If you want to improve as a drummer, you have to practice! But how can you make your practice time more productive? By working on specific exercises, you can strengthen your weaknesses and work on important aspects of drumming that will improve your technique. So if you want to see some big improvements in your drumming, make sure you check out these drum exercises from Saint Paul, MN drum instructor John S…
Drum exercises are rhythmic patterns that develop your drumming coordination and independence. In this article, we’re going to take a look at a wide range of exercises that are fantastic for beginning drummers and even the most advanced players.
Ready to improve your drum skills? Grab your drum sticks and let’s go!
Drum Warm Up Exercises
Drumming is a physical activity, and like most physical activities, it’s important to warm up your muscles and get your limbs working in coordination. Whether preparing to practice in the woodshed or perform on stage, I always try to incorporate at least five to 15 minutes of warm-up exercises into my routine.
Warm-up exercises can range in difficulty, but it’s important to pick exercises that are appropriate for your skill level, because these exercises are geared toward simple coordination and building your confidence behind the drum set. That being said, I encourage drummers to use a metronome when warming up because it strengthens your time-keeping in addition to warming up your body.
Drum Pad Exercises
First, let’s take a look at a few simple rudiment warm-ups. Drum rudiments are drum patterns that you can use for drills or warm-ups, or develop into more complex drum patterns.
These exercises are designed to be played on one surface, and I like to play them on a drum pad before hitting the stage for a performance.
Single Stroke Roll
Double Stroke Roll
Triplets (Single Stroke Seven)
Drum Exercises for Beginners
Now, let’s try some warm-up exercises that incorporate the whole drum set. These warm-ups are more challenging than the drum pad warm-ups because they incorporate more drums and the coordination of all four limbs.
Start slow, and remember: it’s about accuracy and coordination, not speed and power. If these exercises seem difficult, try subtracting one limb (I usually recommend the hi-hat foot), and then try the exercises with just three limbs.
Note: These exercises are divided into groups of two. The exercises on the left use just one surface for the hands (snare drum), while the exercises on the right focus on moving the hands around the drum kit.
Make sure to practice leading with both the right and left hand, and don’t forget to use a metronome!
Here’s a great five-minute drum set warm-up video that runs through a few of the exercises, in addition to providing a few new exercises. Check the video information section to download the accompanying sheet music and try playing along with the teacher.
Snare Drum Exercises
Snare drum independence refers to the ability to play snare drum rhythms that are separate from the pattern(s) performed by the rest of your limbs.
For beginners, I recommend playing the exercises on the left, which focus on just two voices on the drum set (snare drum and hi-hat). Intermediate drummers may benefit from playing the exercises on the right, which incorporate a steady bass drum pattern in addition to the hands.
If you’re more advanced, try playing the snare patterns over more challenging rhythmic patterns.
Here are a few examples of trickier bass drum and hi-hat patterns which can be played along with the snare drum patterns from the sheet above:
The goal of all these drum exercises is to be able to apply any number of snare drum rhythms freely to your own drumming, rather than just playing a repetitive loop.
Try mixing and matching the various exercises to come up with your own snare drum melody, or make up your own snare drum rhythms!
Bass Drum Exercises
Bass drum independence refers to the ability to play bass drum rhythms that are separate from the pattern(s) performed by the rest of your limbs. Much like the snare drum independence exercises, I recommend that beginners focus on just two voices on the drum set (bass drum and hi-hat) before adding the third (snare drum).
Check out this video from Online Drummer and accompanying sheet music (below) for a series of great bass drum independence exercises.
Drum Exercises for Speed
Besides how to improve, most drum students want to know how to play drums faster. Like the other skills we’ve discussed (coordination and independence), becoming a faster drummer doesn’t just happen overnight. Let’s take a look at several drum exercises to help improve your speed.
Develop Sound Technique
While there are a number of correct drum techniques, there are an awful lot more incorrect techniques that will inhibit your speed. Poor technique can even potentially cause injury, in the long run.
Developing good drumstick technique takes time and lots of practice. As a beginner, it’s important to watch your hands to make sure you’re using proper stick technique. Check out this video to learn a few simple exercises that will increase your hand speed.
There are a number of things you can try to boost your drum technique. For example, play heel down vs. heel up, or bury the beater against the head vs. releasing the beater from the head.
I also recommend playing along with the simple exercises in this video from Drumeo to improve your bass drum speed.
Use Heavier Sticks for Practice
When you practice, use sticks that are heavier than your regular drum sticks. In much the same way that baseball players put weights on their bats before going up to bat, practicing with heavier drum sticks will make your usual sticks seem almost effortless when you switch back.
Practice single strokes, double strokes, and paradiddles with a metronome, gradually increasing your metronome speed. Then practice alternating singles, doubles, and paradiddles between the hands and feet. The four-limb warm-up exercises in this article are also great to develop speed. Remember, speed comes from both of your hands being even, so make sure you practice leading with both.
In this video, Tony Royster Jr. discusses his practice routine for increasing speed, which includes combining singles, doubles, and paradiddles into a smooth warm-up loop.
Swing Pattern Drum Exercises
These drum exercises are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to warm-ups and developing independence with each limb. Most of the exercises focus on straight rhythmic patterns, but I encourage drummers to try the exercises with a triplet-based, “swing” feel.
Here is a video that can help beginner drummers learn to swing a drum pattern:
For more rhythmic drum exercises, I recommend purchasing Ted Reed’s book Progressive Steps to Syncopation for the Modern Drummer. This book is often considered the most important source for developing independence, as it provides page after page of unique rhythms that can be applied to any limb on the drum set, and performed either swung or straight.
Below is a brief excerpt from his book that combines a wide range of patterns into an exercise that will test overall independence of any limb you choose. These rhythms can be translated to any drum(s) and can be played with either a straight or swing feel
Now you have several different drum exercises to keep you busy and help you improve! If you need help with any of these exercises, make sure to ask your drum teacher!
Which of these drum exercises have you tried? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!
Photo courtesy David Russo