Knowing what to practice as a beginner can often be overwhelming and in my experience (as a private and university drum teacher for the last 20 years) students are better of learning what I call the three fundamentals:
Beginner drummers should practice technique, musicality and stylistic awareness. These are the three fundamentals that will allow you to develop the correct foundation skills. These skills are important because they focus on developing the parts of the brain and body that are needed to progress and interact smoothly with you drum kit without damaging yourself. In turn allowing you to express your ideas with ease.
Let’s break down these three fundamentals:
1. As a beginner you should be working on your Technique
The following techniques are extremely important for beginners as they include all the physical elements of engaging with your drum kit. They are the vehicle that allows you to express your musicality and musical ideas.
The important techniques for beginners are as follows:
Learning the fundamental drumming grips
As a beginner you should work on your hand techniques to develop a relaxed and free flowing technique without pain or hinderance.
Hand techniques include a basic understanding of grip and hand position when holding the sticks such as the three “match grip” positions: the German Grip, the French Grip, and a more recent development, the American Grip – as well the the Traditional Grip.
I tend to start students off with the German Grip as this allows a smooth and unhindered wrist movement and the sticks to bounce smoothly.
Working on the bounce AKA “rebound Stroke”
Another very important aspect of hand techniques is understanding and working on the bounce.
The reason for which is this allows a clear and open tone from the drums as opposed to a chocked sound. Several names exist for this technique such as rebound stroke, but it basically constitutes the understanding and feel of how the stick bounces back off the drum head and returns into your hands.
The best way to master hand technique as a beginner without losing your enthusiasm is to work on snare drum rudiments.
These rudiments give you the vehicle to develop the hand techniques previously mentioned. Start with the single stroke roll, double stroke roll and also the paradiddle.
If you’re not familiar with these rudiments, check out the following explanation by Deep Purple’s drummer, Ian Paice:
Developing your Foot Technique
Foot technique is next as developing a smooth foot action allows you to create accurate and controlled movement on your bass drum and hi-hat pedals. In turn allowing you to be both relaxed and get a clear tone out of your drums.
When developing sound foot technique look first at how the pedal rebounds off the bass drum head – notice how it returns to its starting point when you take your foot off it.
This is because of the spring mechanism of the foot pedal.
The important thing here, therefore, is how to work with that movement.
The basic techniques to look at here are the heal down and heal up techniques as they both allow for smooth movement on the pedal.
If you’re not familiar with heal down and heal up techniques check out this video by the master of groove Benny Greb:
Spend a little time warming up when you play by doing groups of four for both of these two foot techniques. In this exercise you will do four consecutive heal down strokes followed by four consecutive heal up strokes. You can practice this both on your bass drum and on the hi-hat pedal.
The development of hand and feet coordination is also extremely important for beginners and I will discuss that in more detail below.
2. Developing your Musicality as a beginner
It is often easy to overlook this part of your journey as a beginner and get caught up in the world of technique. However, understanding that you are also starting out as a musician as well is key to you developing your own unique voice.
In other words musicality will make you stand out from other players.
It is important therefore to make sure that you keep your individuality by enjoying what you do and having fun with the drums.
In a practice session it would be worth doing 5 to 10 minutes on techniques as a warm up for example, then playing for fun too. Make sure you play along to your favourite music tracks, or music genres you’re trying to learn.
I have found that students who enjoy the pieces of music they play along to really shine and their drumming sounds that much better.
In turn you will find that you will become more able to express the mood and emotion in a piece because you have learned to let go and be yourself.
This is probably one of the hardest elements of learning any instrument but it can be great fun just letting it rip sometimes!
3. Developing your Stylistic Awareness as a beginner
Most younger beginners I have taught would not be expected to know or understand different musical styles and which one or which ones they want to pursue.
Therefore this is another integral part of a beginners development.
The reason for which is simple really:
- If you want to be a rock drummer you must learn rock grooves.
- If you want to be a jazz drummer you must learn jazz grooves.
- Apply this to any genre you’re interesting in such as funk, hip hop, metal and so on.
If you are not sure which musical genre interests you then first listen to lots of different types of music – either by listening to free songs on YouTube or if your family has CDs you can listen to them.
Keep listening until you find what appeals to you the most.
The two pathways you can explore: specialist vs generalist
Once you have your style there a couple of pathways you can go.
I would say if you want to be a heavy metal drummer for example, then focus on playing metal as a priority.
This might upset some teachers and drummers but by focusing you will be a great drummer in that style.
The other pathway would be to explore a wider range of styles and develop a more generalist approach.
If you decide to be a generalist then the important thing here is to try lots of musical genres until you settle on your favourites.
The importance of learning Drum Grooves as a beginner
Once you’ve got your style or styles then practice the drum kit patterns that go with them.
These are called many things but drum grooves and drum fills are my preference.
Drum grooves will help you develop coordination skills between limbs, your technique and the musicality associated with that style.
You will spend the vast majority of your time playing these grooves in bands or with friends, so you can not underestimate the importance of learning these.
Two Final Points
The first tip I can give a beginner is to have fun and enjoy your drumming. There are so many great things you can do behind the drums that you can always find something new to learn.
Secondly, I can not over-emphasise the importance of getting a drum tutor. So do not dismiss this option as a great tutor will bring the best out of you and guide you on your journey into a lifetime of drumming.
Nigel has been drumming professionally for 14 1/2 years and has a Master of Arts in Music in drum performance and composition.
He has played with numerous professional acts and is a drum educator privately and at universities. He has also published several educational drumming books.