Learning to play drums requires a lot of memorization and practice. The goal is to develop your skills to a point where you no longer have to think about technique, so that you can execute parts freely. It can take years to develop, but a good teacher can guide you through the fundamentals so that you will progress more quickly. The more you play, the better you will be.
A gig is a show where you play drums. Gigs can last for several hours or as little as a half hour, depending on the type of show it is. Professional drummers are usually paid to play a gig, although many beginning and intermediate drummers play gigs for free.
Most drummers don’t have drum endorsements. Product endorsers are usually high-profile drummers whose name and reputation can help a company market percussion products. Most companies have adopted a tiered system in which many drummers pay a reduced rate while the minority receives free equipment. Very few endorsers are paid to play a company’s products, although most are expected to appear in advertising, give testimonials, make public appearances, and/or fly the company’s logo on their equipment, t-shirts, web site, and other types of promotional items.
Memorize the band’s songs in advance so that you feel completely comfortable and can easily play the drum parts. Show up on time. Make sure your drums look and sound good. Dress appropriately. Have a good attitude. Bring business cards with you and hand them to everybody at the audition. Get as many phone numbers as possible. Follow up after the audition.
You can make money by playing drums, but it isn’t necessarily easy. A small percentage of drummers wind up being paid retainers, per diems, and royalties by playing with international acts. But there are other ways to make a living as a drummer on a regional or local scale. Most professional drummers play gigs, or shows, which can make up a significant amount of a monthly salary. Many drummers teach part time or work in music stores to supplement their income. Still others publish method books, produce drum videos, and launch websites. We know one famous drummer who makes peanut brittle as a side business. It helps to be creative.
A per diem, a daily stipend paid to performers on the road, intended to cover basic expenses, is enjoyed by musicians in well-known bands.
The best place to find a drum teacher is at your local music store or drum shop. You can also find teachers online by using a search engine. If you live in a remote area, you can find plenty of online drum lessons — some you have to pay for; others are free.
A drum clinic is an educational demonstration of drumming technique by a respected and influential drummer. Drum clinics are typically conducted in drum shops and music stores.
Drummers at every level will benefit from a schedule of frequent practice sessions. Beginning drummers should practice every day in order to develop a basic drumming vocabulary, and provide a foundation to build upon. Seasoned drummers also need to play frequently to retain their technique, although practice routines can be become shorter and more refined. Busy gigging drummers might find that frequent practice isn’t necessary.
There are many good method books on the market, but Stick Control For The Snare Drummer is the most commonly used by drum teachers. George Lawrence Stone wrote it in 1935.
It’s a good idea to warm up before playing drums for an extended period of time. Every drummer has his or her own personal method, but most warm-up routines generally involve stretching your arms, legs, and back, and playing simple rudiments on a practice pad. Some drummers warm-up for a few minutes; other have lengthier routines.
Even though most gigs don’t require a drummer to sight-read these days, it’s nonetheless a good idea to learn to read drum notation. For one thing, many of the top session and show drumming gigs still involve drum charts. It’s also a smart idea to be able to jot crib notes when learning new material with your band. And drum method books continue to be one of the most reliable ways to improve your technique – the better you are at reading drum notation, the quicker you will progress through increasingly advanced studies. For a tutorial on reading, go to the DRUM! Notation Guide.
A right-handed drummer typically places the left foot on the hi-hat pedal and right foot on the bass drum pedal. The snare drum is typically positioned between the drummer’s legs. The smallest tom is typically positioned behind the snare drum, and the floor tom is typically positioned beside the drummer’s right left. Ride cymbals typically are placed on the right while the crash and hi-hat cymbals are on the left. Left-handed drum sets are usually the mirror image of the above description.
The hi-hat clutch holds the upper hi-hat cymbal to the pull rod that, when the footplate is activated, clashes the two hi-hat cymbals.
You push on the footplate to play bass drums and hi-hats.
Your upper hi-hat cymbal attaches to the pull rod, which threads into a receiver near the toe of the footplate, which allows you to clash the two cymbals together.
A snare stand holds a snare drum. It sits directly on the ground, typically on a tripod base, and features telescoping tubes and cams that allow the drummer to adjust the height and angle of the snare drum.
Most drums on a drum set have two counterhoops, which apply different amounts of tension to the top and bottom heads using a series of tension rods that thread into receivers on corresponding lugs mounted onto the drum shell. While the heads of certain hand drums like dumbeks and congas are tuned using counterhoops, others can be attached directly to the shell using tacks, ceramics, or elaborate rope systems.
The snare basket is part of a snare stand, and holds a snare drum in place by gripping the snare-side counterhoop.
A snare butt is a clamp that works with the throw-off to tension the snare wires on the bottom head of a snare drum. It is mounted on the drum shell opposite the throw-off, and is usually adjustable using a drum key.
A snare throw off works with the snare butt to tension the snare wires on the bottom head of a snare drum. The throw off includes a system for engaging and disengaging the snare wires onto and off of the bottom resonant head. It also usually includes a tensioning system for tightening or loosening the snare wires, which will typically be attached using a screw rod with a drum key head.
An isolation tom mount typically holds a mounted tom on a frame that allows the drum to hang from tension rods. This eliminates the need to install a bulky mounting system onto the shell or allow L-arms to protrude into the drum.
See Snare Throwoff.
A double bass drum pedal enables the drummer to play double-bass figures on a single bass drum by using a secondary slave pedal to activate a second bass drum beater mounted beside the beater of the primary bass drum pedal.
A bass drum pedal allows the drummer to strike the bass drum batter head with a bass drum beater using one or both feet.
A bass drum beater is a part of a bass drum pedal. It is composed of a metal rod topped by a circular felt beater that, when activated by foot, strikes the bass drum batter head.
Drumheads are typically mounted onto various types of drum shells. Drum set heads were originally made from animal skins, and are now made from plastic film, although a small number of companies continue to offer calfskin heads for drum set. The opposite is true for hand drums, which are often fitted with animal skins, and occasionally feature synthetic heads, although that trend line seems to be gradually reversing itself over time.
Batter heads are mounted on the side of the drum that drummers strike with sticks or hands.
A drum shell is typically a cylinder made from various types of materials, namely wood, metal, acrylic, carbon fiber, clay — even glass and materials made from reformulated wood waste. Drum set shells are typically fitted with two heads, while many types of hands drums are single headed. The type of shell material, width of the shell, and shell depth influence the sound of every drum.
Resonant heads are typically mounted on the bottom of toms and snare drums, and on the front of bass drums, opposite the batter head.
Most drum thrones feature a cushioned seat attached to a tubular frame with a double-braced tripod base. Other drum thrones feature a cushioned seat fitted on top of a hollow base, which often is used to store small hardware or a stickbag. Otherwise, any stool or chair can be called a drum throne within the context of a drum set.
“Snare side” refers to the bottom of the snare drum, where the snare wires are mounted. The term is most typically used to differentiate the bottom resonant head from the top batter head.
Trap cases typically hold your drum set hardware, although more elaborate traps cases can also accommodate a snare drum and cymbals. Trap cases can be made from stiff fiberboard, but can also be made of soft, pliable material.
Most sticks come is prematched pairs that are roughly equal in weight and balance. The weight of unmatched sticks can be tested first by feel, and secondly by turning both sticks around, striking a hard surface with the butt ends, and comparing the tone of both sticks. Closer tones indicate a pair similar in density and weight. Unmatched sticks should be rolled on a flat surface to separate warped singles from straight singles. Never use sticks that are warped or show irregularities in the wood grain.
Drum cases protect your drums and cymbals during transport and storage. Cases can be made of fiberboard, wood panels, soft materials, and plastic.
Drummers use practice pads to play at reduced volumes when warming up or practicing sticking techniques. Practice pads are made from a variety of materials and are designed to emulate the feel of a tensioned drumhead.
Ride cymbals are generally larger cymbals — typically from 18″ to 22″, although some drummers use larger sizes. They are generally heavy in weight, are placed on the side of the kit nearest the drummer’s dominant hand, and are “ridden” with the tip on the bow of the cymbal.
Hi-hat cymbals are mounted on a hi-hat stand, which allows right-handed drummers to “clash” the cymbals with the left foot. In general, the bottom hi-hat cymbal is heavier than the top. Drummers play hi-hats either by “chicking” the cymbals together while riding on the ride cymbal or by riding on the hi-hat cymbals.
Crash cymbals are generally smaller than ride cymbals — typically from 16″ to 20″, although some drummers use larger sizes. Crash cymbals can be placed around the drum kit, although at least one is traditionally set up between the hi-hat cymbal and mounted tom. Crash cymbals are typically lighter in weight than ride cymbals and are played by “crashing” the stick onto the outer edge of the cymbal.
China cymbals have flat bells and flanged bows, are usually mounted bell-down, and can come in virtually any size — from 10″ to 22″. They typically provide a quick, loud, trashy accent.
Splash cymbal are typically the smallest in the drum set — typically between 8″ and 12″. They have a very quick sound and are used for accents.
A bass drum spur is typically one of two pointed legs that protrude outward and downward from a bass drum. The two spurs provide traction that helps keep the bass drum stationary while playing. Many spurs telescope inside of the bass drum shell, while others drop down from the side of the shell.
A tension rod is a straight, threaded screw with a flat tip and a square head, which threads through the eyelets of a counterhoop and into receiver nuts inside a drum lug. Using a drum key to turn a tension rod clockwise will compress the counterhoop onto the shell’s bearing edge, thereby tightening the drumhead. Turning the tension rod counterclockwise will loosen the head. Most drum companies use tension rods and lug receiver nuts that employ a coarse industry-standard pitch (the distance from the crest of one thread to the next) except for DW and Sonor, which employ tension rods with a finer pitch. Also, the heads of some Sonor tension rods are slotted, and marry with an internal wedge inside Sonor’s drum key, which works similarly to a screwdriver.
The tips of wood-tip sticks are shaped into one of a number of standard forms using a lathe, depending on the model type. Nylon-tip sticks feature a hollow nylon tip contoured into one of a similar variety of shapes, which is mounted onto a post at the playing end of the stick and glued into place. Drummers tend to choose one over the other because of the way the tips react to cymbals – generally, wood tips provide a darker, woodier sound while nylon tips provide a sharper, brighter sound.
Drum lugs (aka tension casings) attach to the shell at points that correspond to the spacing of eyelets in the counterhoops. A tension rods fits through each eyelet and screws into the lug, which features internal threads that share the same pitch and lead as the tension rod. Several types of lugs are commonly used, including tube lugs (which generally span the length of the shell), low-mass lug casings (which receive a single tension rod in a threaded insert), and double-sided lugs (which accept two facing tension rods).
Accents are single notes played at a higher volume. They can be played on any drum or cymbal.
You choke a cymbal by grabbing it with your hand immediately after crashing it with a stick, which creates a quick, explosive accent.
You feather a bass drum by striking it very lightly with your bass drum beater. This technique is most commonly used in jazz swing drumming, although not exclusively.
Ghost or ghosted notes are soft grace notes played within a pattern between primary accented notes, such as between the 2 and 4 of a backbeat. They are typically played on the snare drum but can be applied to the entire kit to add an extra degree of phrasing to a pattern. Ghost notes are typically played as single hits or short buzz rolls.
Double bass drumming involves bass drum beats and fills played by both feet, either on two bass drums or a single bass drum fitted with a double pedal.
Rudiments are basic patterns played by two hands, which comprise the building blocks of more complex patterns and drumming coordination.
A drum fill is typically used as a transition between two parts of a song. It normally appears at the end of musical phrases, and is often played as a quick figure on the drums that ends with a cymbal crash, although many possible variations exist.
A backbeat is played on beats 2 and 4, most typically on the snare drum, although drummers occasionally voice the backbeat on other parts of the drum set, such as the bass drum in “one-drop” reggae.
Patterns phrased by both hands are referred to as “stickings,” and are made up of rudiments. Stickings can also be used to describe patterns played by both feet, or by the feet and hands played together.
A rimshot is a stick stroke that strikes the drumhead and counterhoop simultaneously, which brightens the sound and increases volume. They are typically played on snare drums, although they can also be played on toms.
Most bass drums are muffled using a number of possible materials and techniques. Drummers are known to use pillows, towels, packing blankets, foam rubber, felt strips, and newspaper, as well as commercial bass drum muffling systems. Some drummers barely touch the batter head with muffling material for an open sound; others choose to deaden the head.
Drummers use different methods for muffling a snare batter head. Many use mass-marketed products like Moongel to muffle a snare batter head. It’s also common to use small pieces of duct tape for the same purpose. Avoid muffling your snare drum’s resonant head, so as not to inhibit the response of its snare wires.
Wide open tuning indicates that a drum hasn’t been muffled internally or externally — or is muffled only minimally — in order to maximize its resonance.
The answer largely depends on your budget. Under optimal circumstances, you should change a batter head when you begin to see pitting, or the film begins to deform, or you begin to hear a buzz, or the head loses its resonance, or any other indicator that the head is beginning to lose tone. However, many drummers need to stretch the life of their heads for financial reasons, which often requires more frequent tuning adjustments or some form of muffling to disguise offensive buzzes and overtones. The worst thing is to wait to change a head until it breaks. That typically indicates that you have played the head long beyond its intended lifespan.
Drummers use different tuning methods depending on their preferences, although it breaks down to three formulas: 1) Tune the top batter head higher than the bottom resonant, 2) tune the bottom resonant head higher than the top batter, and 3) tune both heads evenly. While the tension of both heads will affect both pitch and tone, the tension of your resonant head generally plays a large role in the pitch and resonance of the drum while the tension of the top head generally plays a large role in the feel of the drum and serves to fine-tune the pitch. For more details, see How To Tune Drums In Four Steps.
Yes. It’s best to use the crisscross pattern below to ensure that the head is tuned evenly and stays square to the drum.