As a drum teacher and professional drummer, it’s not surprising that I’m constantly asked the same question over and over – what is the best way to learn drums, really?
In my experience, when practicing the drums, you have to tick two boxes – you want it to be as enjoyable as possible, and at the same time, you want to make as much progress as possible.
When you’re making good progress, the drums become more fun and enjoyable. And when playing the drums is fun and enjoyable, you make more progress, because you practice more often.
By focusing on the right things, you can learn much faster, and therefore have a much less frustrating experience.
In this article, I’m going to explain all the things you absolutely need to know when learning to play drums – and possible pitfalls and traps that you want to avoid.
Drumming practice isn’t always super fun – you need a balance between the more enjoyable bits and the more ‘technical’ parts of practice – but if you get this balance right – you’ll see amazing results over time.
While there isn’t one ‘best way’ to learn the drums – there are certainly far better and far worse strategies out there – so allow me to borrow 10 minutes of your time to save you finding many dead ends further down the road!
Alright, let’s get started!
The need to know essentials of becoming a drumming wizard
There are really only a few things you absolutely NEED to develop as a beginner drummer – technique, timing and coordination.
First off, you need to know how to hold the sticks, and play with reasonable technique.
It’s no use learning with poor technique, losing control of the sticks, and poking your grandma’s eye out as a result.
Technique is essential, and there’s a lot of debate as to which hand technique is the best. You’ll hear lots of technique names dropped around the place like ‘German’, ‘French’, or ‘Moeller’.
Here’s a bit of insider knowledge – it doesn’t matter which one you learn, but make sure you do learn at least one!
Don’t confuse yourself trying to learn 15 different ways of holding the stick, pick one to start with and go with it.
Buddy Rich famously had some of the greatest drum techniques ever. His most famous drum solo is nicknamed the ‘Impossible Drum Solo’.
The second essential element of learning to play the drums is timing.
Just like comedy, timing is the key to drumming.
If you don’t get your timing right – the train won’t leave the station and any music you play along to will sound pretty awful. Even your grandma won’t be impressed.
Fortunately, you can work on timing and develop this key skill. You don’t have to be born with a robotic sense of time – it improves gradually as you work more on it.
The classic tool for working on your timing is to use a metronome. It’s a clicking sound that you play along to, to train yourself to be consistent.
Honestly, metronome practice isn’t super fun and does send some people to sleep – but it’s so important for drumming – it’s worth trying to keep yourself awake to practice with one.
Practicing along to songs also helps develop timing.
It’s useful to have a mixture of both song playing and metronome practice – not just one or the other.
“The drum is the heart of the music. The drummer keeps going, he can’t afford to stop”– Jo Jones, famous jazz drummer
The third essential element of good drumming is coordination.
If you’ve got two left feet, or your feet think that they are arms – don’t panic. This is a skill that can be developed too.
When playing the drums, you need to play rhythms with multiple limbs at the same time.
This is going to take some practice – and you won’t be able to do it instantly. Don’t worry, this sorts itself out over time.
INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT TIP: When you hit two drums or cymbals together – you need to make sure you’re hitting them at EXACTLY the same time. This applies whether you’re using your hands, feet, or both hands and feet together.
If they don’t quite hit together – you get this funny higgledy-piggledy sound where one drum is slightly out of time with the other.
Make sure from the start of your drumming that you’re focusing on marrying each drum and cymbal together properly.
They should make a noise at exact the same time, there shouldn’t be any gap between the notes or any sound of ‘fuzziness’ between them.
If you have these three things sorted out, your future is bright as a drummer. Most real problems tend to be as a result of those three things – and if you can keep them in mind from the start – you’ll have a real edge in your playing.
“Playing well with others is important – not being too flashy, just keeping good time and of course, coming up with cool beats. A good snare drum, kick drum, hi-hat. Just getting good at the hand feet coordination”– Chad Smith, drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers
What should I practice?
The best way to learn drums is to practice the things that drummers play most often.
90% of the time as drummers – we are playing something called a drum beat (also known as a drum groove). This is what you should put all your attention on when you’re first starting out on the drum set.
The other 10% of the time, we play something called a drum fill. Fills really aren’t important as a brand-new player, so don’t worry about these just now. You can still play loads of songs without them.
So if you’re going to be learning drum beats, what beats should you practice?
If you practice a beat that went out of fashion in 1902, you’ll have limited music that you can play along to.
If you can see into the future, and you play a beat from the year 2312 – that won’t be helpful either.
Learning the right drum beats is like a treasure map that points you in the right direction. You’ll learn far more songs far more quickly if you’re headed in the right direction.
Drumming is complicated in the sense that there are loads of things you COULD learn, but it’s quite simple in the sense that fundamentally, you can break drumming down into helpful little categories.
Most songs are built on a foundation of a tiny number of drum beats.
If you choose the right beat for the song you’re playing, what you play will be applicable to the track – even if the drummer on the track is adding snazzy extras and doing some super clever stuff.
So if we’re to get a correct foundation with our drumming – we need to start with learning the standard drum beats/grooves from popular music genres.
“Grooves pay the bills”Steve Gadd, famous session drummer
You could think of the drummers job in three parts:
1) The drummer lays down a beat which has a basic ‘skeleton’ – if you took all the fancy stuff away, this is the bare bones he or she would need to play to keep the song moving forward.
2) On top of that, the drummer can add variety to the drum beat – adding extra touches here or there to make it unique and match perfectly to the song.
3) To finish, the drummer plays a snazzy drum fill every handful of bars – to change the energy of a song or to simply add even more variety.
Learning the skeletons first, which is step 1, is a very logical way to get started on drums.
It makes life so much easier to know what the starting point of a beat is before all the other stuff is added.
This is probably the biggest mistake new drummers make.
Understandably, you want to learn all your favourite songs straight away – but your favourite drummer will almost certainly be playing lots of complex rhythms you can’t do yet.
It’s extremely helpful to have an order of priority for what you learn – if you try and learn a super fast rock song with crazy drum fills – you’ll have no context to understand what’s going on.
You can look forward to learning all that stuff later – but your starting point should definitely be the common drum beats!
How to get started
There are many ways to get started on the drums.
However, most of the ways people learn drums cause them to waste a lot of time.
If you’re a busy person with other things to do, you might not have much time to spend on drumming every day.
Therefore, I would highly advise against searching for random videos on YouTube to start learning.
I actually had my own experience with this recently.
A year ago, I started learning piano – and even though I’m a professional musician, I still had NO IDEA which videos on Youtube were important to my practice and which weren’t.
So I decided against Youtube videos (I’ll reveal what I did later).
Some people say you can learn to play the drums on your own – but it’s pretty rare for a musician to be truly ‘self-taught’ – it requires a lot of hours of experimentation, wasted effort and going down pointless rabbit holes which is normally no fun at all!
You can pay for lessons with a tutor like me – which is the standard way of doing things, but also the most expensive.
It takes me 2-3 months of lessons with a new student to teach technique, timing, co-ordination and the basic drum beats.
This would normally cost a student about $400.
But, as a lot of people can’t afford 1-1 lessons or aren’t yet willing to commit the time, there is a third option…
And it’s also the option I chose as a beginner piano player…
And that’s to take an online course with someone who really knows their stuff.
For my piano playing – I decided to take a course where a piano teacher had laid out a very logical, simple progression for improving my playing.
I’ve been practicing a little every day, and it’s been giving me really solid results.
I wanted to design something similar for new drummers.
Let’s face it, almost nobody has the time to practice 8 hours a day, and learn every possible trick out there.
There needs to be an order of priority for what you learn.
I put together a fun, approachable video course for new drummers which gives you THE MOST IMPORTANT bits for quickly learning to play along to great music.
It’s for new drummers who want to get started with playing songs right away – but also don’t want to miss any of the important foundations that they need to take their drumming further.
This will significantly cut down the amount of time you need to practice before you start playing along to music.
In fact, we start playing along to music in the first 10 minutes of the course.
There are bigger and more expansive courses out there, but one bit of feedback I was getting from my in-person students before I created this course was that they were just too time intensive and confusing.
If you lead a busy life, you’ll need a faster way of getting you started.
Even if you can only practice for 15 minutes a day, you’ll make progress, AS LONG as you’re able to focus on the right stuff.
Take my student Bethany, 40, from Florida:
She runs a dog-walking business, which takes up nearly all her free time and energy. In fact, once she’s dealt with the dogs, there’s not much time for anything else. She also REALLY wants to learn the drums, and needs a way to make that happen.
Here’s how we did it!
The way we make it work is by practicing THE MOST IMPORTANT bits of drumming, and ONLY the most important bits.
Even if she can only spare 15 minutes a day to practice a beat – she makes noticeable progress with her playing. We just work on one beat at a time – and it’s so cool to see her unlocking new songs, getting faster and getting more confident with just a little regular practice!
I’m hoping to share that same method with you guys as well – and give you a chance to learn to play drums if you felt it was out of reach before.
And of course, if you find yourself getting obsessed with the drums, completing the course, and wanting to move onto other things, that’s perfect.
You’ll have all the most important tools you need to discover the whole crazy, wonderful world of drumming.
You can find out more about the course on our Common Drum Beats explainer page.
However you decide to start learning to play the drums, I wish you the absolute best of luck with your playing and hope it becomes a true passion of yours!