This is it. You have always wanted to learn to play the drums. Now you have finally bought your first drum set, taken your first drum lessons and know the difference between the snare drum, toms, bass drum and know which cymbals are the hi-hat and which the crash or ride.
Now, of course, any beginner drum lessons will include not just instruction in drum notation, but also pieces for practising your strokes, fills and drum rolls.
And this is all very nice, but of course, you want to learn how to play the drums so you can groove with the best bands out there, not spend all your time listening to a metronome and counting beats.
Naturally, it’s important for beginners to learn the rudiments of the craft. And that means doing the drudgework. Without a good technique, you won’t get the most out of your drum sets. Rolls need to be practised until they flow smoothly. You need to know stick control, how hitting with the butt or the head of your drum sticks changes the sound, what brushes can do and how to make the best of them. Improving your craft means practising, it means discipline.
That doesn’t mean you can’t use actual songs to practice your technique. Learning to integrate your drumwork into a musical piece is an essential part of being a musician.
So here are some easy drum songs you can play as a beginner, from some of your favourite bands.
Want to learn how to drum like Buddy Rich? Play jazz like Max Roach? Though learning to improvise is part of jazz music culture, you first need to understand the tempos of jazz, the rhythms used and the colour and tone of the music.
Drumming along to jazz numbers will help you in mastering your technique so you can move on to the more complicated and challenging music and improv that will eventually let you land your first gigs.
So here are some simple jazz numbers to play along to.
Practise your jazz drumming with these easy songs. Photo credit: Deseronto Archives on Visual Hunt
You might find your drum teacher giving you Cantaloupe Island to help you with the concept of beat displacement. Usually associated with the backbeat, the snare drums don’t fall exactly on the count, but slightly before or after it. It can be a full eighth note but is generally more around a 16th note. Original drummer Tony Williams also sometimes added buzz fills on these displaced beats.
Salvaged from the oddly-named musical “The Great Magoo”, enough people had their hands in writing and composing this song, originally titled “If You Believed in Me” that it’s hard to tell exactly how it came about. It has been performed by a lot of different artists including Art Blakey. The latter’s interpretation is well worth listening to for any percussion student.
Your drum teacher might have you play this jazz song. It has a lengthy drum solo that will help boost your confidence and give you plenty of experience in learning how to play the drum.
This song has a mellow rhythm that’s perfect for beginners. The verse uses the bass drum, snare and hi-hat; then switches to the cymbals – both ride and hi-hat – for the chorus. The slow drumming makes switching the instrument constellation on your drum kit easy on you. It’s almost as though the Beatles had designed this song for teaching someone how to play the drums.
Beatles songs often have a simple but very atmospheric drum part. Photo credit: alex.bretado on VisualHunt.com
Another Beatles song for learning to play the drums is Ticket to Ride. It’s a bit more upbeat and rhythmic than In My Life, but that’s all the better for improving your timing. It doesn’t have any tricks. It begins with the bass, adding some colour with the toms and snare: bass-snare-bass-bass-snare-tom. You can practise double-handed strokes for a crisper tone.
This song was first played by drumming legend Ginger Baker. It’s a wonderful song for practising your drum patterns and fills. It also teaches you how to use percussion instruments to create atmosphere in a song.
From the 1969 album “Let It Bleed”, this song is wonderful for beginners because it has a very classical rock’n’roll pattern using the bass drum, snare and ride cymbal. The start of the song is fairly stark, but has some drum fills later on. You can start by leaving them out, slowly adding them as you grow familiar with it.
Whether you want to learn how to play funk or heavy metal, you will need to know the typical drum beats, how to use that drum pedal and play drum rolls and fills.
When you learn how to play the drums, you might want to try the percussion part of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. “Billie Jean” uses a common drumbeat often called the “money beat” that is very easy to learn.
The snare drum will land on the counts of two and four – commonly referred to as a backbeat. The bass drum comes down on one and three.
When you learn how to play this piece, learn the drum part first until you have the switch between snare and bass down pat.
Then you can add work with the pedal for the hi-hat. It is played as a one-eighth note – when counting, tap the cymbal pedal twice for each count. This will improve your hand-foot coordination.
For a lighter tune with a catchy rhythm, try “Teenage Dream” by Katie Perry. It’s a mid-tempo song with a simple, unassuming drum part that will teach you rudimental drumming techniques
A characteristic part of rock band AC/DC’s drummer Phil Rudd’s style is the absolute absence of fills. This makes his songs a good way to learn how to play the drum. “You Shook Me All Night Long” does have a few particularities that will challenge you to bring your drumming up to another level. It’s mostly in the rhythm: the kick drums fall on the count of one and the OFFBEAT of three – that little hitch while you say “…three AND four”.
First played by legendary drummer Dave Grohl, “Heart-Shaped Box” has a very simple drum melody, but is perfect for learning the little technical points, frills and rim clicks that liven up a drum solo. It’s also great for becoming well-rounded and working on your dynamics. Dave Grohl’s switch between the quiet verses to the heavier choruses is a wonderful example of the kind of control that makes drumming an art form.
Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” is good beginner piece for the drums. Photo credit: Oldtasty on Visual hunt
This song is well known for its drum intro. It’s a rewarding piece for beginner drum practice as it slowly moves up from the floor tom to the snare to increase the volume, setting up the guitar’s entrance. The ride cymbal gives the beat in eighth notes; the bass drum comes in once on the count of one and twice on three, with the floor tom coming in on two and four. Since these also correspond with cymbals, it will help you learn to synchronise cymbals and drums.
An interesting song for the modern drummer – a slow song that still has a lot of tempo to it. Its perfect for experimenting with drum fills; it also has a triplet ride pattern that will challenge you as a beginner percussionist without being too hard to master at that skill level.
If you are truly passionate about playing the drums, you will want to practice during every spare minute. But you may be finding yourself frustrated by your usual drumming lessons and want something a little different to learn that kick technique or master the ride cymbal.
Put your favourite music-video DVDs or band CDs into the player, check out your playlist or simply switch on YouTube and watch and listen to the drummer. Don’t try to follow the melody, simply tune in to the drumming voice or look exclusively at the drummer in a video. Listen to it a few times like that, then start drumming in time with the band’s lead drummer. If you’re unsure of the way it goes, the drum line for most pop and rock songs are available as sheet music through an online music shop. Learning how to read music is an essential skill in classic drum lessons.
Learning how to use your drum kit can be approached from several different angles. Photo credit: nikolaymarushchak on VisualHunt.com
If you don’t have an ear for music that lets you keep up with the most famous drummers of all time, you can instead take online drum lessons. This YouTube channel walks you through how to play a great number of modern songs.
Or you can download a drum and bass track of the songs you want to master – basically, only the drum grooves from the song, without the guitar player or bass guitar or vocals.
Another option is to download a backing track that will have all the parts EXCEPT the drum, so you can play along with a virtual band without another drum set confusing you.
Obviously, if regular drum lessons are not cutting it, you might not want to deal with yet another drum course with a teacher taking care of several different students at once. The best is to go for a private tutor. Though it can be more expensive, it might be a good idea to have the teacher come to your home and give a private lesson. He or she can work more intensely, as well as to motivate you to stick with drums with interesting pieces to practice on.
Superprof has a wide selection of drum tutors near you to help you improve your drumming.