This guide is designed to equip those just starting out with the best information and advice to move forward confidently. I discuss the equipment you need to get started, the options you have to learn the basics, and the fundamentals of practice and getting better.
What Do I Need to Get Started?
A whole drum kit is very affordable these days. They even look nice in the corner of the room. However, that does not mean the first thing you should do is rush out and buy one. The best piece of advice I can give you is this: learning to play the drums is an investment of time far more than it is an investment of money.
Acquiring the equipment is the easy part.
The question you should really ask yourself is, do I have enough time to commit to learning how to play? It doesn’t need to be much time each day or each week, but it does need to be regular and consistent.
The best way to get started is to give it a try before you commit to purchasing a kit. Either at a friend’s house or in a music store. Better yet, invest in a couple of lessons and decide whether you enjoy the process of learning.
It is very easy to look at the drummer flailing around on stage and think, “Wow, they’re having the most fun, I want to play that instrument!” Underneath all that flailing there is a lot of precision and focus.
The best example I can think of is from the movie Cool Runnings. There is a scene where Sanka wants to be the driver of the bobsled and he’s arguing with the coach. The coach explains that the driver has to spend long hours learning the turns of the course and is has more responsibility than the other members of the team. When Sanka realises what is takes, he decides to let Derice be the driver instead.
The drummer is the driver of the band. They keep everyone else on time and in check.
But don’t let any of that put you off! It’s better to understand the reality of the instrument at the beginning. Playing the drums is one of the most exciting things you can do. It is similar to driving in many other ways too.
To get started, I recommend purchasing a pair of drum sticks and maybe a practice pad to tap on. Your first stage is to build dexterity and coordination between the hands. Once you know drumming is something you want to commit some time, you’ll probably wonder whether you should purchase an acoustic or an electronic drum kit.
Whichever you choose, have fun. After all, the driver chooses the destination.
Should I Buy a Drum Kit Straight Away?
If you have the money, it might be tempting to rush out and buy a drum kit straight away. However, it’s worth considering that learning the drums is as much an investment of time as it is an investment of money.
Whether you’re buying a kit for yourself, or for someone else, it’s a good idea to first acquaint yourself with the basics of playing the instrument. I believe it is far better to invest some time and money in drumming lessons, before investing in a whole drum kit.
You can get started with a pair of sticks and something to tap on. Drummers practice on rubberised pads called practice pads
The best case scenario is if you know someone that already has a drum kit and is willing to let you play it. They might even be able to show you a few patterns to get you started.
What You Need to Know
Depending on the student, it can take a bit of time to get some reward from playing the drums. It relies heavily on repetition and once you have a beat, you need to train your mind to not think about your individual movements. If you’re brand new to drumming, it’s probably best to give it a try first. Either on a friends kit, through a few lessons, or even stepping into a music shop and asking nicely to play one of the kits.
When You Know, You Know
It should be pretty obvious to you early on whether it’s something you want to stick with. Though not overly expensive, a drum kit is a reasonable investment. To save money when getting started I would always look to the second hand market. There will be plenty of people who didn’t read this article, who rushed and bought an expensive kit straight away. It really doesn’t need to be anything special to begin with. Your first year will be developing the coordination to play rhythms, so the sound of what you are hitting isn’t that important.
What is important is striking the balance between getting a kit you want to play and not spending the earth to begin with.
If noise is a consideration, you may want to opt for an electronic drum kit that can be played with headphones. If you have a shed, or a place where you can make noise and not bother neighbours or other members of your household, then an acoustic kit could be the way to go.
What Size Sticks Should I Buy?
The most popular drum stick size in the world is 5A. The size is much the same across all drum stick manufacturers. You can’t go far wrong with a pair of 5A drum sticks.
Different weights of stick are chosen for different styles of music. Lighter sticks, such as the 7A, are more suited to quieter Jazz playing. Heavier sticks, such as the 5B or 2B, are more suited to heavier Rock playing.
You might also like to choose your sticks based on the size of your hands. Young children might be more comfortable with a thinner 7A stick to get started with. Adults with larger hands might find the 5A too thin and opt for a pair of 5B sticks instead.
You will be faced with one more question: wood or nylon tips? This choice comes entirely down to sound preference. Nylon tips tend to sound brighter and slightly clearer than their wooden counterparts. However, the nylon tips can occasionally fly off with heavier playing, rendering the stick useless. Beginners are normally better off with wood-tipped drum sticks.
So, the short answer: a pair of 5A sticks with wood tips, from whichever manufacturer your prefer, for most players. And the option to try 7A sticks for younger players.
Should I Buy an Acoustic or an Electronic Drum Kit?
Although the starting cost for an acoustic drum kit is less than that of an electronic setup, you will likely spend more replacing drum sticks and drum heads/skins.
For a full comparison of acoustic and electronic drum kits, check out: Acoustic vs. Electronic Drums: Which Should I Choose?
Can I Learn to Play Drums Using the Internet?
So, if I watch all the videos on Youtube I’ll become amazing on the drums? That sounds easy, I’ll do that.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as that.
For a full answer to this question and a how-to for learning drums with the internet, check out this article: How to Learn Drums Using the Internet
Should I Take Lessons?
I outline the advantages and disadvantages of teaching yourself vs. engaging a tutor in this article [make link].
In summary, it comes down to:
- Your motivation and desire to learn
- How organised you are
I have witnessed students take lessons expecting them to be a silver bullet and not practice in between. And I have seen students with very little guidance make tremendous progress.
The ideal arrangement is to engage a tutor as and when necessary. If you have lots of time to practice, then weekly lessons would be a good idea. If you have other commitments and won’t be able to practice as much, then a fortnightly or monthly schedule might be more appropriate.
The sooner you can create a practice routine at home, the sooner you will start to see real progress. You tutor will only be able to guide you. It comes down to you to practice what you are shown methodically, on your own.
Taking lessons without practicing between them is a waste of money. Your tutor can only show you so many exercises or songs before you will hit a bottleneck. If you practice regularly, there will be bottlenecks, but they will not last long and you will have a fresh supply of new material each week.
What Should I Practice?
I maintain that playing the drums should always be fun. It’s the reason we start and it’s the reason we need to keep in mind when presented with challenges. Working on something that is too difficult is no fun.
The main reason one might engage a tutor is because they can present the information as a gradual learning curve. This is an advantage over teaching yourself because without guidance it is impossible to know whether a song or pattern is your next best step.
If you practice something for too long and don’t feel like you are getting anywhere, it can feel disheartening. The ideal practice routine then should balance things you can already do, with the new things you are learning. If you only play what you can already do, you won’t progress. If you only play things you can’t do, you might get disenchanted and forget why you love playing the instrument.
An Ideal Practice Session
- Spend 5 to 10 minutes warming up the hands and feet with simple exercises. This serves to get the body ready to play at its optimum, and simultaneously quietens and focusses the mind.
- Spend 20 to 30 minutes working on whatever new exercises, patterns or songs are on your agenda. Work in short bursts on each element, knowing that you can only make so much progress in each session. It is far better to practice something a few times then come back to it later, rather than working on it until it becomes a frustration.
- Spend 15 to 20 minutes playing through pieces that you are already familiar with. Over time you will have built a repertoire of songs you can play along to. Keep revisiting these. Strike a balance between the ones you enjoy the most and those that provide you the most challenge and satisfaction.
- The warmup protects you from injury and also ensures you are performing at your best.
- It’s best to work on new things while you’re fresh.
- Don’t forget to reward yourself by playing songs you enjoy.
I talk a lot about the balance between practice and performing. Understanding the difference between these two modes on your instrument will help you keep moving forward and stay balanced.
Movin’ On Up?
Once you’re comfortable with all the ideas here, you’re ready to move on the next section, How to Make Progress. There we’ll discuss how to practice your instrument, find new songs to play and keep moving forward with the best instrument in the world.