“Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart..” - Pablo Casals
Studying music is a commendable activity as it demands a lot of work, even with the help of a classically-trained professional. Sometimes, though, we can’t afford it, we don’t have the time, or we just prefer learning to play an instrument on our own.
The drums are a type of instrument that requires technical ability which can be difficult to teach yourself. While more and more people in the UK are deciding to teach themselves a musical instrument, we need to have a look at the pros and cons of becoming a drummer without the help of a teacher.
That’s what we’re going to look at throughout this article, the advantages and disadvantages of learning to play drums on your own and the various ways you can do it.
Establishing Your Goals without a Teacher
Many people want to learn how to play a musical instrument in order to express their creativity and enjoy themselves. Once you’ve worked out which instrument you want to learn, you need to work out how to learn to play it without the help of private tutorials or music theory lessons. This can be really difficult if you’ve had no prior musical training and are learning how to play drums from scratch.
It can be quite difficult to define objectives when it comes to playing the drums. You need to work out what draws you towards the drums, work out why you want to learn to play them, and then how you want to learn to play them.
There are a lot of reasons for learning to play the drums:
- Improving your coordination and movement
- Learning more about the instrument
- Understanding rhythm
- Forming a band
- Stress relief
- Playing the drum beats to your favourite songs
- Copying your idols
- And many more...
As you’ve probably gathered, there are thousands of reasons for learning to play the drums. The most important thing when teaching yourself how to play the drums is to be patient, driven, and talented. The same goes for teaching yourself how to play the guitar, piano, or any other instrument for that matter.
That’s why you can’t get demotivated because there’s no tutor or drum teacher to pick you back up when you're playing drums on your own. Some people choose to learn to play drums on their own while others have no choice in the matter. Whatever your reasons, you have to be careful to avoid picking up bad habits that will hinder your progression.
We’re going to assume that you have a drum kit or at least access to one as this is the very bare minimum you’ll need to start teaching yourself how to play. After a bit of time, your drum kit will become your best friend!
Of course, if you live in a flat, your neighbours might not appreciate the sound of your drumming throughout the evening hours and, gods forbid you should drum into the night, even on weekends!
To remedy the problem of angry, disturbed neighbours, you have a couple of solutions to contemplate.
Especially if you are only just starting to learn how to drum, you should invest in a practice pad.
Drum pads are light, portable drumming tools that mimic the feel of real drums but are much quieter. To master holding your sticks and build up speed, to strengthen your forearms and condition your shoulders - yes, drum playing requires a bit of fitness!, to practise your eighth-, sixteenth- and thirty-second-notes, beat out paradiddles and sample fills, a practice pad is essential.
You might think that inverting a few pots and pans and arranging them in a drum kit configuration would have the same effect, namely training yourself to aim for and hit drums. To the contrary, whatever you invert to practise on will not have the responsiveness of a drum pad: you won't have the bounce or be able to practice rim shots on kitchenware!
Besides, drum pads these days are very sophisticated instruments; you may even select a P4 drum pad that most closely mimics an acoustic drum set!
The best drum teachers and even online drum lessons advocate that, for every hour spent on the drums, a minimum of five hours on the practice pad is essential.
This five-to-one ratio is a guaranteed formula for success in quickly mastering drumming technique!
But don't rest on your laurels just yet; even after you achieve your dream of drumming in a band, you should still work out on the practice pad every day, if only to keep your arms and especially your wrists in top form.
Once you gain a bit of confidence in your drumming, you may consider investing in an electronic drum kit.
True, they do not have the style and panache of an acoustic set but they offer one major advantage as far as noise-making is concerned: when you plug your headphones into the control module, your ears get all of the sound and your neighbours get to sleep peacefully, even if you practise drumming in the wee hours of the morning!
Another benefit of owning an electronic drum kit: when compared to an acoustic set, it has a minimal footprint.
Regardless of whether you aspire to play on a standard drum kit or the slightly smaller fusion kit, you will need plenty of room to set everything up including cymbal stands, and you will need enough clearance to work around it - tuning the drums and just getting behind it and having room to play.
By contrast, electronic drums take up a minimum of space and, should your flat really not have any extra space to offer, you may collapse and store your kit under your bed, depending on what model you have.
You may be concerned about playing on an electronic kit, especially if you've been dreaming about playing on an acoustic set but even professional drummers aver that electronic drums are a satisfying substitute to the real thing. Some drummers have even incorporated electronic drums into their kit!
Besides, nobody has ever said you can't make the switch to a traditional kit once all of the conditions - finances, playing opportunities (read: gigs) and neighbours have been satisfied!
One last word about electronic drum sets: they are not as expensive as you might think!
Keep in mind that when you buy your first drum kit, you don't need to go out and spend a fortune. One of the best things about learning to play the drums is that you can buy all the parts of a drum kit individually unless you have settled on an electronic drum kit - and even then, you can purchase a bare-bones set and add to it later.
Considering all of the variables and acoustic drums are still your kit of choice, if you don't know the first thing about drumming, you should get just a bass drum, a snare drum, and a hi-hat to get you started with some basic beats.
Once you've got the hang of some basic rhythms, you can then add various cymbals and tom-toms to your kit so that you can start practising fills and licks and adding them to your beats.
To progress without the help of a drum tutor, you need to remain motivated. The same is true if you’re learning how to play the electric guitar, acoustic guitar, ukulele, or accordion!
Rhythm, coordination, improvisation, and drum tabs shouldn’t scare you.
With no other students to compare yourself to or exams to gauge your progress, self-taught musicians run the risk of quickly losing motivation. You need to work a lot on evaluating yourself!
Establish Your Level
“Without music, life would be a mistake” - Friedrich Nietzsche
It can be difficult, regardless of what you’re doing, to evaluate your own level. Of course, this can be very simple if you’re starting from scratch, having never played the drums a day in your life or taken a music theory class.
While you may think this would be a hindrance, it’s actually a blessing in disguise. Starting from scratch is the easiest place to start from. On the other hand, if you’ve already got a good grounding in music theory, have already played the drums or another percussion instrument, things are more complicated.
Can you effectively gauge how well you’ve mastered using cymbals, for example?
You’ll need to evaluate your own abilities by doing little tests on your instrument and improving your evaluation skills bit by bit. Just like playing any other musical instrument, you can also improvise when learning to play the drums.
As far as evaluating your progress, electronic drums offer an advantage that acoustic drums do not: they come with a built-in recorder.
After your warm-ups - Yes, you must always warm up prior to playing, even if it is just a practice session, simply switch on the recorder so that you can play back every single beat and listen with a critical ear to your efforts. Are they better than your last session? Faster? Smoother? Do you make better transitions between hitting cymbals and toms?
You may save these recordings as a sort of digital library of your progress in drumming. Once you've acquired about a month's worth of recordings, play the early ones back and gauge them against your latest efforts. That should give you a better overall picture of your drumming ability over time.
Naturally, you may use an external recorder to capture your practice sessions on an acoustic drum set but having a digital capturing device integrated into your drum set makes it so much more convenient, let alone more error-proof than remembering each time to engage a separate piece of equipment!
While you can skip over certain skills, you still need to be driven, above all, when it comes to learning how to play the drums.
Am I better with my right hand or my left hand? Is the metronome helping or hindering me?
What are the advantages of acoustic drums over electronic drums?
How can you learn the fundamentals of tempo and time signatures?
What is a reasonable rate of learning - what should I have mastered in three months' time and six months' time?
Do you need to have studied music or learned how to play the drums as a child?
Is it too late for me, a twenty-something or a fifty-something, to learn how to play the drums?
There are a lot of questions that you probably won’t know the answer to when you first start. However, by asking them, you’ll be able to more effectively establish your level. By knowing what level you have, you can establish your objectives and get equipment appropriate for what you’re going to be doing.
Finding Resources to Advance Your Drumming
Finding answers to those questions mentioned above and all of the others you might have can be a bit tricky if you're intent on learning how to play the drums on your own.
That is why people passionate about drumming put so much information out: they want to ensure that everyone interested in playing has as much guidance as possible, even if they already have a drum tutor or take drum lessons in a music school.
Such guidance may be traditional - drum books you can buy at bookstores, music shops and on Amazon. If you are an auditory learner, meaning you learn best by hearing new information, you might benefit from podcasts about drumming. However, if you need to see how things are done behind a drum set, you will find several video channels dedicated to teaching drumming.
"Wait!" you say; "Back up a minute: podcasts about drumming?"
Some of the best drumming podcasts include interviews with renown drummers, drumming technique and advice on everything from tuning your drums to relocating to cities where you might make the most of your drumming skills - say in Manchester, Liverpool or London, where the music business thrives.
Many of the drummers who host those podcasts also have an online workshop for drumming tutorials; 180 Drums being an excellent example of such.
There, you can watch videos demonstrating fills and grooves as well as tips and techniques to build up your speed and dexterity. If you find the instructors on those videos particularly helpful, you may sign up for drum lessons online.
Looking for online drum lessons for kids? Check out Superprof!
Drum Lesson Videos
Whether you are an absolute beginner at drumming or have already mastered a few grooves and fills, the Drumeo website has something to offer you.
What's really great about this site is that all of the lessons are arranged to their target audience.
If you've never held a pair of drumsticks before, the beginner section will take you through how to choose the right drumsticks for your style of music (yes, that matters!), how to hold your sticks and tune your drums.
Another great feature of this drum teaching site is that it emphasises proper posture and warm-up exercises before you beat out your first note. In fact, in their video 'Seven Mistakes Every Drummer Makes" they highlight the failure to warm up as one of the top troubles for drummers everywhere!
If you are more advanced in your drumming, you might be interested in the jazz, rock and Latin drumming segments.
DrumBum also offers a selection of free lessons. Their site is rather unusually organised in alphabetical order but nevertheless has plenty to offer the beginner drummer as well as those more advanced in their drumming. So, if you know all of your drum terminology and know what you're looking for, you may find it by name on that site.
Daily Drum Lessons is a much more organised site with tabs for technique, beginners, intermediates and advanced drummers - no need to sift around or have advance knowledge of drumming terms to find what you're looking for.
Exceptionally, each lesson on this site offers a PDF file containing the sheet music detailed in the lesson for you to download.
You might wonder why we haven't yet thrown YouTube into the mix...
There are indeed drumming channels on YouTube that you could learn from but the trouble with that most popular video website is that, if you're looking for something specific, say, how to play 32-note fills, you will have to sift through a lot of videos to find that ideal one; the one that you could really learn from.
That means you could end up wasting a lot of time sifting through less-than-stellar videos of passionate drummers filmed by a single camera who don't necessarily explain their moves or technique very well.
By contrast, all of the sites mentioned here offer professional-grade videos replete with instruction from experienced drummers and drum teachers.
Finding Drum Sheet Music
It is all well and good to beat the drums under video instruction or with a drum tutor online, but you need to know how to read drum notation and, more importantly, where to get it from.
Except for the Daily Drum Lessons site, you might be hard-pressed to find sheet music to accompany any of the other lessons!
Fortunately, you can pick up drum sheet music at any local music store. If you don't live close to any such concern, you can find a large assortment of drum notation online, usually organised by genre and level of playing ability.
Music Nuke offers a collection of web addresses to download drum notation for free. The site Virtual Drumming also offers an entire collection of sheet music for download ranging from warm-up grooves all the way to advanced drum beats and transcriptions of drum solos.
And, if all else fails, you could shop Amazon: they have innumerable selections for you to peruse!
The Right Musical Equipment
“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” ― Confucius
If you have the drive and know your level, you’re ready to start teaching yourself how to play the drums. Of course, your level will change as you practise and learn with the myriad of tools available to self-taught musicians.
It’s difficult to learn how to play the drums with absolutely no resources or tools. You’ll need them as otherwise, you’ll be completely alone in your learning.
How can you teach yourself to play the drums without the help of private tutors or music teachers?
If you want to learn to play the drums effectively, you’ll need drums and probably some drum tabs.
What’s better than playing along to your favourite songs when learning to play an instrument?
Drum tabs are simplified versions of sheet music for drums that you can find online. We’re not talking about online drumming lessons, but rather using the internet as a resource for helping you to teach yourself.
Keep in mind that you can sign up to online drum lessons if you see yourself becoming demotivated or if you’re starting to plateau. You don’t need to give up, after all. Everyone has days where they’re lacking a bit of motivation.
The internet can help you a lot, especially when it comes to teaching yourself to play the drums. There are websites with simplified tabs, practical advice on things like tuning your drum kit, etc.
Whether you like reggae, funk, rock, or folk music, you can play along to your favourite songs and improve your drumming technique. Even if your determination is your favourite learning resource, it doesn’t hurt to have some tabs on hand to help you.
If you still don’t feel confident teaching yourself to play the drums, you can always look at learning to play the drums online, in a drum school, at a music conservatoire or with the help of a private tutor who can tailor their lessons specifically to you! A tutor can work with you to establish a learning plan with goals that are appropriate to your level and learning style. They can also take the time to focus on anything you're struggling with if you tell them.
The drums are a percussion instrument that requires a lot of work! They are integral in almost every popular song nowadays and are famous around the world. This is one great reason to start learning how to play them.