Many of my new drum students ask me this question a few weeks into their lessons: “How long does it take to learn the drums?” The answer to that question depends on what you’re trying to get out of drumming. If you want to master a few songs and beats, it might take a couple months; if you want to be reliable and confident enough to be in a band, it might take a year or two. But the great drummers we all look up to, the ones who have great careers as drummers, see drumming as a lifelong journey of constant learning. There are so many drumming techniques and styles that even if you master rock drumming, or swing harder than Tony Williams, there is still so much to learn.
My students usually ask me this question with a concerned tone, as they’re struggling with a concept we’ve been working on. Just like anything else you learn to do, sometimes you can feel uninspired, or maybe you feel stuck. Everyone has this feeling at some point, whether you’re just beginning to learn drums, or you’ve been drumming for a long time. Over the years, I’ve noticed some things about the way I learn to drum, the way I practice, and the way I handle adversity.
Set Reasonable Goals
One big mistake that students make is that they bite off more than they can chew in the practice room. For example, my current long-term goal is to become a better jazz drummer, but my goal isn’t simply “learn how to jazz drum.” My current goal is to develop my right hand to play a swing ride cymbal pattern consistently and quickly; more precisely, I’m working on playing a swing ride cymbal pattern at half note = 140. Setting goals is one of the keys to being successful, but if you set your goals too broadly, you might frustrate yourself by trying to handle too much at once. If you set smaller goals, you’ll make progress faster than if you set larger goals, and you’ll notice yourself improving when you see that you’ve completed your goal.
Be Strategic About Your Practice
The strategy of your drum practice is just as important as the amount of time you practice. Before you sit down in the practice room, you should decide what you are going to work on, and how long you’re going to work on it. Maybe you have three different things to accomplish; plan out exactly what you’re going to do and how long you’ll be doing each of the three things. It’s possible to waste a lot of time finding materials, thinking of what to do, and just jamming. If you’re drumming without a recording, always practice with a metronome. And make sure to learn about the way you practice and find the amount of time you can focus and work. I work best in small amounts of time with short breaks in between; I can cram and practice for large chunks of time, but only rarely. Figure out what works best for you.
Give Yourself Time to Improve
Remember that it takes time to learn drums well. When you feel like you haven’t made a lot of progress recently, check your list of goals to see what you’ve accomplished. If you have the gear, you can record yourself with an audio recorder or a video camera. It’s a little strange to watch or listen to yourself at first, but reviewing recordings is one of the least forgiving, quickest ways to find your weak areas and improve them. When you need a break from working, go back to lessons you’ve already worked through or songs you can play and remember what it feels like to be comfortable behind your instrument. If you’re spending a good amount of time drumming, and you have good practice habits, you’re probably making progress.
Music takes a lifetime to master, but you don’t have to be a master to enjoy music. Beginners can enjoy playing music and listening to music just as much as the experts. With time and good practice habits, you can make progress quickly and efficiently. And, in the grand scheme of things, making progress feels just as good as playing drums.
Mason L. teaches drums in Seattle, WA. He received his Bachelor of Music in Percussion Performance from University of North Texas and has been teaching students since 2011. Learn more about Mason here!
Photo by aresauburn™