How to Play Drums for Beginners – Step by Step Guide

Congratulations, you’ve finally got that drum kit you’ve wanted, but what’s next? Well, now it’s time you learn how to play drums for beginners. Mastering drums takes practice and time, but by following these steps you’ll be on your way to drumming like a pro.

Get to Know the Instruments

Before you can play, get familiar with the most common drum kit pieces and the type of sound they generate.

  • The bass drum produces a low pitch boom if you hit it with a weighted mallet using the foot pedal.
  • The snare drum has a light, bright sound and also notable for its “click” and resonate head shuffle.
  • There are different types of tom toms, but the most widely used in a standard 5 piece set are the high tom (high pitched), the mid tom (mid range) and floor tom (deep tone). You can tune the tones to produce various types of fills.
  • The most commonly used cymbals are the crash, hi hat, ride and splash.
  • Crash cymbals produce a metal splashing sound, with long, loud sustain. It’s often used in the high points of orchestral music and pop music end measures.
  • Splash cymbals sound like crash cymbals but has a short sustain. It’s used as beat filler.
  • A ride cymbal has deep, subtle sound and played repeatedly. The finish reverberates and strikes resonate.
  • A pair of hi hat cymbals is controlled by a foot pedal, allowing you to play the cymbals together or apart.

How to Hold the Drum Sticks

There are two ways:

  • With the matched grip, grab the sticks between your index finger and your thumb a few inches from the sticks’ bottoms. This is the most widely used method as it’s flexible and comfortable.
  • With a traditional grip you use your non dominant hand to grab the stick. The stick rests between your index finger and your thumb on top of your ring finger. You wrap your middle fingers, index and thumb on the stick. Use the matched grip for the other stick. The traditional grip is used mainly by many jazz drummers.

Beginners Steps

Step 1: Get in Rhythm

Use your hands for now to learn drum kit rhythms. Listen to music with clear rhythms and mimic that on the drum, your table or thighs. Start with a simple rhythm so you can get the hang of it.

Step 2: Quarter notes

There are several ways to learn a musical bar, but the simplest is the 4/4 time signature. The 4/4 has four beats per measure.

  • Tap four beats equally with your hands and you have a quarter note.
  • Counting aloud helps you focus on the rhythm.
  • A metronome will come in handy when practicing rhythms.

Step 3: Practice 8 note counting

Every quarter note is comprised of two 8 notes. Tap the quarter note beat with one hand and the 8 notes on a similar beat. Now you count aloud “1 and 2 and 3” and so on. Keep it as consistent as possible.

Step 4: Use your other hand

Keep tapping with one hand and count to 8 notes. When you say 2 and 4, tap the drum (or your thigh if you’re practicing that way) with your other hand. This will help you when drumming the snare.

Step 5: Practice the downbeat

Continue tapping with your two hands, but when you say 1 or 3, tap your left or right foot. This is the downbeat and is what you’ll do with the bass drum.

Step 6: Learn to use the metronome

Practicing with a metronome is the quickest way you’ll learn to play the drums. With this you’ll find it easier to learn tempo. You can find a metronome in music stores and recorded versions online.

Step 7: Play the kit

Now that you’ve practiced with your hands, it’s time to do the same on your drum. Hold the sticks, hit the 2 and 4 on the snare and play the hi hat. Use your foot on the bass drum pedal for the 1 and 3.

  • This is the same as the rhythm and beats you did with your hands, only now you use the sticks on your drums. It’s all right to count aloud but the time will come when it won’t be necessary.
  • Try mixing it up by hitting the cymbal or tom for the 2 and 4.
  • Keep counting aloud and get into the groove. It isn’t as hard as it sounds because it will come naturally the more you play.

Step 8: Practice the hi hat pedal

Practice closing the hi hat using your left foot when you hit it as it generates a short, unique sound. This is how you’ll play the hi hat most of the time.

Use your right hand to play straight 8 notes and use your left to strike the snare on 2 and 4. Raise your foot from the hi hat every now and then until you get used to it. Hit the hi hat in various locations, open a bit, all the way, hit the bell or the outer rim and listen to the various sounds.

Step 9: Improve your footwork

Work on the bass drum rhythm as you strike the hi hat. Play with your right foot and right hand simultaneously. You can also try left hand freestyle to strengthen your muscles and get used to the rhythm.

Step 10: Experiment and switch

When you study how to play the drums step by step, it’s important you don’t become predictable. For instance rather than hit the snare on the 2 and 4, strike the hi hat. Raise your right hand from the hi hat and use your left to strike the snare.

As you practice keep counting aloud “1 E and 2 E and 3 E and 4 E” and so on. Hit the hi hat as you say “1 and 2 and 3 and 4” then hit the snare when you say “E” and “and”.

Step 11: Stay relax

Don’t let yourself get tensed. Stay relax and just focus on the rhythm and count. If you’re feeling tension slow the metronome down a little.

Step 12: Single and double stroke

  • A single stroke is when you hit the drum with a single beat.
  • A double stroke is when you hit the drum with a downward movement with alternating sticks, and you allow the stick to bounce on every alternate stroke. This takes a bit more effort.

If you want to do complex drums, practice the single and double stroke. You should also work on the 26 American drum rudiments. Keep doing this and you’ll learn how to do triple and quadruple stroke patterns too.

Step 13: Use your feet

  • Repeat the same 8 notes you’ve been doing, keep the beat steady.
  • Use your left foot to close the hi hat on each beat.
  • Open when it’s offbeat, i..e when you say “and” during the counts.
  • Pound the snare on the 2s and 4s.
  • Use your right hand to maintain the 8th note time (1 and 2 and 3 etc) on the ride cymbal or the snare rim.
  • Use your right foot to play the kick drum. Try different beats while keeping your limbs locked in. Take your time as it may be a while to get accustomed to your limbs moving around independently.

Step 14: Triplets

You have to focus on half notes when it comes to quarter notes. Count 1-la-le in the half note space. This the same for eight note triplets, but 3 notes split inside the quarter note space.

  • Triplets are used a lot in percussion lines and drum fills, but not so much in rock beats. Essentially you play three notes in the time you regularly two. As you play you’ll learn 32nd note triplets, 8th note triplets and quarter note triplets.
  • The simplest way to to do this is by using a metronome.

Step 15:  16th notes

16th notes are the same thing you play while learning to move your hands in opposing ways. The count is one trip let and trip let, two trip let and trip let, and so on.

Step 16: 32nd notes

32nd note triplets are too rapid to say aloud and need a lot of subdivision counting. Just listen to “Hey Joe” by Jimi Hendrix and you’ll get an idea of what 32nd notes sound like.

It takes time to learn the 32nd notes because you have to play evenly. You have to play the exact notes and produce identical sounds with both hands.

Step 17: Practice more intricate rhythms

When drumming notes, keep in mind all the subdivisions must match the metronome time. Every click is a quarter beat so it’s not going to be difficult to keep pace. As long as the numbers you count match the metronome clicks, you’ll be doing fine. Keep this up and you’ll learn to play faster.

Step 18: Use the rest

Next time you listen to your favorite tune, use the 16th or 8th note count subdivision and you’ll realize that songs have spaces in the fills where there’s silence as you count. That is the rest.

Step 19: Subdivide rests and beats

Use your snare drum to subdivide beats and rests. Your objective is to produce sounds evenly with your hands. When you make a normal stroke or an accented note with your right hand, it should sound the same with your left hand. The reverse should be true as well.

An accented stroke is when you hit the drum with more force compared to the other strokes.   Accent strokes are often done on the drum’s rim and symbolized by the > sign.

Step 20: How to play fills

A fill is used to put some style to the music. Fills usually occur between beats on the cymbals and toms. Start with a simple beat like the following.

  • Drum “1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +” the way you did with your left on the snare and your right on the hi hat. Use your right foot for the kick.
  • Keep this up and count aloud and say “1 + 2 +”. stop your limbs,, count “3 + 4” and repeat.
  • Add some variety. When you get to “3 + 4 +”, move all your limbs simultaneously. Or you can strike the crash cymbal at the 1.
  • Try the different variations and combinations on the “3 + 4 +”. Some will sound better than the others. You may prefer 2 kicks and 2 snares or 2 kicks then 2 snares or alternate snare and hand.

Step 21: Keep practicing

The more you play, the more you’ll learn how to do complex fills, beats and rhythms. There is no substitute for putting in the hours of practice, but it is just as important to know and use the right techniques.

Beginners’ Guide to Playing Drums Video

Here is a video showing how to play drums:

How to Tune a Drum Kit

Knowing how to learn drums for beginners is just one aspect, as you must also know how to tune a drum kit. The good thing is tuning one drum is the same as the others, though it will take more than a few tries to find the tone you’re looking for.

Step 1. Seat the drum head onto the shell

Before you set the head onto the drum, make certain to wipe it clean the head and rim.

Step 2. Set the drum head on the drum

Follow the instructions on your drum kit guide.

Step 3. Screw in the tension rods

Screw the tension rod tight, but not too tightly. This is important for rod positioning.

Step 4. Stretching the drum head

Once you’ve secured the rods, the drum head needs to be stretched. Form your hand into a fist and press in the center on the center of the drum. Repeat this for all the drums you want to tune.

Step 5. Tune the drums

The tension rods need to be tightened opposite of each other. Choose a rod and using your drum key, tighten some turns.

Look for the opposite tension rod and repeat the turns. Keep repeating this for all the rods until they’re tightened and secure. Try to keep the rotation count on every rod the same number.

Step 6. Test the drums

Hit the drums after you’re done tightening the rods. If it does not sound right it’s time to fine tune.

Choose a tension rod to adjust and tap the head a couple of inches off the rod.  Do the same for the rod opposite it.

Hit the drums again and listen for inconsistencies or uneven tones. If there is, make a half turn and listen again. This is a fine tuning process so you have to be patient.

Keep in mind this is your music: only you can determine if the tone is right. Keep tuning until the sound is just what you want.

Tips and Warnings

  • Get a firm idea of the type of music you want to play. Rock musicians need at least a 22 inch bass drum, 3 toms and large cymbals. For jazz you’ll do fine with an 18 inch bass, but make sure you’ve got quality cymbals as they’re critical. Knowing what you want is key to buying the right set.
  • Your drums need plenty of room. There should be space for your arms to move naturally. Extra space will also come in handy in case you plan to add more pieces to the kit later on.
  • Be patient. Nobody becomes a master drummer overnight. Start with the simple rhythms as described here before moving on to the more complex pieces.
  • Sit properly on the throne. Maintain good posture and balance. Play relax and adjust the stool height until you are comfortable.
  • Warm up and flex your muscles before playing. Drumming requires your hands, arms and feet. If you’re not used to this, your muscles will tire quickly. That’s why it helps to warm up.
  • Use right and left sides at the same time. You’ll be using both during practice so it’s important they’re both well balanced and can produce the same sound.
  • Stay focused. If your mind wanders you’ll easily lose track of the count. Concentrate and you’ll stay on course.
  • If you’re having trouble playing multilayered rhythms, break it down. Play one layer at a time.
  • Keep that drum key handy. You’ll never know when it’s time for another fine tuning. Remember to make the changes in increments until you get the sound that you want to hear.

Conclusion

Learning how to play drums for beginners need not be complicated or frustrating. It is all about taking the time to practice and unleashing your creativity. Keep working on it and you’ll notice the difference and improvements.

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