Photo: Vershinin89 (Shutterstock)
So you want to learn to play the drums. Hit the skins. Hit some wooden circles with sticks to get that sweet, sweet rhythm. In this endeavor, I salute you, especially if you are a child who lives at home with your parents (they will learn to deal with the noise).
Drummers are a strange breed. We sit in the background and most of our efforts go unnoticed and not appreciated, especially by people who don’t play music or who don’t understand how well drumming compliments a style of music. When I was taking lessons at the local music store as a kid, my drum teacher compared playing a drum kit to flying a helicopter: both skills require you to keep multiple body parts in sync at the same time, and everything else will spell disaster.
One thing to note is that learning the drums takes time, but once you get a feel for simple beats and rudiments, some things will become more fun.
Start with sticks and an exercise pad
Drumming is an investment that costs time, energy and money. It can also test the patience of those around you, as the cacophony of the sound is created by beating drums without much skill or practice. If it’s your child who wants to learn – and even if it is you, a presumed adult – I’d suggest starting small by purchasing a plastic exercise pad and a couple of drumsticks.
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These don’t sound great (they’re plastic, after all), but they’ll help you get a feel for the basic, rudimentary skills that are the building blocks of better drumming. From there, read the YouTube tutorials. There is Tons of themand they show you what you need to know: Paradiddles, single-stroke and double-stroke rolls, flams, single-stroke-fours, single-stroke-fives, buzz-rolls and and so on.
These basic instructions will give you at least something to take with you for a drum lesson once you feel ready to begin.
Maybe buy a snare first
You will find that I do not advise anyone to buy a full kit right away. Drum kits – decent ones anyway – are expensive and require a lot of maintenance. First, you need to learn how to set one up: you need to know how to arrange your high hats, rack digs, the floor grave, kick drum, and any cymbals and ancillary equipment you may find attractive. There are also lots of tedious buttons and pieces of felt.
With that in mind, buy a sling to get started. You can practice the same basics on the snare as you can on the plastic pads, only it sounds more like you are actually drumming. My parents did this for me when I started, and it was a good move for them. They wanted to see if I was actually interested in drumming verse, and the very idea of drumming – and my daily presence on the snare drum was a good sign that I was ready to move on to actual drumming.
Start the lessons
Unless you’re a virtuoso talent, you need lessons – at least for a while. In times of pandemic and social distancing, it can take a little longer to actually be in the same room with a teacher, but finding drum lessons online should be easy enough. If you feel like building a relationship with a drumming sensei there are plenty Online resources at your disposal. I would recommend reading a teacher’s reviews (if available) and making a challenging decision from there. If none of the larger digital-first lesson plans seem to be working, check with your local music store as they may have online classes anyway.
Once you find a good teacher, you will definitely get a book of basic drum tabs. The drum notes show you how drum beats are articulated in writing so you can learn to read basic music. It’s like speaking a different language, so you start small and build from there.
Buy a drum kit
Congratulations, you earned the right to spend money on a big old drum kit that John Bonham and Buddy Rich would be proud of. Talk to your teacher or the people in the drum shop about the kit that best suits your ambitions. My personal point of view is rather minimalist: I play a four-piece kit with a crash cymbal and a ride cymbal (not that you would ever need more than one ride cymbal).
If you can jam and groove with a smaller kit, you don’t need anything special. At the very least, you should definitely start playing with other people (if you can safely do so in the middle of the pandemic) and just enjoy yourself. And if you want to pretend you’re Neil Peart and buy a 30-piece kit, go for it. I would love to play around with you.