When you first step onto the drum set, it feels like there are a million things to remember. Where do your hands go? What do all these pedals and crashes do? How on earth are you supposed to keep track of all this while keeping time with your left hand? Cramming all those techniques into your head at once can be pretty disorienting as a beginner drummer.
Luckily, you don’t have to master every single technique right away (and trust us, there are plenty more where that came from). Instead, we’ll break down the 7 most essential drumming techniques for beginners so you can get off on the right foot.
A brief note on learning techniques
Whether you’re learning on your own or attending drum lessons in Singapore, the key to learning drum techniques is to approach them strategically. This means taking the time to understand each technique’s purpose, common uses, and variations so that you can use them to solve musical problems when they arise. This will allow you to focus your practice time on what matters most: solving musical problems with your acquired tools.
The first technique on our list is the backbone of all modern music: syncopation. Syncopation is the art of adding a “skip” or “delay” to the normally expected rhythms. This might seem subtle, but it’s a massive game-changer for how we approach musical timing.
Why? Well, because most music isn’t strictly metered (i.e. in a 4/4 time signature with an even number of beats per bar). Most modern music is more freely interpreted, with different sections and chords sometimes having their unique time signature. What this means is that to keep the music together (and avoid it sounding like a jumbled mess), we need to go beyond simply hitting the “right” notes at the “right” times. Instead, we must pay extra attention to each note’s length.
2. The bass drum
The bass drum is the backbone of all rhythmic music, regardless of genre. As a beginner drummer, you must have a solid understanding of this drum as it’s the foundation around which all your timekeeping will revolve. If you don’t have a strong sense of this pedal, your timing will suffer, and your bandmates will notice.
Fortunately, there are some effortless ways to master the bass drum. Start by using your right foot to keep the 3/4 beat (i.e. the pulse). Then, use your left foot to keep the metronome (or a drum machine) in the same place. That way, you’re simultaneously keeping time and learning the feel of the bass drum. Once you feel comfortable with this, try adding a shuffle on the snare drum and a ride cymbal on your right hand.
3. Coordination and independence
No matter what kind of music you want to play, you’ll need to become comfortable with playing to a click track. This is a track that consistently clicks, marking time in the same way that a metronome does. This is a great way to develop your coordination and independence, two of the most important skills you can develop as a beginner drummer.
Coordination is how your hands and feet work together to keep the beat. And while coordination comes naturally to some people, others struggle with it. This is especially true for beginners, whose hands are still getting used to striking the drums and cymbals.
Independence refers to your ability to play with a steady rhythm and consistent timing, even when other musicians are playing around you. There are several exercises and techniques that you can use to develop coordination and independence. One of our favourites is the “push and pull” rhythm, similar to playing to a click track.
4. Variations on a drum roll
Learning to play a drum roll can be intimidating for beginners, but it’s a great way to build up your confidence and technique. Rolls are a series of single strokes that flow into one long sound.
The “one-two-three-four” roll is one of the most common variations of this technique. It’s a great exercise to get the feel of the roll and to internalise the “one-two-three-four” rhythm. Try adding a triplet variation when you’re ready to move to the next level. This is when your “one” and “two” strokes are slightly shorter than your “three” and “four”.
To get started, play quarter notes on the ride cymbal with your right hand while tapping eighth notes on the snare drum with your left hand. Then, gradually increase the pace until you’re playing as quickly as possible. Once you’ve got the triplet variation of the roll down, try switching to single strokes. This will help you transition to playing rolls with both hands.
5. Dragging and hitting
These two techniques are used to create sound variation when playing single strokes. Dragging refers to playing single notes with a slightly longer and looser motion. This makes a heavier sound than usual and is a great way to emphasise certain drum beats or fills. Hitting refers to striking the drum heads with a crisp and shorter motion. This creates a higher sound than dragging and is great for playing single notes in a fast-paced drum fill.
Drag your drumstick across the cymbal surface to create a more sustained sound. This is great for playing single notes on the cymbal and adding a bit of variation to your fills. Hitting the drum heads harder with the heel of the drumstick creates a shorter sound. This is a great technique for playing single strokes in a rapid-fire drum fill.
6. Warm-up drills
Drummers perform a warm-up routine before every single practice or performance. These exercises will help you develop coordination, increase your hand speed, and improve your overall sense of rhythm. Because it’s standard practice, it can be easy to forget that the warm-up is a significant part of your practice routine.
The good news is that you can use many different warm-up exercises. There are so many that you could do a different one each day for the rest of your life and still not have to repeat one. A good rule of thumb is to start with a few exercises that focus on developing coordination. Then, tack on a few exercises that help you build speed and improve your overall sense of rhythm.
7. Timing and rhythmic techniques
Rhythmic variations are a crucial part of being a great drummer and are something that you should start incorporating into your playing as early as possible. To start, you can simply play your fills and rhythms in different ways. For example, you could play a 4/4 rhythm in 6/8 and vice versa.
Another way to approach rhythmic variations is to play your rhythms against the click track. This will help you develop a more natural sense of rhythm by forcing you to keep playing in time.
When you first start, it can be hard to keep track of all the things you need to do. That’s why it’s a good idea to write a step-by-step list of what you need to accomplish before your next practice or performance. This will give you a clear path to follow and help you keep track of all the techniques we’ve discussed.
When first starting out, it can be intimidating to look at a drum set. There are so many pieces that all look so complicated and different. But don’t worry: it’s a lot simpler than it seems.
There are only four things you need to worry about as a beginner drummer: your left hand, your right hand, your feet, and your ears. Once you’ve got those four things down, you’re well on your way to becoming a great drummer.
Consider signing up for drum set classes with Drum Tutor for more drumming techniques. There are no age restrictions, so you can join our classes whether you’re an adult or a young child looking to improve themselves.
Drum Tutor is a reputable drum school with various courses, from beginner-friendly adult sessions to corporate drumming packages. Additionally, parents can consider enrolling their little one into our drum class for kids in Singapore to develop their fine motor skills.
If you’d like to learn more, contact us immediately, and we’ll be pleased to answer any questions you may have!