Is it possible to learn drums by yourself? As a drum teacher, people informally ask me this question, wondering if it is possible to skip getting a teacher and learn directly for themselves.
Let me say that it is totally possible. Many people find a teacher necessary to stay motivated and organize a schedule.
But if you’re one of those self-motivated people who enjoy the challenge of learning something new, there are plenty of resources to help you!
In this article, I will detail how I would learn to play the drums if I needed to start from scratch.
This sounds complicated, but fortunately for drums, it’s much less complex. All we need to know is the duration of the notes and how they look when written down.
Once you are able to read drum notation, it will be much easier to learn to play drums by yourself.
Here let’s take a simple beat that we can learn.
In this case, we see that the notes are laid out from top to bottom:
On the top we have ‘X’s, they represent the hi-hats.
The black notes right below represent the snare drum.
The black notes on the bottom represent the bass drum.
We read the rhythm from left to right, which means we start with the hi-hat and bass drum on the first note. The second note is the hi-hat and snare drum together, etc.
Notice, these notes are not connected together. This means they are quarter notes. As the name suggests, 4 of them can fit into one measure. We count them like this: 1, 2, 3, 4.
Now let's make this a little more complicated and add a note between the quarter notes.
We can notice that the hi-hat notes are connected by a line.
These are called eighth notes. They are called eighth notes because 8 of them can fit into one measure.
In order to count the eighth notes, we will say 'and' (or '&') on the off beats.
We can think of this landscape as a grid then.
There are eight different possible spots to play on and right now our hi-hat is playing on all of them. The bass drum is playing on the 1 and 3 and the snare drum is playing on the 2 and 4.
Let's play a little bit more with this. We will add some extra notes with the bass drum and snare drum and fill out our 8 note grid a bit more.
Now we have a groove with a little more motion. The snare drum now appears on the 2, the & of 2 and the 4.
The bass drum now appears on 1, 3 and the & of 4.
Practice these two grooves SLOWLY and then let's go to the next step which is to play along to music with them.
Learning the drums is about playing music, so let’s first find music to play along to.
Let’s take the song Another One Bites The Dust by Queen. This song has the beat that we studied above.
Take a listen:
This beat is around 110 beats per minute if you want to practice with a metronome.
If you are having trouble playing with the music or keep getting lost when you are playing, don't fret. Stop and re-evaluate your groove, make sure you can play it comfortably without the music.
Then go back to the music and listen to it for a good while, imagining yourself playing it. You can also try to play the beat with your hands and knees if you don't have a drumset.
Now take this same beat to another song (hint: there are so many songs with this beat!)
Once you've mastered that rhythm and can play it comfortably throughout the duration of the song above try your hand at this groove.
Again, this is the groove we learned above:
Practice this as much as you can before playing to the song, because this one can seem pretty fast for a beginner.
Also, the last note on the bass drum (the & of 4) is not played all the time, so feel free to only add this note in every couple of times you play the groove.
For most of the song, it seems he plays phrase once without that bass drum note and once with.
This video is excellent, because we can see Ringo as he plays the drums.
We have already covered the basics of reading drum notation. However, there is still much more to explore.
The last type of note we will want to learn is called a sixteenth note. A sixteenth note is twice as fast as an eighth note, so 16 of them can fit in a measure.
However normally we won't always have 16 of them in a measure, we will just be placing some notes onto the grid of 16th notes.
Our grid of 16th notes is counted like this: 1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a
So let's learn a groove with some of the bass drum notes placed on the 16th note grid.
The only note that lands on the sixteenth note, in this case, is a bass drum note on the a of 2. It lies between two hi-hat notes.
This groove appears in the following song When the Levee Breaks by Led Zeppelin (drummer John Bonham).
Listen to this tune. Stop and try to play the groove without the music. Then go back to the music and see if you can play right on top of the drummer.
One extremely helpful exercise is to learn to count and play at the same time. This means we want to say (out loud): "1e&a 2e&a..etc" while we are hitting the correct beats on the drums. If you can do this will be extremely helpful for the future. Average drummers are usually even not able to do this and it is such an important skill for mastering complicated rhythms.
Next, let's find another song that utilizes this same beat and apply it there.
For the majority of this song (like the Led Zeppelin tune), the drummer plays the beat above. Notice how the drummer does not rush or drag the sixteenth note in the middle of the hi-hat. It is perfectly in the middle of the two hi-hat notes.
If you would like more resources on how to play drums check out our other articles!
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.