Can you teach yourself to play the drums?
January 7, 2004 10:00 AM   Subscribe

Any drummers out there? I've been wanting to learn to play the drums for a long time. I have a solid musical background - years of piano, saxophone, and guitar - and a good sense of timing. Without much spare cash for lessons, I'm wondering if it's possible to teach yourself to play. If so, any good instructional books/CDs/techniques? And what about a starter kit - features, brands, models, price range?
posted by gottabefunky to Education (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
With a solid musical background, you shouldn't have much of a problem. The best thing you can do is pick up the book Stick Control for the Snare Drummer by George Lawrence Stone. Trust me, any percussionist that doesn't have a copy of Stick Control isn't a real percussionist. It will help you learn the basic rudiments which you can apply to all aspects of drumming. (In fact, here's an example.) There's one or two more, including one really good one on set drumming, but I can't think of them off the top of my head. I'll look through my books when I get home tonight and post them. As far as price goes, I haven't looked at percussion equipment in quite some time, so I can't really help.
posted by emptybowl at 10:46 AM on January 7, 2004

I don't play drums (I know a few things, but mainly play guitar), but my wife has been playing for two years and had wanted to play a long time before that. We got her a used Tama Rockstar 5-piece kit w/ new heads, some crappy cymbols, cheap stands, etc. for around 500 bucks. You might be able to find something cheaper, but they were in great shape and available when we wanted to buy them. I taught her enough to get started, but she found somebody in the area to give her lessons by going to the local music store (a local place, not a big chain) and asking for recomendations. She's gotten really good in a pretty short amount of time - for her, lessons work really well because she's got something to work toward each week.
posted by drobot at 10:47 AM on January 7, 2004

You can definitely teach yourself to play. Don't spend more than $500 bucks on a kit and find yourself a good sound proofed room to practice it in.

The hardest thing at first is going to be getting your limbs coordinated. You won't be used to having so much for your feet to do and you might need to do some exercises to bring your bass drum foot up to speed.

Also, get a practice pad for your stick technique. The key is being able to alternate sticks in a very even, smooth pattern. Learn the paradiddle ( L R LL R L RR L R LL, etc...). Practice it all the time. It will do wonders for your stick technique.

Find a drummer you like and study his/her every move.

And, most importantly, have fun! (But, that's not going to be hard.)
posted by fletchmuy at 11:25 AM on January 7, 2004

Rudiments! Rudiments! Rudiments!

Start slow, work on a practice pad, and get the rudiments down cold. Only then consider moving to a drum set.

I got my first set from a pawn shop for under $300. College towns are good places to look as broke student drummers sell off their gear, especially at semester's end.

Also, consider the type of drum stick you use. There are a ton out there, but look for one that feels solid and comfortable in your hand. I like Regal Tip brand myself, size 5A - both their wood and nylon tip, but Vic Firth is a good brand, too. I'd start with a wooden tip for practice, and only move into the nylon tips as you transition onto the drums.

Study the masters' techniques, and try to check out live drummers at local clubs. See how they play, how they contribute to the music being performed. A good drummer should almost disappear into the music, while a bad one will stick out like a sore thumb.
posted by jazon at 1:45 PM on January 7, 2004

Start slow, work on a practice pad, and get the rudiments down cold.

I don't know - I know my wife wouldn't have kept up w/ it if she hadn't been playing on a kit after her first lesson.

Her teacher teaches a ton of the basics, but also cool stuff that she enjoys playing, too.

Gottabefunky sounds relatively musical, so I wouldn't necessarily say 'dont get a kit until you've mastered the basics on a pad' b/c what's the fun of that? My wife learned basic beats on her own w/ no musical experience, so I'm sure Gottabefunky can do the same.
posted by drobot at 2:30 PM on January 7, 2004

You're probably right, drobot. Each to his own. I like getting my rudiments down on a single surface (drum) before applying to the full set. Similar advice was offered by Neil Peaert on his Work in Progress DVD and by Mickey Hart in Drumming on the Edge of Magic.
posted by jazon at 2:49 PM on January 7, 2004

Before my first drum lesson, I just practiced using my hands and feet, imagining I was sitting at a drum set. When I went to my first lesson, the teacher said "you're already good enough to play the entire AC/DC Back in Black album". I don't know if that speaks to my ability or that album's simplistic drumming but that night I went home, put on some headphones and played along to the album. That was a fun way to start out on the drums and it also taught me a thing or two about tempo.

Rudiments are definitely important, but don't wait on getting the drum set. Bang away to your heart's content. The fine tuning and technique will come later.
posted by fletchmuy at 2:53 PM on January 7, 2004

jazon - I think you're probably right that a person is more likely to be better prepared to learn at a kit after practicing w/ a pad. Just in my experience, if you aren't doing something cool w/ an instrument after the first or second lesson, people get discouraged, esp. adults. But it probably depends on an individuals goals, too.
posted by drobot at 3:04 PM on January 7, 2004

I second "Stick Control." It is easy to take the exercises in the book and adapt to kit. Just use your right hand on a different part of the kit then switch to the left. Vary your bass beats, but make them constant. This will also improve your muscle memory for where all the drums and cymbals are without having to think about it.

Another thing I would encourage is getting a Djimbe or small set of bongos. This is a great way to practice basic rhythms, its much quieter, tons of fun and you can hook up with an acoustic guitarist and have small jam sessions without much fuss. Playing with others right away will also teach you the most important thing about drumming, keeping time with and for others. It doesn't matter how talented you are at running all over your kit, if you can't keep a beat, you are scrapped. AC DC and for that matter ZZTOP may have had simple drums, but they were in perfect time.

I also second Tama drums. Get a good used set. Rockstars are great starter kits.

Start with basic basic beats that you can always go back to if you get in a jam and play with others ASAP. That will motivate you!

Most important thing - have a frickin blast.
posted by jopreacher at 1:41 AM on January 8, 2004

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