In 2013, I made a short series of videos covering the basics of drumming for my students. This course (which I’m now calling 12 Drum Lessons for Beginners) was posted on my old blog which isn’t updated anymore, so I thought I’d post it here for anyone who’s looking for some videos on the fundamentals of drumming. At the time, I offered the following disclaimer to put off any keyboard warriors who felt like leaving snarky remarks about my production values and playing technique in the comments section:
“Up until now, I’ve been reluctant to create instructional videos because there are so many other people on the internet making them, usually with much slicker production than I’m currently able to offer. I don’t have the facilities to record live drums, which would require a room big enough to mic-up my kit. As it stands, I can only use the sound captured by my camera which is good enough for educational purposes but not very satisfying to the audiophile. In spite of this, I have ploughed ahead with the project…”
Each lesson focuses on the snare drum – there’s no kit playing here – and there are often some accompanying PDF files to download. The only downsides are that you have to look at my ridiculous face and stupid hair, and that my presenting style is PAINFULLY English. I can’t do anything about that though… So, get your sticks at the ready, download a metronome app, pull up a drum, and prepare to learn how to play it with my 12 Drum Lessons for Beginners.
12 Drum Lessons for Beginners
1 The Snare Drum
2.Grip and Stroke
3. Single Stroke Roll
4. Counting Out Semiquavers
5. An Introduction to Dynamics
6. Quaver and Semiquaver Combinations
7. Double Stroke Roll
8. Crotchet Counting Exercise
9. Quaver Counting Exercise
11. Exercises in 3/4
12. Flams and Drags
Drum Lesson 1: The Snare Drum
This lesson looks at the snare drum, identifying the different parts of the drum and what they’re for. It’s easy to gloss over this sort of information in the rush to start playing but I think it’s important to know your instrument. This is aimed at beginners but even those who’ve been playing a few years might glean something from my waffling.
Drum Lessons 2: The Grip and Stroke
Lesson 2 is about holding the stick (the grip) and playing the drum (the stroke). You’ll learn a little about the different grip positions (German, American and French), the difference between the matched grip and the traditional grip, the fulcrum and how to play a ‘single stroke roll’, allowing for stick rebound. No revelations here, just information to get you started. (Hint: don’t just take my word for it, check out some of the videos on YouTube on these subjects by other drummers! Hint: Jojo Mayer)
A few other things I forgot to mention:
1. When you’re playing a drum, it’s really important to keep your wrists loose.
2. Keep your back straight!
3. Don’t move your arm (at least, at this stage). keep the motion of playing a stoke in the hands and wrists.
4. Just to be crystal clear, I play using the matched grip in the German position; it’s also the grip that I teach.
5: When you play the single stroke roll, use a metronome set to 50bpm (beats per minute) and count 1+2+3+4+ where each number falls on a click.
Drum Lessons 3: Crotchets and Quavers
This lesson continues where the second one left off; the Single Stroke Roll. It starts with a quick recap and then goes onto count out the single stroke roll in crotchets and quavers.
The Single Stroke Roll is one of the first rudiments every drummer learns but it is by no means the easiest to master. Using it as a warm-up before practising is a good way of playing it regularly.
For the more advanced players out there, one of the best exercises for Single Stroke Roll I have come across is the printed in Gary Chaffee’s book Technique Patterns, “The Endurance Exercise for Single Strokes”.
Drum Lessons 4: Counting Out Semiquavers
This lesson covers semiquavers, specifically how to count them out and how they sound in relation to crotchets and quavers. I set the metronome to quaver=80 because it’s a little bit easier for beginners to play semiquavers in time at this rate. It’s equivalent to crotchet=40 (where you only get a click on the numbers, 1 2 3 4), which you should also try.
Obviously, once you get the hang of this you can try it faster. The important thing is to keep everything very even. Make sure the sound you produce is balanced, i.e., one hand is not louder than the other.
Drum Lessons 5: An Introduction to Dynamics
Here’s another drum lesson for total beginners. In this one, I try to explain and teach you to play three common dynamic levels, forte, f = loud, mezzo forte, mf = half or medium loud, and piano, p = soft. It’s really important to start appreciating the dynamic range of your instrument as early as possible. A lot of self-taught drummers I come across only know one dynamic level, bloody loud! So, now’s the time to develop some stick height control. It’s good to practise moving between different stick heights front of a mirror, then you can clearly see your sticks in relation to the drum and make adjustments to your stick height accordingly.
Although I primarily discuss stick height as a means to controlling dynamics, it’s not the only way, for example, you can achieve accents through a ‘squeezing / flicking’ technique. Maybe I’ll make a video about this another time…
Drum Lessons 6: Quaver and Semiquaver Combination
This is a really good exercise sheet to get your teeth stuck into. The important thing is not to try and play the patterns too fast at first. In the video I play it at crotchet = 40 but you could set your metronome to 80 which would give you the quaver pulse. There are four patterns to learn and it’s best to master each of them separately before you try to join them up. In the video, I play each pattern four times through but you can repeat them as many times as you like. In each pattern, the sticking is RLRL but because of the rhythmic content, you will find the ‘lead hand’ switches from RH to LH. Once you feel comfortable with one exercise, move onto the next one. Eventually you’ll be able to attempt the fifth pattern which requires some careful counting!
Drum Lessons 7: Double Stroke Roll
OK, you’re halfway through my 12 Drum Lessons for Beginners. In this lesson, I introduce the Double Stroke Roll or Mummy-Daddy Roll or RRLLRRLL…. I explain the use of full strokes and half strokes to achieve this, and as usual, I recommend practising with a metronome it at a slow tempo to begin with.
Drum Lessons 8: Crotchet Counting Exercises
Here are two simple (!) pieces for snare drum, again aimed at the beginner. The tempo marking moderato indicates a tempo range of about crotchet=108-120. I play both pieces at 108 but you could try them at 120, or faster once you’ve got the hang of them (they are just exercises after all). Try to observe all the dynamic markings. Many beginners skip them but it’s really important not to! Being able to perform different dynamic levels makes you a better musician.
When I recorded this video I was absolutely knackered and didn’t realise the metronome was going to be louder than the drum! Sorry about that. I’ve included mp3s of both pieces played in Sibelius so you can get a clearer idea.
Drum Lessons 9: Quaver Counting Exercise
In this video I play a counting exercise centred around quavers. You can download a PDF file of the piece below. I recommend printing it out and writing the counting over the rhythms. Stick to the (ahem…) sticking and try and play the accents (strokes that are played louder). Although I play it through at crotchet=108, I’d advise you to try it slower at first. Better still, work on one line at a time, breaking it down into one or two bar chunks (which ever feels best). Loop each chunk over and over, counting aloud, until it feels good, then move on. Always work to a metronome. Have I ever mentioned Metronome Online before? I have now.
Drum Lessons 10: Single Paradiddle
Now’s the time to learn the Single Paradiddle! The paradiddle is an extremely versatile rudiment that goes RLRR LRLL. What can I do with that? I hear you think. Well, when I’ve finished my book, working title ‘The Ultimate Guide to the Single Paradiddle’, you can see for yourself.
This is usually played with an emphasis on the first note of each group of four notes.
Drum Lessons 11: Exercises in 3/4
A strange thing happens after a few weeks of habitually counting up to four in your drum practise: counting up to three (something you were probably pretty good at before you decided to be a musician) suddenly seems difficult. Actually, that’s not strictly true; it’s not so much counting up to three that’s difficult, it’s NOT counting up to four. Welcome to the wonderful world of 3/4 or waltz time where there is NO beat four. (NB: This video also features a very young Alphonso Hemmings at the beginning.)
Presented here are three short exercises in 3/4, aimed at the beginner. Once you have learnt how to play them you can attempt to join them up, moving from one to the other without a break. Don’t forget to observe the dynamics and alway practise to a metronome or click. The tempo is quick, in the upper range of allegro.
Drum Lessons 12: Flams and Drags
This is it, the final lesson in the course 12 Drum Lessons for Beginners. Here, I tell you about two common rudiments: flams and drags. The key point I attempt to convey is the importance of stick height. When you play a flam, you’re playing a grace note just before the main note. Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean. There’s an exercise sheet again… After a significant amount of explanation I play through exercises 1 and 2. I don’t explain exercise 3 but I do play it. If you’ve watched all the previous videos you won’t (shouldn’t) have a problem working it out.
Congratulations! You’ve made it through my 12 Drum Lessons for Beginners. Did you find them helpful? Was there something you would have liked to have been included? Please comment below. Glib remarks will not be tolerated!