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Whether you want to become a professional drummer or just play along to your favorite music, following a disciplined step-by-step practice regimen is the best way to learn how to play the drums. If you learn to play the drum kit with the proper technique, you'll open a world of possibility in all sorts of genres and all sorts of ensembles.

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What Are Drums?

Drums are percussion instruments that make sound when a player strikes a drum head—a stretched membrane attached to the instrument's frame or drum shell. This makes drums a type of membranophone.

For most of musical history, drum heads were made from animal parts such as goat skins, but today's drums almost always use plastic composites for their drum heads. Drummers play drums by hand or with beaters like mallets, drumsticks, rods, wire brushes, and foot pedals.

4 Tips for Learning to Play the Drums

If you’re working with a drum teacher or teaching yourself to play the drums, there are a few techniques that will allow you to experiment while staying in control. Beginner drummers should focus on the following goals as they learn their instrument:

  1. Follow a beat. Use a metronome to ensure that you can keep a steady pulse with all four appendages that you’ll be playing with—left hand, right hand, left foot, and right foot. This will train you to play steadily while keeping your feet and hands in sync.
  2. Master the rudimentary strokes. Rudiments are the building blocks of more complex drum patterns. You'll want to practice rudiments—or basic strokes—of drumming until they enter your muscle memory. Once you’ve trained yourself, you’ll be able to perform the rudiments reflexively.
  3. Learn to read music. Start with the basics, like learning time signatures and knowing the difference between whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, and eighth notes. Eventually, you can build up to more complex forms of sight-reading, which will open you up to be able to play with a wide variety of bands.
  4. Pick a practice routine you'll stick to. Practicing is the only way to improve your skills on a drum set, so pick a realistic routine that you can commit to doing every day. If you live in an apartment, you might want to invest in an electronic drum set so that you can practice without constant noise concerns.
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5 Tips for Holding Drum Sticks

The primary drum grips that drummers use are the traditional grip and the matched grip, which has three variants—the American grip, the German grip, and the French grip. Most of today's drummers use a matched grip. Here is how to hold drumsticks using an American matched grip:

  1. Turn your palm face down. To begin, hold your hand out with your palm facing down.
  2. Place your drumstick. Curl your index finger inward, and place the drumstick between that finger and your thumb.
  3. Find your “balance point.” The “balance point” is where your thumb and forefinger act as a resting and pivoting point for the stick, with the stick equally balanced on each side of where you’re holding it. To find your proper balance point, move the stick in your grip until you find a place where it balances equally between your thumb and your forefinger. Having a balanced stick is important for getting each beat to bounce off the drum head or cymbal to perform the rudiments.
  4. Add your other fingers. Curl your middle finger, ring finger, and pinky under the drumstick to help your index finger grip it.
  5. Use your wrists to hit the drum. Propel your drum beats using your wrists. Give your drum a couple of taps to make sure the feel is natural. If you hold your sticks with a proper grip, your wrist will flow freely.

How to Read Sheet Music for the Drums

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Drum transcriptions are written on the same five-line music staff used for melodic instruments, but the lines and spaces on the staff represent different drums and cymbals in your drum kit, rather than notes. Instead of treble, bass, or tenor clef, drum notation typically uses the natural clef or percussion clef, which is represented by two vertical lines next to the time signature.

Specific spaces on the staff are assigned for the bass drum, snare drum, floor tom, and rack toms (hi tom and low tom). Cymbals, including hi-hat, ride cymbal, splash cymbals, and crash cymbals are indicated with "x"-shaped noteheads. The note stems point downward when the player sounds a note with their feet (as in a kick drum and opening and closing a hi-hat). Stems point upward when notes are played using handheld beaters (like drumsticks, rods, mallets, or wire brushes).

Over time, different music arrangers have assigned different note positions to different drums. But in most cases, the basic drum notes appear on the staff like this:

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How to Practice 8 Basic Drum Rudiments

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A drum rudiment is a short musical phrase meant to train a percussionist in fundamental physical and rhythmic techniques. Drummers practice rudiments because they are the building blocks of more complex drum phrases, including drum rolls, drum fills, and drum grooves. The Percussive Arts Society names 40 essential rudiments that drummers should learn. Some of these rudiments include:

  1. Single stroke roll rudiments: Single stroke rudiments involve alternate sticking single strokes, which means that left and right hands alter back and forth with no double strikes.
  2. Multiple bounce roll rudiments: Multiple bounce roll rudiments involve alternate sticking, with the drum stick "bouncing" off the drum head multiple times to create a light roll.
  3. Double stroke open roll rudiments: A double stroke open roll indicates that a player should strike twice with one stick before striking with the other stick.
  4. Diddle rudiments: Double strokes played at a song's prevailing speed are referred to as diddles.
  5. Paradiddle rudiments: A paradiddle refers to two single strokes immediately followed by a double stroke.
  6. Flam rudiments: A flam (or flam accent) is when a drummer strikes a grace note—which is a soft stroke unconnected to time—a split second before striking the primary stroke.
  7. Drag rudiments: In drum terminology, a drag is a double stroke that occurs at twice the speed of the song or beat. For instance, if you're playing a passage filled with eighth notes—which are two to a beat—a drag would be a two sixteenth notes—four to a beat—played with a double stroke (two strokes with one hand).
  8. Hybrid rudiments: You can create hybrid drum rudiments by combining rudiments from various families such as single stroke, double stroke, diddle, flam, and drag.

Want to Learn More About Shredding on the Drums?

Snag a MasterClass Annual Membership, pick up your sticks, and find the beat with exclusive instructional videos from GRAMMY-nominated drummer Sheila E. (aka the Queen of Percussion). Once you master the timbales and congas, expand your musical horizons with lessons from other sonic legends like Timbaland, Herbie Hancock, Tom Morello, and others.

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