How to Learn Drums with a Practice Pad? The ULTIMATE GUIDEPosted by Ben Heckler
There is so much to be learned with just a practice pad! Even if you are already experienced with the drums it is so helpful to go back to the basics and refine our technique. This lesson is designed for beginners but will also incorporate some intermediate and advanced exercises and concepts.
We will also incorporate some tips about how to learn drumset with a practice pad. Because mostly with a practice pad we practice hand technique, but there are some ways to practice as if we were actually playing a drum set.
So grab a practice pad and let’s get started!
First things first, we need to get our grip figured out. Check out our how to grip the stick correctly. You can see our article on this.
Most likely you will want to learn the match grip. This involves pointing the sticks inwards and twisting your wrists slightly. In this manner, we want to make sure that our thumb and index finger are the main pivot points of the hand.
Exercise 1 – single notes with one hand
While you are trying to settle into a correct grip on the stick I would play single notes with one hand. Then switch to single notes with the other hand. As an example, let’s play 8 notes with the right hand, then 8 notes with the left hand (see below).
R=right hand, L=left hand
Now let’s try to make this fun. Put on a piece of music with a slow/medium tempo and play this exercise to it. I like to choose a song that most people know, for example:
Playing along to this song, you should notice that your hands are going at the speed of the ‘hi-hat’. Visually speaking that looks like that this…
We don’t need no…. …education…
Try to make the notes as clear as possible, and all at the same volume.
You should notice that switching back and forth between the right and left is where the tricky part is, so work on making the transition smooth.
Introducing the metronome
For the following exercises, we will use a metronome. However, it is important to understand that these exercises should be played while recognizing their musicality. So sometimes it is helpful to play these exercises to music after one has played them sufficiently to a metronome.
Another Brick in the Wall for example, is around quarter note = 100bpm. And we were playing eight notes, therefore, two notes fit inside of one click.
Exercise 2 – eighth notes and sixteenth notes
Let’s continue with the metronome at 100bpm. We will start with eighth notes on one hand and then transition to sixteenth notes alternating hands.
Notice that the right-hand stays the same the whole time. When we introduce the left hand it is simply dividing the beat further.
At 100 bpm, the metronome should sound on every 2nd right-handed note.
Now let’s try it with the left hand.
With all these exercises we must remember to practicing beginning with our non-dominant hand. For most people that is the left hand. My teacher used to always tell me that we need to practice twice as much with this hand.
Exercise 3 – doubles and paradiddles
We are still at quarter note = 100bpm. Now let’s try the following exercises.
Doubles are two strokes per hand. They are played like this:
and their inversion:
If you find this not so challenging, bump the tempo up a bit. Try it at 120 bpm, 140 bpm, 160 bpm… and see how your hands react.
After a good 5 or 10 minutes of this, let’s introduce the paradiddles.
A paradiddle is comprised of two alternating strokes and two double strokes: RLRR LRLL
and their inversion,
Again, start slow and slowly increase the tempo. Find your limit and write it down. Then tomorrow you will try to surpass that limit.
When trying to find your limit, increase the metronome by 10 bpm at a time. Once you find you can’t do the paradiddle cleanly, back it up 10 bpm and practice it there.
Exercise 3 – Accents and some advanced concepts
Accents are the life of drumming. So much music is to be made just from switching from soft to loud. For these next exercises, really focus on your dynamics (i.e. how soft or loud you are playing).
Let’s continue with doubles and paradiddles.
For most people starting out, the accented and unaccented right next to each other with one hand will be difficult. But for many drummers, this is a staple of playing the hi-hat.
Side note on playing the hi-hat
When a drummer plays a beat, for example, this basic beat:
or this one.
It is very common, and in fact more energy-efficient, for the drum to play the right-hand (which is playing the hi-hats on the ‘x’ in the example above) in this motion:
So these type of exercises are great for developing this technique.
Back to accents
We can put accents on the paradiddles we’ve studied too.
Try to get this one up to speed. And then move on to putting the accent on every 4 notes instead of every 8 notes.
Exercise 4 – Advanced concept regarding accents
Like I’ve said before, accents are the lifeblood to a great groove. Moreover, practicing your speed and your dynamics are some of the most important things you can do on a practice pad.
Now let’s get a little more adventurous and build up our technique.
Remember to really make a contrast between the unaccented notes and the accented notes, I cannot stress this enough, and the most common mistake I see in beginner and intermediate drummers is that they do not differentiate the difference volumes sufficiently. These exercises should be pretty difficult.
Pushing the accents over
Let’s go back to our paradiddle example.
Now what happens if we push the accent over one eighth-note?
Apart from being uncomfortable, it can be hard to locate where the first beat should land. Do this with a metronome to test yourself and make sure you are playing the accents on the offbeat.
We can also test ourselves by putting our foot at the beginning of each paradiddle. Even if we don’t have a foot pedal we can hit the floor as if we did, this will introduce coordination of all of our limbs.
Try this at 100 bpm, and then increase the tempo as you can until you find your limit.
Let’s keep going in this fashion, moving the accents one eighth-note over on the paradiddle and keeping the foot on the start of each
As we can see, we can see how a simple exercise can get difficult quick, especially when we raise the tempo.
I should note that all of these exercises can be applied to the drum set very easily. Simply take your right hand, place it on the hi-hat, left hand on the snare drum, and your bass drum where the foot is.
Cycle through these exercises, with the accent on the first note, then the second, third and fourth.
Exercise 5 – Triplets
Triplets are an indispensable exercise, and for beginning drummers perhaps the most overlooked and elusive.
Let’s look at a basic triplet exercise with the hands.
If we continue with the quarter note = 100 bpm, that means that in each click sound, we can fit 3 notes.
We can do the same thing we did with the accents above. Keeping either the metronome and/or the kick drum on every first note of the triplet.
Good luck with this! There is a lot of work we can do on a practice pad and it can be directly translatable to the drumset.
Working on accents and speed will help your stick control and technique, do not overlook the practice pad!
Ben Heckler is a multi-instrumentalist and musician from Portland, Oregon. Currently Ben lives in Barcelona where he teaches drum lessons, writes and records original music for his band Sea Fuzz as well as playing drums for one of the biggest Beatles tribute bands in Europe, The Flaming Shakers.
Ben is constantly creating and composing various types of music, video, and artwork for a multitude of projects that come his way. He hopes to use his platforms to share, help and inspire others to create in their own ways.