There is a sea of information available on the internet. It can be daunting to know where to start. If you’re going it alone, it might be difficult to know if you’re working on the right things and whether you’re actually making progress. Let me outline exactly what you need to know, and the priority with which you should treat each area.
Why Teach Yourself?
It is entirely viable to teach yourself how to do almost anything. However, with proper instruction you will achieve your goals a lot faster.
We each have a finite amount of time in our lives.
It is exciting to explore something that you are passionate about without having to answer to anybody else. Especially something that makes you feel good.
The Problem With Youtube
As with any skill, those who have already mastered it make it look easy. Their competence can easily fool us into thinking that we can acquire a similar level of skill in a short amount of time. This thought process is not helped by seeing hundreds of videos or articles that promise to teach you a song or a technique quickly and without much effort.
They make it out to be easy. And it becomes very difficult to discern the video creators who have created ‘clickbait’ titles using SEO to maximise their rankings and those who can actually help you get better.
The sheer amount of choice available on the internet, and Youtube in particular, can be completely overwhelming. We never have to watch the same video twice. But this is not necessarily a good thing.
You see drums, and music in general, are skills built through repetition. Being faced with too much choice is actually detrimental to our development. It is far better to work on a handful of core patterns consistently, rather than always searching for new exercises or songs.
In no way do I wish to discourage you from exploring Youtube and watching videos. It is a great way to learn. But there are things you can keep in mind that will help you avoid getting disheartened or overwhelmed.
This is a paramount concern because the only thing you need do to get good at something is to keep going consistently. If a tool that is supposed to help is having the opposite effect, then you need to know why so you can equip yourself to use it effectively.
How to Make Progress
Drumming is made a lot easier when you know exactly what to do next. Attempting something that sounds really cool but is quite advanced presents a great challenge, but if that’s your only focus, it might start to feel like you’re not getting where you want to go.
It’s important to balance your practice sessions with things you can’t do and things you can do. Think of the latter as a reward for all your hard efforts. The fundamental balance we’re looking to find is between Practice and Performing.
Let me define these two terms below.
Practice is: focussing on the details, playing new patterns slowly, working with a metronome.
Performing is: zooming out from the details, flowing at normal speed, playing with music or other musicians.
Finding a solid balance between learning new things and working on the details, and developing flow and musicality with other musicians, ensures that you are fulfilled and inspired in your studies. Focussing too heavily on one side or the other can affect your consistency. And as already know, when learning something new, consistency is king.
Should I Pay For Pre-Recorded Video Lessons?
As we noted above, Youtube is great, but it can be overwhelming and the learning environment is far from distraction-free. The main advantage of investing in a course from Udemy, Skillshare or an independent service such as Drumeo, is that the material is curated and ordered. It is assured to be of a certain standard, and perhaps most importantly, the learning outcomes are clearly stated. You know what you will likely get from taking the course.
There are many good drum courses on Youtube, so if you find someone you like, check out their other videos and see if they have a playlist that you can follow through with.
It can be tempting to avoid watching the same video twice, but this can actually be very helpful. Find a few videos that you find helpful and commit to play along with them for a few weeks until you feel you are internalising the concepts presented.
Moving Away From Videos
If goes without saying that if you want to perform with others, you won’t be able to take your Youtube library to the gig or rehearsal for reference. Well, you could take them, but it would be far from practical to refer to them mid-song.
So, the overall goal of all our practice is to internalise what we learn. We are developing a vocabulary on the drums so that we can communicate and speak with the audience, and the other musicians in the band.
This starts with our grooves and fills and extends up to whole songs. We are not learning with our head. We are teaching our body to play music instinctively, with minimal thought.
This is our ability to perform. To flow with and be creative with the patterns and pieces we learn. The more we learn, the more connections become possible in our vocabulary.
I Don’t Know How to Read Music
Reading music is a useful skill when learning to play the drums. Although, it is far less essential than for other instruments, especially orchestral ones.
By learning to read, we open ourselves up to learn and experience all the books in the world written in our language. The same is true for learning to read drum music, we open ourselves up to learn and experience all the songs that have been transcribed. It is valuable aid to our learning.
But, it is not essential.
If you wish to learn, it is best to take it slow. Remember than you didn’t learn to read, write and speak all in one go, they were skills you built up and developed over time. The same is true for drum music. We start to develop our ear and hone in on drum patterns in music. We start to see the patterns written down and we can start to dabble with learning to write drum music for ourselves.
Perhaps the most hands-on way to learn is using a step-sequencer or drum machine. These can be found in GarageBand or in similar Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software.
A useful tool which I use extensively myself is the fantastic Groove Scribe. It functions in the browser and allows you to quickly and intuitively ‘program in’ patterns to listen back to or share with others. You can check it out here.
Summary and Practical Application
- The internet is a fantastic tool for learning but, the wealth of information can be overwhelming. Seek out curated material that provides you with clear learning outcomes and a gradual curve of difficulty.
- Be sure to revisit the material you discover regularly and consistently. Don’t feel tempted to continually search for new videos. Find a handful that you find useful and spend a few weeks studying them.
- Always come back to the basics. After all, for the vast majority of drummers making a living from music, it’s the simple stuff played well that pays the bills. By all means, stretch yourself with challenging exercises (great for building awareness), just remember they probably won’t get you hired!
The internet is a fantastic resource for aspiring drummers, however, the direct face-to-face support of a professional is the fastest way to truly understand the way of the drummer.
The best way to progress at anything is to surround yourself with strong role models. When learning an instrument, spending time in the company of a person who has already mastered what you want to do, will allow you to osmotically absorb all the nuances of their character which have made them the musician they are.
Pitch and tuning are areas that can only be understood by direct experience. Perfect tuning is a feeling and it comes from a sensitivity to the fine details of what makes music great. When training the voice to sing, we follow guide pitches so we may learn just how precise we must be to perform soulfully.
The only real way to understand music is as a conversation. And like all good conversations, there needs to be more than one participant. By practicing with others, you not only have the burning impetus to get better, you also have their direct feedback to refine your own output and allow you to communicate more gracefully through your instrument.
We can learn patterns and songs, but for technique, tuning and timing, you’re better off going directly to a professional. By piggybacking on their experience, you save yourself a lot of time and maximise the level of musicality you can achieve in your lifetime.
Musicians gain experience by playing music with other people. Your greatest teachers will always be your band and your audience. You develop your craft by playing with others and for others. There isn’t really any other way to understand it. It has to be felt.