how to play the Drums

What is your next step in figuring out how to play the Drums?

Hopefully, by this point, you’ve purchased a drum kit. The next matter would be to actually work out how to play the drums! And luckily for you, this particular section of our ‘Beginner’s Guide To Learning the Drums’ will allow you to get started.

How To Play The Drums

Holding the drum sticks correctly

Don’t overthink the way you hold your drumsticks. The best way is to get someone to hold the stick towards the tips (the thinner bit that you will be hitting the drums with) and get you to ‘shake hands’ with it. 

How to play the drums

Now, turn your hand over so the back of your hand is facing the ceiling. Your first finger shouldn’t be any further forward or behind where your thumb is on the stick and the butt, or end of the stick is comfortably sticking out the back of your hand behind your little finger. You should find that your thumb is about 40% of the way up the stick – if you are playing with Vic Firth sticks, it happens to be exactly where the flag is. Another way is if you try and balance the stick on one finger, you’ll find the ideal place for tour thumb is exactly where your finger is to get the stick to balance.

Sitting at the Drum Kit

With your drum kit set up in front of you, you should be able to sit comfortably at the seat with your feet flat on the pedals. (This will cause the bass drum beater to rest against the bass drum head and the hi-hats will close. Keep the hi-hats firmly closed for all of your playing for now. This is the default position.)

The snare drum should be about the same height as your thighs, ever so slightly angled towards you, and your legs at the hip, knee and ankle joints should all be at right angles (90 degrees). Your seat should be adjustable so you can make sure you are not sitting too high or too low. You should be able to reach the centre of each drum with the drumstick without having to lean forward or excessively twist your body.

The crash cymbal should be above and to the left of your high Tom and the ride cymbal should be positioned above your Floor, Tom. If you give them a really good hit, they shouldn’t be hitting any other drums or stands. You want the cymbals angled slightly towards you. 

To play a basic beat, your right foot will play the bass drum and your left hand will play the snare drum. Your right hand will play on the top hi-hat, Which will create a tapping sound as your left foot holds the cymbals closed together.

Looking down on your sticks, they might well be pretty much at 90° to each other. Some people think when you sit at the drum kit you cross your arms but this isn’t true – your arms will be at 90° to each other (a right angle) but actually you will be crossing about midway down the drumsticks.

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Playing a basic drum beat

Remember when we talked about reading music and our eighth notes? These are what we will be playing on the hi-hat.

To get you started playing now, we are just going to count four eighth notes 1,2,3,4.

Try and keep the notes nice and even as you count, with the same amount of time in between each one. When you get to 4 just keep repeating 1234. 

As you count out loud, play along to your account on the high hat – tapping 1234. 

Keep counting out loud!

How to play the drums

As you get comfortable, add the bass drum on the ‘1′. This means you will play the high hat and the bass drum exactly at the same time on the one, followed by the 234 just on the high hat.

Comfortable with that?

Now see if you can add the snare drum on the 3. Again, you will play the bass drum and the hi-hat together on one, the hi-hat by itself on 2, both your hands together (the snare drum in your left hand and the hi-hat in your right hand) on 3 and the hi-hat by itself on 4.

Don’t worry if it takes a few attempts to do this, just to make sure that you are comfortable with counting out loud in each limb before you add the next limb. If you feel they have to go back a stage before you feel comfortable then do so. 

This is a little video of that very rhythm.

When you get to 4, just keep repeating the pattern. It’s really important to start slowly and to work at your speed later on.

And there you go, you’re playing your first drum beat! 

Once you’re confident playing the beat for a few minutes without making mistakes, try playing along with these songs;

Slow and steady:

Superstition by Stevie Wonder

More upbeat and funky:

Juice by Lizzo or

We Are Family by Sister Sledge

Now for a different beat!

We are going to play exactly the same as the first with them, but as well as the bass drum on the first count we are going to add an extra bass drum on the second count as well. 

So you will pay the hi-hat and bass on together on the one and the two, the snare and hi-hat together on the three and just the hi-hat by itself on the count of four.

If you can get this steady and rocking, you might well recognise this as the rhythm from Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You.’ 

This song isn’t too fast and most of it is just drums and vocals so it’s a great one to play along to.

You’re almost ready for your first gig now!

Now is the time to have some fun – we are going to play what is called a drum fill.

A drum fill is basically a short solo that the drummer plays to add excitement and to introduce going into the next section of music – it’s very common at the end of the first verse into the chorus, or even at the end of the whole song to finish with a bang. This is where you will really start to use the toms and crash cymbals and get used to moving quickly around the drum kit.

There are entire books written and millions of videos already made on fills but just concentrate on getting to move around the drum kit. A nice easy one is just to play quavers going around the drums.

(If you’re not sure what a quaver is, have a quick re-read of our section on reading music.)

For now, we are going to count to 4 twice for the quavers, so ultimately there will be eight notes being played.

We are going to move our right hand off the hi-hat for this one, and alternate playing one right and one left around the drums – 1,2 – right then left on the snare drum, 3,4 – right then left on the highest Tom, 1,2 – right then left on the middle Tom, then 3,4 – right then left on the Floor Tom. They should be nice and even and all be precisely the same speed as your hi-hats were in the drumbeat, regardless of how fast you played that. Right now it’s really important to make sure that your hi-hats are exactly the same speed as when you were moving around the drums. 

Awesome! You are now playing a drum fill! 

You now have two options – you either go back to playing the beat straight away, or you can hit a nice big Crash cymbal with the bass drum on the 1 of the next bar. 

You are now officially a drummer!

How To Play the Drums - Summary

Drumming is broadly made up of playing ‘beats’ which are steady patterns through the music, and ‘fills’ which are solos that add excitement and dynamism. Make sure your playing is nice and even without mistakes before you start working on getting faster, tempting though it is! 

But the great thing about the drums is you can now already play along to real songs!

Now it’s time to improve your technique…

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