How to Learn Drums at Home (Without Drums)

Posted by Ben Heckler

Contrary to popular opinion, you actually do NOT need a drum set to start learning drums! There are plenty of ways you can start to learn coordination, technique and how to play drums to music, without a physical drum set.

In this lesson, we are going to go over some of the exercises and methods of playing drums without a drum set.

Sidenote: if you can get a pair of drum sticks, the exercises you can do will increase dramatically. However, for the first part of this lesson, we will assume you don't have anything.

You can follow along with this video lesson:

Learn where are the drums without drums

We have a lesson on the drum set anatomy, which lists all the different parts of the drum set. So check that out if you are interested.

However, we are going to assume you know more or less where the drums go on a normal drum set.

Also, we are going to speak as if you are right-handed for the majority of this lesson, so if you are a lefty, just invert these directions.

Air drumming

Sit in a chair or somewhere where you can be upright, and sit up straight. Extend both of your arms straight forward and close your hand as if you are holding a stick. Now move your left arm slightly inward (it should be aligned with the middle of your chest), and raise your right hand and cross it over your left.

This is the typical position of a person playing the hi-hat with the right hand, a snare drum with the left and the bass drum with the foot.

Let's start here and get a rhythm going.

Maintain this position and with your right hand, you are going to 'air drum' four beats.

On the third beat, you will play the left hand at the same time as the right hand. Now, repeat this.

Right hand: 1  2  3  4

Left hand:    .   .   3   .

Now we are going to ad the bass drum on the 1 beat, with the right hand.

Right hand: 1  2  3  4

Left hand:    .   .   3   .

Right foot:   1   .   .   .

This is your first beat! You can now play along to 90% of pop/rock songs out there. Practice these motions at different speeds until it feels natural and you can do it without thinking.

Once you feel comfortable with this exercise, try to play it to some music. Here is Billie Jean by Michael Jackson, which utilizes this exact beat.

For the next exercises, we are going to drum on the body, because although air drumming is much more realistic in terms of your body position, it is helpful to hear some sort of sound and make contact with something in order to do get comfortable with more complicated rhythms.

Body drumming 101

Drumming on your body is the staple of drummers and non-drummers. I'm a very experienced drummer and I love practicing different rhythms on the bus or train by tapping my body.

My go-to location is on the knees. Right hand on the right knee. Left hand on the left knee. It also keeps me close to my feet and I can look down at them easily when I'm practicing beats or coordination exercises.

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The only difference from air drumming that you may notice right away is that your hands are not crossed. So for beats where you are imagining that you are playing the hi-hat, snare and bass drum, you just need to understand that your right hand would be crossed if playing the hi-hat.

Try playing the same Billie Jean beat to the music, but this time with the hands on the knees.

Body drumming exercises

As we've said, learning to play drums is a combination of factors. But the best way to learn to play to music is through learning beats.

We have just learned our first beat. Now let's expand on this. We will add another bass drum note ( the right foot) on the 2 of the beat.

Right hand: 1  2  3  4

Left hand:    .   .   3   .

Right foot:   1   2   .   .

Now practice this beat along to this song below. The drummer on this song (Brad Wilk) plays this beat very strongly and prominently throughout the duration of the song.

Body drumming technique exercises

Singles

Singles are the most fundamental of all rudiments (rudiments are exercises that drummers play to improve their technique).

They are just alternating strokes, and they are played in the following way:

RLRL

R=right hand L =left hand 

See how fast you can take these! Remember to keep them evenly spaced and clean as possible.

Doubles

Doubles are a great exercise for getting your hands in shape. The hits are played at the same speed, in the following way.

RRLL

R=right hand L =left hand 

Repeat this, practicing it slow and then speed it up as fast as you can while making sure the notes are always evenly spaced.

Paradiddles

Paradiddles are played in the following way:

RLRR LRLL

R=right hand L =left hand 

Again, all the hits are evenly spaced and played at the same speed. For many this will seem very strange at first and it will take some getting used to, especially when you try to play it fast!

Start slow and slowly raise the speed.

Paradiddle-diddles

The paradiddle-diddle is a six-note phrase that is excellent for increasing coordination and speed. I also feel that even in the beginning, playing phrases that are uncomfortable at first will train us to be more comfortable with variations of doubles and singles.

It is played in the following way:

RLRRLL 

R=right hand L =left hand 

Notice that since it is a group of six it may be strange to feel the rhythm as it cycles around. However, keep trying to raise the speed on this one (play it a few minutes each day while you're taking the bus or at a doctor's appointment) and you'll be very surprised by how quickly it comes naturally.

This is also a very special rudiment and there are a lot of things you can do with it (like all of these rudiments). We will have more lessons on the utility and possibilities of how to take these rudiments further.

But for now let's look at one more.

Double paradiddles

RLRLRR LRLRLL 

R=right hand L =left hand 

Finally, we have the double paradiddle. This is two groups of 6 and may be tricky to get up to speed at first.

Practice these until they feel natural and clean. It is totally possible to get a good grip of these rudiments just by using your hands and knees (I do it all the time!).

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