Are you wondering how to place drums as a beginner?
You've come to the right place!
In this essential beginners guide you will learn:
- What Do I Need To Get Started To Learn To Play The Drums?
- What Are The Different Parts Of A Drum Set?
- How Do I Set Up My Drum Set? (Step-By-Step)
And much more!
Playing the drums is an incredibly fun and rewarding activity, as well as being beneficial for your physical and mental wellbeing.
Drumming has been scientifically proven to reduce stress and anxiety, boost the immune system as well as improving overall brain function (It’s also a great social activity too!).
So with this many amazing benefits, it’s no wonder so many people are looking to pick up the sticks.
However, with so much information at your fingertips via the internet, beginners often find it difficult to know where to start.
There are seemingly hundreds of instructors and websites all vying for your attention, with their method being the only true way to learn to play the drums.
It can be overwhelming and so many of my drum students have come to me to try and help separate the good from the bad!
Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. In this essential beginner’s guide, I’m going to take you everything you need to know to get the best start in your drumming journey.
From what you need to get started all the way up to playing your first drum grooves and jamming to music, I’ll get you up and drumming in no time!
What Do I Need To Get Started To Learn To Play The Drums?
A Pair Of Drumsticks
To start with, a good pair of drumsticks is essential to learning drums. There are thousands of different types of drum sticks out there. All with different names and sizes.
Here’s a handy guide to the different sizes of drumsticks:
When searching for drumsticks you’ll notice that they’ll have a number and letter next to their name (for example 5A).
This letter and number combination tell you the weight (number) and diameter (letter) of the drumsticks.
There are 3 most common ‘series’ of weights
Generally used for lighter/quieter playing and people with smaller hands. A pair of 7A sticks will be smaller in diameter than 7B.
I tend to use 7A’s when I’m playing very small venues or quiet gigs. Also, a pair of 7A’s would be a great choice for kids!
The most common and ‘middle of the road’ series of sticks. Usually available in 5A and 5B (5B’s being thicker).
If you’re new to drumming I would start with a 5A pair of sticks...a great, generic all-purpose stick.
Tree trunks anyone!?
2A and 2B drumsticks are for those who like to hit hard (rawk!), play heavy music or have incredibly large hands (not me).
Here’s a good Drumeo video explaining all the different types of drumsticks available.
As a beginner, I would recommend a pair of hickory 5a drumsticks such as the Vic Firth American Classic 5a’s.
These are a great middle of the road sized stick to get started with, as well as being high-quality so will last you a long time.
The first step anyone goes through when learning how to play the drums is practicing your hand technique. This involves learning to hold the sticks correctly as well as learning some ‘sticking patterns’ called drum rudiments (more on that later).
To work on your hand technique, you’ll need a practice pad to play on. Practice pads are usually a wooden board with a rubber or mesh surface attached to one side (sometimes both sides for different feels).
An excellent practice pad to start with is the Evans RealFeel 2 sided practice pad. It’s very well constructed and comes with two different surfaces with differing amounts of rebound.
The great thing about practice pads is that they are portable, meaning you can work on those drumming chops wherever you go!
A metronome is a device that helps keep you in time. Simply put, it clicks or beeps at regular intervals to mark out a pulse. The speed at which you can set a metronome is called the ‘BPM’, which stands for ‘beats per minute’.
So for example, if a metronome is set at 120bpm, it is going to click 120 times in a minute...which is much faster than say 70bpm.
Having a solid and consistent awareness of tempo (or time) is an essential skill as a drummer. I recommend to all my students that they should practice pretty much everything they learn to a metronome.
There are some great metronome app’s that you can get on your smartphone such as Metronome plus. You can also get self-contained electronic metronomes such as the Tama Rhythm Watch, which are excellent tools to leave by your drum kit or practice pad.
If you’re looking to learn how to play the drum kit, then obviously having access to one is essential. There is a massive amount of practice that you can do with just a practice pad and sticks, however, there is no substitute for a full kit when learning grooves, fills and songs.
Read More >> How Do You Set Up A Drum Kit? (Beginner's Guide!)
Acoustic Vs Electric
There are two main camps when it comes to drum sets: acoustic and electric.
Acoustic drum kits are the original version of the instrument and the most common one you’ll see performing musicians play. They consist of a series of ‘real’ acoustic drums and cymbals (meaning they don’t need any electrical amplification to make a sound).
As the ‘real deal’, acoustic kits are great as they are incredibly dynamic and responsive instruments. However, they are LOUD, which means your next-door neighbors may not appreciate your long 3-hour long practice sessions!
A great beginner kit to start with is the Pearl Roadshow Drum Kit, it comes with everything you need to get started at an affordable price.
Electric drum kits are set up in the same way as an acoustic kit, except they have trigger pads instead of drums and cymbals.
These pads connect to a sound module (brain) that houses a load of pre-recorded (sampled) drum and cymbal sounds. When you hit a pad (for example the bass drum pad) it will playback a recorded sound of a bass drum.
The benefit of an electronic drum set is that they are much quieter than acoustic kits.
You can just throw headphones on and away you go! However, they often don’t have the same feel as an acoustic kit and don’t recreate the subtle dynamic nuances and response of an acoustic kit that well (unless you spend thousands of dollars!).
An excellent beginner electric kit is the Alesis Nitro Turbo Mesh Kit.
What Are The Different Parts Of A Drum Set?
Here is a useful diagram of a drum kit with all the individual components annotated. This diagram is also useful for setting up a drum kit, (although be aware that the drums are much further spaced apart to help with annotation).
Also, the bass drum can often be called the ‘Kick drum’ or simply ‘Kick’ too. Toms is the short name for Tom-toms (but generally most people call them toms, they’re the same thing).
Read More >> What Are The Best Inexpensive Drum Sets?
How Do I Set Up My Drum Set? (Step-by-step)
(NOTE: If you are left-handed, just follow the same steps but with everything on the opposite side. For example, the ride cymbal will be to your left, not right, etc)
These instructions refer to an acoustic drum kit. For electric kits, refer to the manual supplied with your specific set.
- Position your throne (stool) and pedals
- Move the bass drum into position
- Position the snare drum
- Mount the toms
- Set up the cymbal stands and cymbals
- Set up the hi-hat cymbals
- Final adjustments
Step 1: Position your throne (stool) and pedals
- Once you have put your drum stool together. Position it a few feet in front of where you’re going to set up your kit
- Adjust the throne so your feet are flat on the floor, comfortably out in front of you. Your thighs should angle down to the floor slightly
- Now take your bass drum pedal and hi-hat stand (without the cymbals) and place them where your feet sit comfortably on the ground. If you are right-handed the bass drum pedal will be under the right foot and the hi-hat pedal will be under the left foot. If you are left-handed just swap it around.
Step 2: Move the bass drum into position
- Once you’ve fitted the drumheads to the bass drum. Carry the bass drum to where your bass drum pedal is sitting on the floor.
- Attach the bass drum pedal to the batter side drum hoop, using the built-in clamp on the pedal. NOTE: The playing side is usually clear and doesn’t have the drum kit logo.
- Once the bass drum is in position, extend or fold out the bass drum legs or ‘spurs’ that are attached to either side of the bass drum. You want to position them so they evenly raise the front (side furthest away from the drummer) a couple of inches off the ground.
Step 3: Position the snare drum
- Set up your snare drum stand so the three-pronged ‘basket’ is wide enough for the snare drum to sit inside. Place the drum on the stand.
- Gradually rotate (tighten) the adjustable ring that will reduce the width of the basket, until the snare stand is holding the snare drum firmly in place. Make sure the snare wires are on the underside of the drum, DO NOT play the ‘snare’ side with drum sticks.
NOTE: Be careful that the snare stand isn’t pushing against the snare strainer (the part that stretches the snare wires on the bottom of the drum)
- Sit down on the drum throne and place the snare drum between your legs. It should be roughly equal distance between the hi-hat and bass drum pedals.
Step 4: Mount the toms
There are generally two types of toms, rack toms and floor toms.
Rack toms (mounted toms) are suspended from specially designed mounts that either attach to the top of the bass drum or clamp onto cymbal stands. Floor toms have their own legs that are attached to their sides.
- Most new beginner drum kits include a mount for the rack toms that attaches to the bass drum.
- Take the tom mount and put the main pole into the hole in the top of the bass drum, securing it with enough room for you to mount the toms.
- Take your smallest tom drum and mount it on the post that is closest to the hi-hat stand NOTE: different manufacturers have different mounting mechanisms, refer to your manual for specific instructions.
- Now mount the next largest tom drum directly next to it, ensuring both drums have the batter heads facing towards the drummer (a good way to check is the drums manufacturer logo printed on the shell shouldn’t be upside down).
Most floor/low toms have a set of three legs that they use to stand on the floor:
- Slide the floor tom legs into the clamps that are attached to the outside of the drum.
- Adjust the length so that the drum sits with the playing head horizontal the ground
- Move the floor tom to the other side of your ‘bass drum’ leg
Step 5: Set up the cymbal stands and cymbals
Most new drum kits should come with two stands, one for the ride and one for the crash (you’ve already set up the hi-hat stand).
- Fold-out the cymbal stands legs to medium width, they don’t have to go as far as they will go, just enough so the stand is stable.
- Position the first stand just to the left of the smallest tom.
- Position the second stand to the right of the middle (mid) tom
- Now take the wingnuts and first felt ring off each stand (there should be two).
- Place the crash cymbal on the stand closest to the smallest tom and the ride cymbal on the stand near the mid tom.
- Replace the felt ring and screw the wingnuts back on. (NOTE: Don’t screw the wingnuts too tight, the cymbals should swing freely without falling off)
Step 6: Set up the hi-hat cymbals
- Included with your hi-hat stand should be a small unit called a hi-hat ‘clutch’.
- Unscrew the bottom washer from the hi-hat clutch and take off one small ring of felt.
- Take your ‘top’ hi-hatcymbal and slide the rest of the hi-hat clutch through the hole on the top of the cymbal
- Turn the cymbal upside down and replace the felt ring and the washer until the hi-hat clutch is secured on the cymbal
- Now place the bottom hi-hatcymbal on the hi-hat stand
- Take the top hi-hatcymbal and slide the hole in the clutch onto the small pole on the hi-hat stand
- When the two cymbals are 2-3cm apart, tighten the wingnut on the hi-hat clutch
- Test the hi-hatcymbal action by pressing down on the hi-hat pedal, the cymbals should come together like two cups.
Step 7: Final adjustments
Everything is now set up.
Sit down at your stool and check everything is within reaching distance. Often setting up a drum kit will take some fine-tuning, you may have to move cymbals closer/further away, or the toms may be too high or low.
Experiment and adjust until you feel comfortable
Read More >> The Ultimate Guide to Different Types of Drums!
How Do I Hold The Drumsticks And Hit The Drums?
Holding the sticks
I know, I know…..boring right? Trust me this part is super easy and will literally take you a minute to get the basics down. Most beginner drummers tend to skip this part of drumming technique and get straight onto bashing away at the kit, which often leads to problems down the line (including repetitive strain injuries).
So it’s important to take your time here to get this stuff right the first time!
To hold the sticks correctly:
- Grip the stick between your thumb and index finger
- Make the ‘OK’ sign
- Wrap your other fingers gently around the stick
The main grip is going to come from your thumb and index finger, with the other fingers (beginning with the middle finger) gently wrapping around the stick for support. You don’t want to hold the sticks too tight. Imagine you’re holding a little bird, you don’t want to let it go but you also don’t want to crush it!
If you watch any top professional drummer, they will have a very fluid and loose grip.
Hitting the drums
After you’ve got comfortable gripping the sticks, we need to go over some fundamentals of how to hit the drums, cymbals, or practice pad (basically anything you’re going to hit with drumsticks!)
The main movement of a drum stroke is going to be from the wrist. You don’t want to play from the elbow or shoulder as this will create a very rigid and tense stroke.
With sticks in hand, turn your hand over and imagine you’re bouncing a basketball on the ground with just your wrist.
This is your main action for hitting the drums. You don’t want to turn your hand to the side (as if you’re shaking someone’s hand) as your wrist will have limited movement in this position.
Lastly, when you’re striking the drums, imagine they are red hot...so hot in fact your sticks will burst into flames if they touch them for too long!
This will encourage you to STRIKE the drums and cymbals, rather than PUSHING into them (i.e leaving the drumstick held against the drum/cymbal).
If you hold the stick against the drum it’ll create a very short and dead sound, which is not what we want!
Read More >> How Do You Play Electronic Drums?
What Should I Learn First On The Drums?
The best place to start when learning how to play the drums is with some simple rudiments. Like scales on a piano, rudiments are patterns that are used as the fundamental building blocks in drumming.
To start with you can just practice rudiments with sticks on a practice pad or snare drum. It’s essential to try and make all the strokes nice and even and the same volume.
Here are the first rudiments I would suggest to practice to get started. Make sure you play along to a metronome.
A good tempo to start at is 70bpm, with there being two notes (or ‘hits’) for every click of the metronome. You should count “One and Two and Three and Four and” at the same time. (R= Right hand, L= Left hand)
Single stroke roll
1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
R L R L R L R L
Keep both sticks at the same height. The counting is written above the hands and the clicks of your metronome should fall on the numbers in bold.
Double stroke roll
1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
R R L L R R L L
1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
R L R R L R L L
A good way to remember the order of hands in a paradiddle is that in old marching drumming (where these rudiments originated from) a ‘para’ is a pair of singles (so ‘RL’ or ‘LR’) and a ‘diddle’ is a double stroke (‘RR’ or ‘LL’).
So put those together and you’re left with a ‘para-diddle’ (RL-RR + para-diddle, LR-LL paradiddle).
However make sure all the notes are evenly spaced, your paradiddles should sound the same as your single stroke roll.
Read More >> How Do You Record Electronic Drums?
These rudimental exercises are also excellent to use as a warm up before getting on the kit.
How Do I Play A Drum Beat?
So drum beats, or ‘grooves’ as they’re known in the drumming world, are at the core of most modern styles of drumming and music.
Before we get onto playing a drum beat, you need to make sure you are sitting at the kit correctly ready to play.
Sitting at the drums
- Step 1 - Sit down on the drum stool with a nice straight back and your shoulders back (imagine you’re trying to put your shoulder blades in your back pockets)
- Step 2 - Place your left foot on the hi-hat pedal and push and hold the cymbals together. Then place your right foot on the bass drum pedal ready to play.
- Step 3 - With sticks in hand, drop both your hands loosely by your sides. Then raise both your sticks so they are horizontal with the top of the snare drum. The tips of the sticks should both be hovering over the center of the snare.
- Step 4 - From there, move your right hand OVER your left so it hovers over the hi-hat ready to play.
You should be now set up so Right Hand is over the hi-hat, Left Hand is over the snare, Right Foot is ready to play the bass drum and your Left Foot is pushing firmly down on the hi-hat pedal.
NOTE: If you are left handed then flip everything the opposite way round.
Great! We’re ready to play!
Playing a ‘groove’
At this point, instead of worrying about learning to read drum sheet music or music notation (see my dedicated article on that if you want to learn more), I tend to use a grid format to help visualize how to play different drum grooves.
Let’s start with a simple rock beat:
As you can see from this diagram, the hi-hat plays on every beat, with the bass drum and snare drum alternating underneath it.
In musical theory terms, the hi-hat in this groove is playing ‘quarter notes’ (as each stroke is ¼ of a measure).
If you’re struggling to play this groove, imagine that your right hand is a ‘robot hand’ and its only job is to hit the hi-hat on every beat...meaning you can forget about it and let it do its thing, while you focus on the bass and snare pattern!
Remember to take it slow, make sure you can play the groove without thinking before attempting to speed it up!
Once you feel comfortable playing this groove, have a go playing it along to some tunes! Some good examples to have a go at are Back In Black by AC/DC or Beat It by Michael Jackson.
Now that groove is a breeze, let’s check out the next step:
Notice how the number of beats stays the same (1,2,3,4), except we now have an ‘and’ in between each beat that’s played on the hi-hat.
A good way of vocalizing this groove is to sing ‘Bass and Snare and Bass and Snare and’ along while you play. In music theory terms the hi-hat is now playing ‘eighth notes’, as each note is ⅛ of the whole measure.
And finally here’s a little more of a tricky groove to learn, which incorporates an extra bass drum on the ‘and’ of beat 3.
The great thing about learning grooves in this grid format is that it translates directly to real drum notation.
So you’re learning how to read without even realizing it! Take a look at the groove above in real drum notation form to see what I mean:
How Do I Play A Drum Fill?
Firstly, what is a drum fill?
Simply put, a drum fill is a pattern or phrase that adds excitement to a drum groove or sets up a change of section within a song.
Here’s a great example of a famous drum fill:
\In this guide, I’m going to give you one simple drum fill that is great for rock and pop music. It’s pretty simple at its core and it moves around the drum kit using the snare and all the toms.
When I first teach fills, I like to use phonetics (words) applied to different rhythms to use on the drums. For this fill, we’re going to use the word ‘coffee’ as our rhythmic phrase.
If you emphasize the two syllables of ‘coffee’ you get two distinct notes. If you move that ‘coffee’ rhythm around the drum kit you can use it as a fill, as shown in the table below:
NOTE: Make sure the coffee rhythms flow into each other and there’s no gap between each R L. It should turn into an even single stroke roll around the kit.
R L R L R L R L
RL RL RL RL
Once you’ve got your head around the grooves and fill. A great exercise is to play three times round the groove then straight into once round the fill. This is an excellent exercise to practice transitioning between grooves and fills seamlessly...an essential skill for any drummer.
Groove x 3 / Fill x 1
How Can I Take My Drumming Further?
Everything in this article is essentially just choice snippets from my online drum course,
If you’re looking for a fun and effective solution to kick start your drumming then look no further than ‘The Easy Beginner Drum Course’.
It has dedicated play-along songs to practice with, as well as giving you the tools to play along to your favorite songs. After finishing the course you’ll feel like a real drummer!
Learning how to play drums is a journey. It takes hours of dedicated practice and patience.
The key to being successful and improving as a drummer is to enjoy the journey rather than being fixated on the end result...or the things that you can’t do!
I’d suggest that if you’re just starting out, having at least a few drum lessons with an experienced drum teacher will really help set you up on the right path (without allowing any bad habits to form).
Ask in your local music store for drum teachers near you.
So there you have it, my essential guide playing the drums for beginners. Check out some of my other articles for more ‘insider’ knowledge to improve your groove.