Drum drums for dum dums: A guide to teaching yourself drums

So you want to be a drummer, eh?

Here is going to be a (most likely) three part mystical episodic adventure through beginning rock instruments and teaching yourself music. It is long, but I'll put a shortened list at the end. Hope you enjoy my first myTake.

Everything I'm saying comes from teaching myself instruments and what worked for me. I'll also include what I would do differently from what I actually did (so you don't look like a flabbing octopus like I did when I started out).

1.) Equipment: (that stuff that you need to sell your kidney for... But not really)

Well, surprise. You can't learn drums without equipment. Shocker, right? ...And I hear the peanut gallery... "But I don't have $500+ dollars just to let go!"
Here's what you can do until then-- teach yourself the basics. What I did personally was play the game Rockband. (Pictured below) Yes. That is a plastic drumset that is more equivalent to hitting rubber pads than a set. Yes, you do look silly playing it. Yes, you may have to duck tape it back together when it starts to fall apart.... But more importantly, it will teach you coordination and give you a chance to learn technique. By the time I had cash for a real set, I could already play basic stuff since I had basic coordination from expert level Rockband.
You could also get some rubber pads and set up in a drumset shape. You basically need stuff you can hit with sticks that is ok. It will certainly feel different, but the fundamentals between the two are the same.

Drum drums for dum dums: A guide to teaching yourself drumsYeaaahh... it may not look like much, but this is a good start.

I said you needed sticks though. Sticks? Yes. Sticks. We aren't talking about bongos here! For the sake of simplicity, I would start by finding Hickory 5A sticks. Pro mark is a good brand. Also Vic Firth, but I've always been a pro mark person. Stay away from your favorite celebrity endorsed (pricier) stuff until you get a feel for your playing style and what you want.

If you have the cash for a set (some hundreds of dollars USD or so), I would get one. Stuff you find online is going to come in shells and pieces. Check carefully to make sure everything pictured is everything included. Drum gear (the metal surrounding the set and holding it up) is very often sold separately. Snares are sometimes sold separately. Cymbals are basically always sold separately. Speaking of which, make sure to allocate some of your drum budget to good cymbals. Don't be the guy who spends a ton of money on hi quality toms and a snare and cheaps out with tinny and awful cymbals. Yes, we'll remember you... For the wrong reasons.

If the loudness or size of an acoustic set is something that bothers you, look into electronic sets. All the gear comes with it (except for speakers). Really nice ones can get kind of expensive however.

For those on a budget, the Alesis DM7X provides a drum experience for $500. If you are interested in it, see it at http://www.musiciansfriend.com/drums-percussion/alesis-dm7x-six-piece-electronic-drumset

2.) TECHNIQUE -- (that fancy word that shows you know what you are doing)

Woaaaah-- Slow down there tiger if you think you can just start with that whole drumming thing from the blood of your ancestors and God-given talent. That is a good way to wreck your hands with carpel tunnel.
I mean... You COULD go to official drum lessons to be assured you are learning properly (look to your local music store).... But if you are like me, you'd rather not spend the time and money for that.

However, congratulations. You live in the 21st century. We have youtube and online videos. We have people willing to post random help videos (*cough cough* not "expertvillage"). Be prepared to watch lots of videos on these topics: stick grip, foot pedal technique, basic drum technique, basic posture. While you're at it, basically look up anything you can concerning drum technique. The more you want to learn, the more you'll look up.
When you do that, look up drum covers of professional-level people playing stuff. Look at their hands and feet and try to mimic their basic technique. See how they move. Study them. What angle are their feet? How are their hands hitting cymbals?

Something not to watch (a video from "expertvillage"):

Something to watch that has helped me in the past:

Play along with instructional videos you find to try and get a feel. You want to get your technique solidly down before you start forming habits. Bad habits are hard to break, not to mention lead to carpel tunnel and more difficulty playing. Form good habits instead!

Oh, and if anything starts hurting or throbbing, STOP. Retrace your steps and start again. You are doing something wrong. The goal of this is to let you to be able to play drums for years, not lead to chronic pain.

3.) PRACTICE (that stuff that takes time 'ain't nobody got')

I know... I know... Practice. Time. Effort. Yuck.
I swear-- this is one of those things you need to do, like really really NEED to do. You'll want an actual drumset for this step for full effect.
You can't be the Mike Portnoy (once Dream Theater), Danney Carey (Tool), Neil Peart (Rush), Buddy Rich (Buddy Rich Big Band), Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters/Nirvana), and whoever you aspire to be without LOTS of practice. Without practice, you'll turn into a Meg White (of White Stripes). Heck, even she practiced the standard rock beat I bet. Without practice... You'll turn into the tambourine player. Don't be the tambourine player. That's lower on the totem poll than cowbell. When's the last time you heard someone say "Needs more tambourine?!"

Moving on...
What does practice involve? Well, for starters, get your technique down. This is the boring stuff-- hitting 1/8th notes around a drumset... Switching between 1/4 notes to 1/8th to 1/8th triplets and whatnot. There are many youtube videos on this. Put "beginner drum lessons" in the search bar and a billion things will pop up. I would personally suggest 30 minutes a day. However, it is okay if you want to go over and play longer. It is also okay if you feel like you need to play for a shorter time every once in awhile. To improve and get better though, I feel 30 minutes a day is a good start.

Who knows how many times I played simple things like this before I got better...

Assuming you can do things like basic drum beats and YOU HAVE BASIC TECHNIQUE DOWN (don't be *that* guy/girl), this is where the fun stuff happens. I doubt you'll be able to hold motivation for long by playing stuff that involves a metronome clicking into your soul.
Now what? Play with your songs. Play stuff you want to play (via headphones while drumming)
Oh? You want to play blast beats and death metal? Or maybe some Animals As Leaders? Woah there cowboy... one day. Maybe not now. Try sticking to easy bands (*cough cough* White Stripes).

I remember starting out with AC/DC, some Three Days Grace, and Snow Patrol. Eventually, I upgraded to Sum 41 (Fat Lip was a favorite), some Foo Fighters (Everlong), Kings of Leon (Use Somebody). Then I moved to Rise Against (Survive), Blink 182 (Aliens Exist), My Chemical Romance (Dead!). Then I went to System of A Down (Toxicity), Rush (Natural Science, Tom Sawyer, Yyz), Led Zeppelin (Good Times Bad Times, Moby Dick), The Who (Who Are You), and The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Fire). Now I play stuff like Bullet for My Valentine (Scream Aim Fire), Tool (Schism), Avenged Sevenfold (Critical Acclaim), Mastodon (Colony of Birchmen), and some Dream Theater (Panic Attack). I still have a ways to go myself.

You could get to this level with lots and lots of practice!

To learn songs, I suggest two ways. First would be to try and listen to it. See if you can pick out the drum parts and figure out what they are doing. Pick it apart and listen to each section until you can replicate it. This is a bit tedious, but it improves your ear. Practice helps. It also makes you look cool in front of your friends when they're like "Bruh check out this sick beat!" and you are like "Psssh nah, that's easy. I could do that. *taps out rhythm.*"
The second way to go is for when you can't simply hear out the part. There are online resources to help. Check out songsterr.com. Great resource to have. I use it all the time to this day. To print out stuff and use extra features, it costs, but to look at stuff it is free. Not all the drum parts are 100% accurate, but it will at least help when your ear fails you.

As taken fromhttp://www.songsterr.com They have an app too.

Working on more and more songs will improve your skill level, not to mention introduce you to new techniques not discussed in this *ahem* "short" guide. You'll find troublesome sections that will take time to work on but will greatly improve your playing. For example, check out the fill from Fat Lip going into the chorus. It is pretty fast. That is a good section to work on and practice. Keep goal songs/sections as you go so you can work on them.

Note: It may not seem like you are improving right away. Many people get discouraged after this fact. I can promise you though that if you keep practicing and working hard at it, you will improve. Just stick with it and keep trying.

THE TL;DR; shortened list:

1.) Equipment. Buy drums. Low cash? No problem! Buy rubber pads or something hittable and play on that until you get the funds. Check out Rockband or equivalent games. (Get a real set eventually please)

2.) Technique. Learn stuff. Carpel Tunnel? Big problem! That means you didn't take the time to learn stuff properly. Check out all the instructional youtube videos you can find and learn from them.

3.) Practice. Play stuff. Animals As Leaders? You wish! Stick to basic bands (like the Stripes of White), set goals, work your way up to harder stuff. Check out Songsterr.com for tabs if you don't want to hear out drum parts.

Disclaimer: This is only what has worked for me. Everyone is different. Many lose motivation for drums. I did at one point, and that was because I didn't learn any songs. I am by no means a professional but I am just throwing my thoughts out on my personal experience to guide you in the right direction.

Have a good drum instructional video to share? If you're experienced, what worked for you when you taught yourself drums?

Any thoughts, comments, concerns, haikus, limericks? I'll be happy to address them all.


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What Girls Said 1

  • Nice and detailed article! I think you might have actually convinced me to try to teach myself drums! What instruments do you play?


What Guys Said 2

  • Awesome take! I want to experiment with drums!

  • Daymn. Thanks mate. I can definitely compose them background music now

    • Yeah you can make some sick beats...
      (Just don't use the words sick beats-- that's copyrighted by Taylor Swift)