A Guide on How to Play Drums

Drums are the basics of modern instruments that can be learned by beginner musicians. If you are interested in playing drums, you have to at least start with liking the beats and rhythm of drums, and this guide on how to play drums of course. Drums can be learned if you have the passion and patience in learning the techniques.

The Parts of A Drum Kit

Some people call it a ‘drum kit’ and others call it a ‘drum set’. Whatever you choose to call it, the drums are an instrument that has no right or wrong when it comes to how many pieces, and which pieces, you can use to create sound.

Bass Drum

The bass, or kick drum, is easy to find because it’s the biggest drum in a drum kit. 

Drummers use their foot on the drum’s kick pedal to produce a thumping sound. The bass drum is an essential instrument to the drum kit because it’s the most distinctive part of a band’s timekeeping.

Timekeeping is simply a drummer’s ability to play in time with the pulse of the music. It is a very important skill for drummers to learn. Ensure that you practice this and improve your timekeeping skills in order to develop a consistent tempo while playing.

Snare drum

The snare is in the center of a five-piece drum kit and sits right in front of you. The snare drum is responsible for the loud crack, usually on upbeats, that is heard during your favorite songs.

The snare’s sound comes from its shell, which is generally made from wood like maple, birch, or mahogany, or from metals such as aluminum, bronze, brass, or stainless steel.

The drum head is coated, whereas the bottom of the snare is thin and responsive. The rims are the hoops on the top and bottom that secure the drum heads on the snare.

Although all of the parts of a drum kit are important, developing your snare drum skills can help you become a better all-around drummer. In fact, it’s good to practice some snare drum exercises so you can improve your technique and focus on things like rhythm and intonation.

Toms, Hi-Hat, and Cymbals

The toms, or tom-toms, are usually mounted either above the bass drum or held up by adjustable legs. In a five-piece drum kit, there are two types of toms: the floor toms and rack toms. The floor and rack toms are commonly used during drum fills. Like the other drums in the kit, the toms are generally made from wood or metal.

In addition to these basic parts of a drum set, you can also add cymbals like the hi-hat, crash, and ride cymbals. These add accents to your music and can serve as transitions from one passage in a song to the next.

Most beginner drummers do not have the luxury of having a full drum set at their disposal. Fortunately, you don’t need a complete drum kit to get started when learning how to play the drums.

Drum Equipment for Beginners

The first piece of drum equipment that is recommended and is readily available is “your own body”. Start with hand-drumming, whether that’s playing on a pillow, your thighs, or anything else you can think of that won’t get damaged from repetitive hand tapping.

Start by tapping along to your favorite songs and focus on playing along with the drummer in the song. If you do not have immediate access to music, then you can simply practice keeping a steady tempo, alternating between tapping with your right hand and then your left hand.

How to Hold Drum Sticks

One of the most important techniques a drummer should know is how to hold the drumsticks properly. Most drummers fail to realize the importance of drum stick grip, ultimately hindering their learning curve. When you play drums with the correct stick grip, you will get the maximum bounce and control out of your drumsticks.

There are basically two ways to hold drum sticks: matched grip and traditional grip.

how to play drums

Matched Grip

Matched Grip style is the main type of stick grip. It has become the standard grip for most styles of music. Matched grip is basically having both hands the same when holding the sticks. This implies that both left and right hands are matched. 

Germanian Grip 

The Germanian grip is very common for corps drumming and rocks drumming. It involves you holding your stick at the balance point with your thumb and index finger, placing your other fingers on the bottom of the stick. 

What makes this grip different is the angle in which you play your sticks. Place your sticks on the snare drum and try to make a 90-degree angle with them. When you find this angle, you will notice your elbows may stick out a little, which is absolutely normal.

American Grip 

The American grip is the same as the Germanian grip; however, you are changing the angle of your sticks. Instead of having your elbows out and your sticks at a 90 degree angle, relax a little, and let your arms fall through. You will notice your sticks come in a little, cutting your angle down to about 45 degrees. This is the most common style of drumming, mainly because it feels the most comfortable.

French Grip 

The French grip is different to both American and German. Make sure your arms relax even more, and bring your sticks together. You will notice your sticks come together so they are almost parallel. 

The French grip is unique in the way you are holding your sticks, changing from palms down, to palms up. This means you can get a lot more speed by using your fingers. The only downside to this is the lack of power you will get from your strokes.

How to use the Traditional Grip

Another style of stick grip is the traditional grip. It is very common in corps drumming and jazz drumming. This grip was designed by drummers in the army corps who had their snare drum resting on their hips. The angle of their snare drum made it hard for them to play with a matching grip. 

They had to create a new method of holding their hand underneath the stick. This has more recently been named the traditional grip. To achieve this, you would hold the stick with your hand upside down, (or palms up). Find the balance point of the stick, and place it in the pocket of your thumb and index finger. 

Rest the stick on the last two fingers of your hand. Now you just have to simply rest your index and  Traditional Grip middle finger on the top of the stick.

Traditional grip is not as popular for rock drumming and other heavy styles of drumming. The reason being that you are playing with your hand underneath the stick, you can’t get as much power out of your strokes. 

This is why so many drummers use this grip for softer styles. The traditional grip must be played correctly or you might end up hurting yourself in the long run. Ensure that if you decide to learn this grip, you learn it the proper way!

How to Play Drum Rudiments

When you have your essential equipment (drum sticks, playing surface) and a good sense of proper technique, you’re prepared to begin learning the key examples of drumming, or the basic drum rudiments. 

Drum rudiments are regularly described as the basic building blocks of figuring out how to play the drums. There are 40 basic rudiments every one of which comprises a unique sticking pattern (coordination of right and left hands) and unique rhythm. 

Mastering each of the 40 fundamentals provides you with an abundance of control and rhythmic information that you would then be able to apply to the whole drum set. 

Try not to be scared about learning every one of the 40 rudiments immediately

How to Read Drum Sheet Music

Many drummers are expected to know how to read sheet music and have a basic understanding of it, as it’s a requirement of school concert bands, marching bands, jazz bands, and many professional ensembles. When you understand the drum sheet music, it can be used as a drummer’s secret weapon.

Drum notation is a fairly simple code and once you understand the basics it becomes easy to apply that knowledge to more advanced concepts. It is very important for beginning drummers to start with reading very easy drum rhythms, before trying to jump into understanding intermediate and advanced drum beats.

Try to Start Out Simple

For example, begin with exercises that use a combination of quarter rests and quarter notes with all notes being played on only one drum. Read rhythmic exercises out loud before trying to play them on the drums, because it strengthens the connection between your brain and limbs and it mentally prepares you for the exercise ahead.

Studying the exercise before playing it also allows you to locate any challenging rhythms and then work them out ahead of time. Once you have read the rhythm out loud, it’s time to play!

With beginning rhythms, you should focus only on the coordination of your left and right hands (no feet yet) and ensure that you’re playing in time with a metronome.

Get the Rhythms Down

Regardless of your skill level, we strongly suggest beginning your practice routine with simple drum rhythmic exercises involving just your hands on one playing surface. This will help you improve your coordination and timing, and mentally prepare you for more difficult exercises.

Once you’ve learned how to read and play rhythms on one drum, it’s time to add another playing surface. Still focusing on only the hands, start to play patterns that involve the left hand playing one rhythm while the right-hand plays another. Most drumbeats involve at least three different playing surfaces, but beginners should focus on just the snare and cymbal.

When you can accurately play exercises that involve two different rhythms with the hands, then it’s time to add the feet. First add your kick drum foot, working on exercises that focus on coordination between both hands and your kick drum foot.

Coordinate the Limbs

If you’re having trouble coordinating all three limbs, break the exercise down so that you’re only focusing on two limbs at a time. Make sure that you’re comfortable with each limb combination before trying to put all three together again.

Eventually, you’ll also want to start working your fourth limb, the hi-hat pedal foot. Like the other limbs, start with very basic exercises that coordinate all four limbs before trying to learn more advanced drum beats.

Note that drum notation for the full drum set is much more challenging to read than snare drum notation because there are many more drums or cymbals involved.

How to Read Drum Tabs

Drum tabs are different from sheet music because they are written specifically for the instrument. They use the parts of the drum set that we talked about earlier. Drum tabs use different abbreviations for the drum parts, for example:

CC – Crash Cymbal

HH – Hi-Hat

Rd – Ride Cymbal

SN – Snare

T1 – Hi Tom

T2 – Low tom

FT – Floor Tom

B – Bass Drum

HF – Hi-Hat (with foot)

O – Bass Drum hits

X – Snare and Hi-Hat hits

Here’s an example of this practice in the “two and four” beat from this article about easy drum beats for beginners. The drum tabs appear as follows:



B: O O

Here’s another example from the “boom, boom, clap” beat:



B: O O O O

These simple drum tabs show you which parts of the kit to use (hi-hat, snare, and bass) and when to play them. You can learn more about drum tabs in this beginner’s guide to drum tabs.

how to play drums

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