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November 24, 2007 5:09 PM   Subscribe

I wanna learn the drums...

...but I have a few questions before I embark.

a) How loud actually is it if I'm gonna practice in my house, I realise thats a pretty open question...but my parents are freaking out, I never have seen drums as extremely loud....so any annecdotes will be fine. And are practice pads any good?

b) what will I need, or what brand will I need, or what should I look for in buying my first drum set, any dvds/books that are helpful? or tips you have? how much will I expect to spend on getting myself set?

c) how hard is it to store drums?

Anything else about learning the drums would be helpful also.

posted by Neonshock to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
a) Drums are exceptionally loud played even with restraint. It's hard to get a handle on how loud they can be until you get them into a confined living space. I would advise against a full acoustic drum kit unless you have real space and conditions in which to practice - a large garage or outhouse for instance. I have played drums in a small basement room and it is unbearably loud.
posted by fire&wings at 5:20 PM on November 24, 2007

They will be heard from across the street.

You aren't going to be storing them if you want to play them. It's too much hassle, much more than a guitar and its case.
posted by rhizome at 5:33 PM on November 24, 2007

a) What kind of music do you think you want to play? That makes a difference to how loud you'll be. So does your skill level—an experienced drummer will usually know that he can play very quietly, to better effect. Still, the whole house will hear it, at least. Put them in a basement if you can! That stops the sound from spreading horizontally, but it will travel up. Practice pads will be helpful in developing coordination and sticking but not musicality. You need an intuitive sense of real drums' feel and sound to build musical phrases and react spontaneously and musically to what you hear. A single practice pad is good for rudimental practice. Several practice pads arranged in the same way as a drum kit will help get a feel for real playing.

[i] There is no objective answer to the question of what you need or what brands to look for. Again, this depends on the style you're playing, to some extent. The old jazz standard is a kick drum, snare, floor tom and one rack tom, and it's all you could need for most modern styles. Drum kits generally include those drums, sometimes with the snare, sometimes without. Add to that the cymbals you'll need: hi-hats are basically a must-have, so is a ride cymbal. If you had to, you could go without a crash.

I'm going to tell you what I think you don't need. You don't need 6 cymbals. You don't need 10 toms. When you're playing live and your drums are mic'd the audience will not hear the difference. When you're playing by yourself they will only confuse you, especially as a beginner. Articulate, musical phrases are possible with very sparse drum/cymbal combinations. Spend more money on better drums and cymbals than on quantity. Not everyone will agree with me on this. Fuck'em.

DVDs are for people too lazy to go to clinics themselves.
Clinics are for people too lazy to think for themselves.
Books are for people who want to learn.
People who want to learn get a good teacher, or devote lots of their time to self-study, or ideally both.

c) Instructions for storing drums: Find space, preferably a dry, heated environment. Insert drums. Avoid leaving drums in a cold garage over the winter (which I'm doing right now with my spares. . .)

Other: To begin, you can just fool around on your new toys. Listen to music and try to figure out what the drummer's doing by ear. Try reproducing it bits of it. Think musically. Ignore the rules. Learn the rules. Play by the rules. Break the rules often. If you think you want to invest in this, find a good, passionate teacher.

These are my opinions. I'm happy to clarify any point if it would be helpful.
posted by Evstar at 5:46 PM on November 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

I grew up listening to my little brother play his trap set and now my stepson has one. I will likely never forgive the adults involved in these breaches of common sense. Drums are loud, and your parents have every right to freak out.

Before you get a full set, get a single snare drum and practice pad. The music store can set you up with a good beginning instruction book and appropriate sticks. You don't need a 16-piece set until you can execute a paradiddle and a flamadiddle and anyone listening can tell the difference between them. This isn't just me talking; this is various percussion instructors I've had reason to meet over the years. (For that matter, look at what little Ringo Starr had to work with and consider what The Beatles accomplished.)

By using practice pads and coming to reasonable accommodation between the three of you, you can play and your parents can keep most of their hearing and sanity.

On preview: lots of good advice from Evstar.
posted by bryon at 5:49 PM on November 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

They are loud. I would suggest starting very very small - namely a practice pad and some dvd lessons to get some of the basics down, and see if its something you want to pursue. It certainly won't replace a real set of drums, but its a place to start.

(From the site I just linked, I also see a practice pad set that is supposed to emulate more of a kit feel - no comments on the site or the products, just the first Google hit)
posted by shinynewnick at 5:50 PM on November 24, 2007

A) Very loud. There will be no peace in your household. There are Sound Off acoustic drum pads which work good, but they're pricey. You're pretty much stuck with practice pads, electronics drums, or get in with a school with a secluded practice room. This would also be a good point to mention the importance of wearing hearing protection at all times when playing acoustic drums.

B) This depends heavily on the style you're looking to get into, but any 5 piece kit from any major brand, i.e. Tama, Pearl, Sonor, Ludwig, can be expanded or adapted for any style. For a first kit, you will save a lot of money by buying a used kit and replacing the heads if necessary. This is also a good chance to learn about maintenance and tuning of your kit. Otherwise, this looks like a really good deal for a starter. Don't forget to get a 4'x8' non-slip rug. There are a lot of great lessons on the InterTubes. I would save the money you're going to spend on books and/or DVDs and use it for one on one lessons.

C) Shells will stack and the hardware will collapse down to next to nothing. Not hard at all.

Again. Hearing protection for you and anyone around you while playing acoustic drums.

Hook up with friends or even enemies who play other instruments to jam as often as possible. If you're having trouble keeping up, bring songs into your instructor and he/she will help you work them out.

No matter what style you're interested in playing, never turn down a gig. Play in school musicals, play at church, join a polka band.

Good luck.
posted by _aa_ at 5:52 PM on November 24, 2007

I think that if you bought a practice pad set to play on, and a year later you were still using it, a drum kit would be a safe investment.
posted by Evstar at 5:52 PM on November 24, 2007

Okay, I'm going to amend sec. b iii. Those are some rash declarations I made. My point is that DVDs and clinics do not replace the helpful guidance a qualified teacher provides. And books are most helpful when you have a teacher to help you interpret them and advise you on technique.
posted by Evstar at 5:55 PM on November 24, 2007

It's loud. People will always know when you're practicing. My best advice is to set up a defined practice time so that your neighbors and parents will know when things are going to get annoying. You should alert any neighbors you have. I did this (and we have people living above us) and have had no problems.

Practice pads... The muffling pads that go on your drum heads are ok, but they completely change the way that your stick feels when it hits. I don't like it. They don't really muffle THAT much either, at least, not enough to stop bothering people, especially when it comes to the bass.

Getting one of those block practice pads might be worthwhile as you can practice rudiments, etc. at times when you can't play the set.

Also, I agree with the above about storing. You don't really want to do that. My kit is always set up in our back room. It takes up a lot of space, but setting up and tearing down a kit for no reason (unless you are playing out) is silly (and as Evstar mentioned, storage environments are usually bad for drums).

The answer to b is somewhat arbitrary. There is no "best" brand or specific list of things you need. However, let me suggest that (again, following Evstar) that you keep things small to begin with: kick (and you'll need a pedal for this), snare, hi-hat, ride. Small, but tons of songs can be played with only these drums. Add as you get better and see a need.

Also, I prefer buying good quality used equipment (but you have to be careful and inspect things well) over cheapy new stuff. Make friends with the drum guy at the music store (which I hope isn't Guitar Center... ) and you may find that you get better deals and even some free stuff at times. Read up on the parts of your kit so you know how it all works.

The best practice for me has been playing with other people. It forces you to learn how to keep an even beat like nothing I've tried and learning actual songs has helped me a lot. But I still try to practice rudiments when I can. Whatever you need to do to keep practicing and playing and enjoying it and improving...
posted by stefnet at 5:59 PM on November 24, 2007

Perfect practice makes perfect. Get yourself a metronome and use it. Find an instructor who you are comfortable with to guide you and tell you what you're doing wrong. Have fun.
posted by knowles at 6:00 PM on November 24, 2007

Evstar, I have to disagree about the practice pads. I think a practice pad set might be a great idea for a professional or student drummer who is stuck in an apartment or dorm, but given that a practice pad set is $130 and this set with cymbals, throne, stands and kick pedal is only $500, I think I'd just go ahead and get the set. Check this out.

That being said, a single practice pad is a necessity for any drummer.
posted by _aa_ at 6:05 PM on November 24, 2007

My reasoning is this: If practice pads can hold your interest for a year, you are a born drummer. Your parents will recognize it and they will be more willing to put up with your practicing. They might help you buy some drums. When you buy your drums, you will know it's a safe investment and you might not hesitate to spend $1500 on some quality drums that will sound fantastic once you learn how to tune them, and which will really make you want to play them. Ludwig makes some nice drums, but the same as any brand, the topgear drums are great, and the bottom-end budget kits are shit. Those drums are shit. I've seen them.

If you don't care that they're shit, and this is a perfectly valid drumming philosophy, then go ahead and buy shit drums. You can do great things on shit drums, but you might also find that once you have some experience, you will recognize them as shit drums and resent them. Or not. Drumming aesthetics are diverse and mutually respectable.
posted by Evstar at 6:23 PM on November 24, 2007

I agree with Evstar's last comment. My brother, a professional piano player who later learned the drums like my father (also a professional), practiced constantly on his practice pad while sitting on the couch. He had a full kit in the basement, but a large part of his learning was done on that silly little rubber pad.
posted by shinynewnick at 7:03 PM on November 24, 2007

All of the advice here is sound.

DrummerWorld's forums are a great source of information, definitely check that place out.
posted by DMan at 8:13 PM on November 24, 2007

I can't imagine playing a practice pad for a year before buying a kit -- there'd be so little reward for the effort I'm pretty sure I'd get bored within a month or two. If you're serious, and this is something you've wanted to do for a long time (as opposed to a passing fancy) then there's nothing wrong with investing in a kit fairly quickly. It'll be more interesting and fun for you and should keep you motivated. (After all, you gotta get your money's worth.)

Also I don't think you should worry too much about buying a top-of-the-line kit right away -- a beginner kit will do the job and you can worry about replacing components or the whole kit once you've learned enough about gear to know the difference. No sense in buying into the inevitable gear lust right from the starting line. Nice equipment is great great great if you've got the resources but you can make a cheaper kit your own and do good things with it too. I guess what I'm saying is that not being able to afford top-flight shit shouldn't prevent you from playing at all.
posted by loiseau at 10:25 PM on November 24, 2007

You sound like me about 3 years ago. I wanted to get a kit and learn, my parents were freaked about the noise. They are loud. I made a deal with them that I'd buy silencer pads if the noise became too much, but that has never needed to happen, they more or less got used to it.

I bought a mid-range student drum kit that came with paper-thin hihats and a paper thin crash. Chatting to the guy in the music shop he upgraded me to a couple of Zildjian PlanetZ hihats and ride for nothing because I was a girl and he was impressed that I was really into drumming. So you might have that working in your favour should you be buying a bottom-end kit. Keep in mind that student kits generally hold their value really well, as long as you don't damage the shells. I bought a decent crash cymbal on sale after a year and this combo is what I'm still playing, except for the heads which I've replaced with reasonable 2 plys. All up I spent AU$600 on my kit, and got my crash half price for AU$200. It sounds respectable (but not brilliant), but I don't really need anything more.

Ditto what everyone else has said with regard to storage.
posted by cholly at 11:07 PM on November 24, 2007

Practice pads are so not $130, more like $5 on eBay, probably close to free second-hand. Start there and you'll annoy no one, then decide if you want to go for a full kit. But don't wait for too long, the practice pad is SO unrewarding it might make you give up.

Consider also that you can get electronic drums that are acoustically very quiet like a practice pad yet can sound OK through the headphones or a PA. The good ones are a few grand though whereas you can get a passable acoustic kit second-hand for a couple hundred, so it's probably not a beginner thing unless you have rich parents. A quick eBay tells me that they can be had second-hand for $500-750, so maybe it's not so bad.
posted by polyglot at 11:17 PM on November 24, 2007

Drums are not fun unless you can beat the hell out of them.
I have not practiced drums since we lost our rehearsal space. I have an electronic kit that cost me more than a thousand bucks. I never play it.
If you try to play electronic drums in an apartment you have to wear headphones. Its cumbersome and dorky. You can still hear the annoying thud thud thud of the pads over the headphones. People inside the same house as you will hear the thud thudding and hate you for it. Its almost worse than real drums because its so unmusical sounding to anyone not wearing the headphones.

Drums are not fun enough to practice unless you have a space wear you can play as loud as possible and there is at least one other playing in the room with you playing. Save your money. I mean, wait, want to buy a Roland electro-kit?
posted by low affect at 1:05 AM on November 25, 2007

Thanks for the help everyone, I think Im gonna wait till Im a grown up real person to bang the crap out of some drums, I live in very close confinement to my own and other families - and I guess its a little out of order to make all that noise....Unless I see some cheap, because then its just fate isnt it?

Thanks again!
posted by Neonshock at 3:27 AM on November 25, 2007

How old are you? From the question I gather you might still be in high school. If you are, I think you should join the band and / or the orchestra and learn the snare / bass / tympanis / tri-toms. After a year of banging on the drums in a place where it is encouraged, you will be in a better position to know if you want to drive your parents and neighbors crazy with a drum set. Plus you'll most likely learn how to read music and rudiments.
posted by jasondigitized at 10:06 AM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

As stated by the previous poster, join a school band if possible. A lot of high schools have multiple levels of band, one for contests and another for people who want to blow on a trumpet or bang stuff but don't want to practice. You'll have to ask the director at your school to know for sure.

If you're in college, you might try and find a good drummer in the music program and offer to pay them for lessons, as they might be cheaper then a professional but just as good for helping an extreme beginner learn some simple patterns and beats.

Either way, you're best bet is to go to the local music store and ask them exactly the same question.

I mostly just play video game drums (that's not me), but a lot of my friends are really good percussionists.
posted by sandswipe at 1:09 PM on November 25, 2007

I taught myself by playing along to my favorite CDs on headphones and figuring out ways to replicate what I heard. It took me several months to learn to play my first song, green day's brain stew (yeah, kinda embarassing). Professional instruction may have helped that learning curve a lot... but once I got the basics down there was nothing more fun than figuring out how to play my favorite songs. From there I got into playing with rock bands & school jazz bands, and did end up taking a little bit of instruction, but if you decide to take the plunge at some point that's how I'd recommend you learn.

I do wear ear protection every time I play, because it really is loud.

Upon reading your comments: If you can't keep drums at your house, then start/join a band and keep them at your guitar player's house. drive their parents crazy :)
posted by Chris4d at 9:52 PM on November 25, 2007

Not sure if you are still reading, but in case--

You can buy mesh heads that will muffle the sound quite a bit.

If you're in a city, or even a large town, there's a good chance you can find a practice space to rent time at. There should be places that rent space to bands that will also offer solo time for musicians, especially drummers, with kits already set up. I pay $8-10/hour for practice space in NYC. I've been playing for over a year, just using a pad at home ($20) and going once a week to a studio to play, and I'm just now planning to buy a kit so I can practice more often.

Also, n'thing lessons. They really help.
posted by min at 11:08 AM on November 26, 2007

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