Bonus question: recommendations for books or online resources (free or paid online resources are preferred but a book is fine if it's good) that teach drums and have an actual progression. I dislike books/websites that just provide lessons without any indication of what should come 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc or why things should be tackled in a certain order. I like progress and understanding why I'm doing what I'm doing.
posted by Tehhund to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
From my experience, number 5 is most important.

I've been playing drums for 25 years and can honestly say I have rarely done formal practice beyond when I was an absolute beginner.

Despite that personal failing, I've played and practiced with bands almost exclusively since I was 15. When I was in college I was playing in three bands practicing five days a week, much to the detriment of my studies. Through just playing with bands, I have become a very, very good drummer.

You should strive to play with musicians who are better than you are. It's the best way to grow as a musician and feel challenged to perform better than your absolute best.

Book recommendation - "A Funky Primer for the Rock Drummer - Charles Dowd" is a classic. Since you seem so interested in formal study, this is a great book to work through. It starts at the beginning with the most basic patterns and ends at the end with the most ridiculous patterns you've ever seen. But is very methodical in it's approach.

Good luck! PM me if you'd like to hear some of my performances.
posted by j03 at 6:41 AM on September 17, 2014

It's good that you're practicing rudiments and drills(?) of that sort. You definitely need a certain level of technical competence to play drums well, i.e. to please the audience. Too much technical work, however, can make your playing stiff, which depending on what music you're playing can be a bad thing. I for example like rock and indie rock stuff and a huge thing for me is whether there's a natural feel to the drummer's playing. Phoenix (sort of indie), for example, are awesome, but the drums to me sound like they might as well be synthetic -- they're just so stiff. John Bonham of Led Zeppelin is regarded as having had amazing "feel" -- the opposite of stiffness; all the little dynamics of loud and soft and tiny tempo variations that make the drums feel more alive and organic, and also flawed perhaps, all of which make it feel more human. So in my opinion I think you should keep doing the rudiment type stuff to maintain a certain level of technique. I endorse playing along with songs too, as it provides exposure to feel and also to different ideas. Oh and a huuuuge thing for me, a pet peeve I guess, is timekeeping. Practice with a metronome as much as you can. If you get really good at timekeeping you might sacrifice a littttttle bit of feel, but that's much outweighed by the hugely important plus of keeping good time. If you pay attention, in basically all non-top-40 songs the drummer's timing is always a little off. The verses are sped up ever so slightly, the fills are rushed. It's always playing too fast. It's basically never playing too slow, lagging, which is not nearly as bothersome. John Bonham sometimes had almost a little lag, ever so slightly, and it contributed to his awesome feel. So in summary, don't do too much technical work because it can hinder your feel. Play with a metronome a lot to develop good timing.
posted by early one morning at 6:48 AM on September 17, 2014

I'm no drummer, but I've certainly known and met and talked with a bunch.

Your list looks about right to me.

One thing I think I've picked up from drummers is that rudiments aren't just about learning patterns to apply when playing a song, but a way to work on aspects of your technique, like practicing scales can be for other musicians. Like, once you've reached a certain skill level, you've got the basic pattern down and can repeat it ad infinitum, so you can work on things like locking down your sense of tempo, or concentrating on how hard you hit the drum so that's it's the same volume every time (or not the same volume in a way that's under your control, if you're looking to improve the subtlety of your playing), stuff like that.

I've heard from a lot of drummers that drumming is such a physical activity that in-person lessons can be really helpful, because having another drummer watch you play can get you all sorts of tips and tricks about posture and physical placement of your drums and how you hold your sticks and the angle at which you hit the drums and so on and so forth. Not necessarily even a regular weekly lesson, but just "checking in" with a teacher you trust a few times a year so they can watch you and give some helpful feedback.

As a fellow NEOhioan, I figure you're familiar with Stebal Drums out in Willowick, yeah?
posted by soundguy99 at 6:54 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I thought of one other thing that probably took me 20 years to learn.

As a drummer, you should be able to both lead and follow and know when which is appropriate.

My playing style for a long time was accommodating and deferential to the other people I was playing with... which is good to a degree. It resulted in me being a tight, "pocket" player.. shifting the song tempos to what I was hearing from the bass or guitar. But some music calls for a more forward, propulsive drumming style which you need confidence to lead the band and set the tempo yourself.

I think other drummers have the opposite problem where they don't listen to what's going on in a song and are not flexible enough with their tempos. Definitely something to keep in mind when playing with other musicians. In some cases the drummer sets the tempo and leads the band, in other cases the drummer should follow the tempo shifts.
posted by j03 at 6:56 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think there are a lot of different ways to answer this, but as a former jazz-studies major, let me see if I can summarize how I practiced. This might be more advanced than what you're looking for, but I think it will help.

I broke my practicing down into topics, which were roughly:

(a) Improving technique. Rudiments would fit here, but I wouldn't limit myself to that. I'd also work on sticking patters using a book like Stick Control by George Stone. I'd also practice snare drum etudes from various books. I'd do both "concert" snare etudes and marching etudes (more rudiment-based). I could list a ton of books here. Mitchell Peters has some good ones. Portraits in Rhythm by Anthony Cirone is a good book of concert etudes.

(b) Independence/coordination. This is making sure each limb can do something different than the other. A classic book to work through here would be Jim Chapin's Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer. But there are many others.

(c) Styles. This would include studying different styles of music: jazz, funk, rock, Latin, etc. I include "brushes" as a style--meaning playing each other style with brushes. Steve Houghton has a book called Essential Styles that works well here. It comes with a recording.

(d) Reading. Practicing sight reading. There's not necessarily a book for this. Mostly you have to find some charts and read them. But Steve Houghton's Studio and Big Band Drumming has lots in it that helps you learn to read charts and practice sight reading.

(e) Putting it all together. This includes playing with recordings and other musicians. However, I'd also encourage you to improvise and try to consciously incorporate the things you are practicing in (a) through (d) above when you play along with music and/or just try and improvise a groove or solo on your own.

(f) I cannot stress this enough: LISTEN. You need to listen to a wide variety of recordings featuring great drummers in all styles that you want to play. If you want to play jazz, for example, you will never develop a great "feel" unless you listen to drummers who have a great feel.

Hope this helps!
posted by crLLC at 7:29 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Even though this website is directed at (aspiring) professional musicians who are looking to overcome stage fright issues, I think you could find a few posts of this blog interesting on the more meta-level of how to practice and improve.

The Bulletproof Musician Blog

Have fun! :-)
posted by Pieprz at 1:32 PM on September 17, 2014

« Older Essential books for a school library   |   Head Hunters in NYC? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.