So you’re taking drum lessons and learning some new skills, but now you’re wondering how you can progress and take your drumming to the next level. Here, music teacher James W. shares his tips to help you sharpen your technique and improve your skills…
As a drummer, you have the most important job in the band, besides songwriting. You show the guitar player and the bass player where the groove should be, hold the band together, and drive the band forward. You have to keep time in your head and listen at the same time. Good drummers are always in demand, so it’s important to practice consistently and continue to work hard to improve. Here are eight tips to help you develop your technique and take your drumming to the next level.
1. Develop Muscle Memory
Don’t take the basics for granted; make sure you learn your paradiddles (basic beat drum patterns). Play with your eyes open for 20 minutes, and then close your eyes and get your snare drum hand in sync with your metronome or click. Visualize your kit in your mind, think of it as an extension of your arms and legs. When you practice with your eyes closed, you develop muscle memory in your arms, legs, feet, and hands.
2. Learn to Keep Time
Just as the clock on your laptop keeps the time, it’s your responsibility to keep the time for the songs you play. Try using headphones and synchronizing them with your laptop so you can have the click in your ear. Practice keeping time with the songs you hear on the radio. This is a great way to learn because the work is already done for you by more experienced drummers.
3. Work With Others
Your band mates can help you improve as an individual. On stage, they can lock in with you and make suggestions to help you improve. Try bouncing ideas around with your band mates. This creates a fun dynamic. Your band members can also give you valuable feedback that can help you become a better drummer. If you’re not in a band, you can still learn how to work with others. Your teacher is a great resource to provide feedback and suggestions to help you improve. If you have friends who are musicians, ask them to listen to you play, they may have some great tips to help you get better.
4. Use Video
Make sure you have a regular exercise pattern to warm up. Play in 4/4 time, and film yourself so you can evaluate your weekly progress. I don’t suggest posting your video on YouTube just yet, but keep it handy so you can use it as a learning tool. Analyze, assess, and re-evaluate. Think of ways to reinforce the things you do well, and then take note of what you can improve. Did you notice anything sloppy about your playing? If your style is already loose, try to play with more precision. Want to play faster? Remember, speed is a byproduct of accuracy.
5. Make it Swing
Play 3/4 over a 4/4 beat to make the song swing. This is an old jazz trick. Paul McCartney does this to great effect in some of his songs. Start slow and gradually increase the tempo. Some drummers have amazing endurance and stamina, and with some practice, you will, too. Even the world’s greatest drummers had to start somewhere.
6. Start Slow
Pick easy songs that you love to play. One drummer I met at Musician’s Institute told me he played only Jimi Hendrix songs for five years because he loved Mitch Mitchell’s style. Eventually, he started using his own ideas, and his band naturally went from playing cover tunes to original songs.
7. Master the Basics Before You Develop Your Style
Study different genres; pop, rock, jazz, Latin, classical, etc. Pick your favorite drummer from each genre and focus on what you love about the way they play. Once you master the basics, try to incorporate your own style.
8. Develop Both Hands
Relax your hands when you hold your sticks. Your dominant hand will naturally be stronger at first, but you can work on developing your weak hand. Use your right hand to strike the soft notes, and use your left to play the more pronounced beats. Now, flip your sticks over, and use the fat end to play more aggressively.
Next, try using brushes to play a soft, ballad-like style. Now you’re creating notes using dynamics that occur naturally in music.
Your drum set is an extension of your eyes, hands, and feet, so practice working them both together and separately. Your eyes will follow your hands around the kit, and your brain knows to let your feet do their job with the hi-hat and kick drum.
If you combine these tips with consistent practice you will expand your range and improve your drumming skills. Remember, it takes work and effort to improve, but it will be worth it in the end. Drumming is physically demanding, but it’s also mentally satisfying. Now it’s time to just play and have some fun. Don’t be afraid to be creative and adventurous. If you need some help with your technique, find a private drum teacher to help you refine your skills.
James W. started playing drums when he was 12 years old. He teaches guitar, singing, and acting lessons in Jacksonville, FL. He specializes in teaching pop, rock, and modern country styles. James has been teaching for 10 years and joined the TakeLessons team in 2010. Learn more about James here!
Photo by Jamie Kronick