"I got my style. I got my own way of playing. I'm a musician. I'm self-taught." - Sixto Rodriguez
Studying music is an admirable activity. It demands a lot of hard-work, even with the help of experienced and qualified professionals. However, sometimes we can't afford professional lessons with a classically-trained teacher, we don't have the time, or we prefer to learn an instrument on our own.
Self teaching yourself an instrument on your own is a great way to learn. It can make you an incredibly unique, interesting and talented musician. Learning on your own can give you an edge that many classically-trained musicians don't have. You may think differently to a trained musician, which is a blessing to creating unique music, using your individual mind and ears.
The drums are an instrument that generally requires technical ability, which can be difficult for you to teach yourself. More and more people in Australia are teaching themselves musical instruments, as it is more accessible than ever. A lot of Australian's favourite musicians who they look up to are self-taught.
We're going to look at the pros and cons of becoming a drummer without the help of the teacher throughout this article.
Figuring out your goals as a beginner
Drumming is a way to express your creativity and enjoy yourself. Many people want to learn how to play a musical instrument in order to express their creativity and enjoy themselves.
Once you've chosen the instrument you want to learn, you need to work out how to to play it without a teacher. This can prove difficult without prior music theory knowledge or training. Luckily, often those with a knack for music will be able to learn by ear. If you are not one of these people, learning a basic knowledge of musical theory and training can be helpful to you. You can find videos on YouTube to learn more about music.
It can be hard to figure out your goals when it comes to playing drums. It might be best to work out what draws you to playing the drums and what style you want to play.
There are so many reasons to learn to drums. Some of them include:
- Improving your coordination
- Diving deep into the world of percussion
- Understanding the complexities of rhythm
- Forming or joining a band
- Stress and anger relief
- Covering your favourite songs
There are plenty more reasons to learn the drums. The most important thing when you're teaching yourself is to be patient and ambitious, just like you would teaching yourself any instrument, like guitar or piano.
You need to keep yourself motivated, as you won't have a teacher to encourage you. While some people want to teach themselves drums, others may not have a choice in the matter, which can get quite demotivating. Ultimately, you have to be careful to avoid developing bad habits that will hinder your drumming.
The bare minimum you need to learn drums is to have access to a drum kit or studio, or you're planning on it. You can also practice on drum pads on any surface with drum sticks if you can't access a drum kit yet, but to play drums well, you need to practice on a kit. It'll soon become your best friend.
Unfortunately, your neighbours might not be as in to the sound of your drumming as you are. It's best to keep practice to during the day and limit your playing in the evening or weekends, when your neighbours are relaxing.
All is not lost though–there are solutions to angry or disturbed neighbours.
If you are only just starting to learn how to drum, you should invest in a practice pad. If you are just starting to learn drums, you may want to invest in a practice pad.
As mentioned prior, drum pads or practice pads are light and portable drumming tools that have a similar feel to that of a drum kit, but are much, much quieter. Practice pads are generally used to practice holding sticks, build up speed, practice rhythms (like polyrhythms) and strengthen your forearms. On a practice pad, you can experiment with paradiddles and sample fills.
You may be wondering why you can’t use a bunch of pots and pans in the kitchen cupboard instead. Apart from the noise, this setup wouldn’t have the same effectiveness of getting you ready to play on a drum kit. Practice pads have the right bounce and feel–other surfaces do not. Fortunately, drum pads are becoming more common, and are far more sophisticated than they used to be. This P4 drum pad mimics a drum kit.
It’s recommended by most drum teachers that for every hour you spend on a drum kit, a minimum of five hours should be practicing on a drum pad. This ratio helps you to master drumming techniques, which are especially helpful when teaching yourself.
Even after your well practiced, you should to work on the practice pad every day. It’ll keep you in top form and on top of your drumming, even if it’s just keeping your arms and wrists strong.
To keep your neighbours at peace, you might also consider an electronic drum kit. These have a similar feel to practice pads, and they have the benefit of not only mimicking a kit’s feel, but the sound of a kit too.
Yes, electronic drum kits don’t have the style of an acoustic drum kit, but the advantage of volume control and headphones are invaluable when you’re learning drums. This way, you can play morning, evening and night! Once you reach this point, don’t rest your sticks. Even after you reach your goal of drumming in a band, you should still practice on the drum pad every day.
An electric drum kit is a great next step once you gain confidence as a drummer. Electric drum kits may not have the same look and sound as a classic kit, but they offer something that acoustic kits don’t–noise control.
Whether you decide to get an electric drum kit or a classic set, you’ll need plenty of room. Electric drum kits have the benefit of being compact. You can fold them up and store them in a convenient spot whereas an acoustic drum kit is quite large, even when it’s stacked away.
Understandably, you may have reservations about playing on an electronic drum kit, especially if you’ve been looking forward to hitting a real kit. Even professional drummers use electronic drums from time to time–they are a great substitute from acoustic kits and have a range of different sounds like 808 drum kit presets.
Once you feel you’ve gotten what you need out of an electronic drum kit, you can make the switch, maybe when your budget, neighbours and gig opportunities start to align.
It’s worth nothing that drum kits aren’t all that expensive–at least not as pricey as you might think. You don’t need to spend a fortune on your first kit. Since it’s the same kit you’ll be learning on, you don’t need anything out of the ordinary. Drum kits can be pretty versatile too.
As you become more experienced, you can buy a new snare or set of toms to match the sound and tone you’re after, and you don’t even need to stick to the same brand. This offers a fair bit of flexibility, and you can upgrade your kit over time.
To avoid feeling overwhelmed, you should get the basics: a bass drum, snare drum and a hi hat set. This is plenty to help you learn some basic 4/4 and 3/4 beats. After some time, you can add on the ride and crash cymbals, a floor tom and one or two rack toms. With these additions, you can start to practice adding fills to your beats and start experimenting with rhythms and rudiments.
Without the help of a drum teacher, you need to remain focused and motivated, just like you would any other instrument like guitar or bass. Learning coordination, rhythm, improvisation and drum tabs on your own can be a little intimidating at first. You may want to look into a few drum lessons in your area to help you along.
Since you won’t be able to gauge your progress by comparing yourself to other students, self-taught musicians run the risk of losing the motivation to keep progressing. You’ll need to evaluate your progress.
Figure out your skill level
“Music, once admitted to the soul, becomes a sort of spirit and never dies.” - Edward Bulwer-Lytto
As a self-taught musician, it can be difficult to evaluate yourself. If you’re starting drums or music theory from scratch, however, it might be a bit easier to understand where you’re at.
Being a beginner may seem like an obstacle, but it can be an advantage! Starting from the very beginning can be the easiest place to start from. With no prior drumming experience or knowledge, you have the chance to start fresh and learn all the best techniques and avoid developing bad habits.
On the other hand, having a solid understanding of musical theory or another percussion instrument, you may struggle to evaluate your level of skill.
For example, if you’ve already got some decent beats down, will you be able to evaluate how you hit the cymbals? It’s easier to evaluate one by one, which is why starting from scratch can be helpful in this aspect.
Having a sound knowledge of musical theory and drumming techniques is helpful, but you can also improvise when you learn the drums. Improvising helps you to find your unique style, as you can experiment with different beat and fills–whatever feels good to you.
When evaluating your progress, electric drum kits have the helpful tool of a built-in recorder, so you can listen back to your drumming. After doing your warm-ups, you can start recording your practice session and listen back with a critical ear. Ask yourself: are you playing too fast or slow? Have you improved since your last practice?
You could save these recordings in the digital library, and after about a month, listen back. Here’s where you will really get the sense of how you are progressing as a drummer. By doing this regularly, you’ll eventually get an overall picture of your ability as a drummer.
Of course, you could also use an external recorder like your phone to record your practice sessions on an acoustic kit, but the electronic drum kit’s internal recorder makes it much more convenient.
While evaluating your drumming, you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself! You don’t have to be perfect. All you really need to be is driven. You can ask yourself these questions:
Am I playing in time with the metronome?
Do I play better on an acoustic drum kit or electronic drums?
Do I know the time signatures I’m playing in?
You may not know the answers to these questions right away, but by asking them you’re on the right path.
Drum resources for beginners
If you’re intent on learning the drums on your own, you can still seek out drumming resources to help you along. Drummers who are passionate usually put out information on drumming so they help guide those who are learning either on their own, at a music school or with a private teacher.
The resources may be traditional, like drum theory books. You can buy these at music stores or online at stores like Amazon or eBay. If these aren’t helpful to you and you’re more of an auditory or visual learner, you can also seek out some podcasts or YouTube videos about drumming. There are podcasts and YouTube channels dedicated to teaching drums.
Some drumming podcasts talk about drumming techniques, fit with advice on everything from tuning your drums to polyrhythms. Renowned drummers often feature on episodes to pass on their knowledge and wisdom to aspiring drummers.
Listening to podcasts are a surefire way of getting more information on drumming–many of the hosts have online drumming workshops, like 180 Drums.
180 Drums have videos which demonstrate different fills, rhythms and beats, along with tips to build up your speed. You can sign up for their online drum lessons, if you find it helpful.
Looking for online drum lessons for kids? Check out Superprof!
Videos of drum lessons
Despite whether you’re a drumming beginner or a master of the beats already, you will get a lot out of the Drumeo website. Drumeo arrange their lessons to their target audience.
Drumeo is great for beginners–if you’ve never held a pair of drumsticks, the beginner section will guide you on how to choose the best drumsticks for you and your style of music and how to grip your sticks correctly. The website features instruction on correct posture and warm-up exercises, both very important aspects of drumming.
You’ll learn the correct way to drum, to avoid picking up bad habits. Their video ‘Seven Mistakes Every Drummer Makes’ highlights some of the most common mistakes–one being failure to warm-up. The one hour video is a in-depth resource, not to mention free!
Another great online resource is DrumBum. Their site offers free lessons and has plenty of lessons for both beginner and more advanced drummers. One of DrumBum’s feature is that the topics are arranged alphabetically. If you know what drum terminology or skill you’re look for, you may be able to find it on DrumBum.
Another online resource is Daily Drum Lessons. The site is fit with tabs, techniques and tips for kids, beginners and advanced drummers. Each lesson offers a PDF file of sheet music to download.
Daily Drum Lessons is organised by level, technique, short and longer lessons–no need to scroll and sift through to find what you’re looking for! Even more, each lesson on the site comes with a PDF file with all the sheet music for you to download, so you can go back to it again and again.
You may be wondering why we haven’t mentioned YouTube yet. Although there are plenty of a drum tutorial channels on YouTube, it’s harder to find more specific techniques, for instance ‘how to play 32-note fills’. Since platforms like YouTube are sorted by popularity, you might have to sift through quite a few videos that aren’t particularly helpful.
On the other hand, the sites mentioned above are professional tutorials, by qualified and experienced teachers. It’s not as hit-and-miss as YouTube videos, so you’ll be better off heading to a website that specialise in drum tutorials. You should take notes in a book while watching too!
Sheet music for drums
It’s great to be able to follow a drum tutorial and play your beats perfectly, but learning how to read drum notation is important too! It can be hard to source sheet music online (apart from Daily Drum Lessons), but most local music stores have drum sheet music and drum books to suit whatever drumming ability you are at.
Other than Daily Drum Lessons, Music Nuke is a great website that offers drum notation for free. Virtual Drumming has a whole collection of sheet music you can download, ranging from techniques like warm-ups, transcriptions of drum solo and more advanced beats.
You can even can shop on Amazon or eBay if all else fails!
What you need: a beginner drum kit and learning materials
“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”– Bob Marley
As you now know, all you really need to start learning the drums is the drive to do so.
In saying that, without the right equipment, it may difficult for you to get going. Without the help, space and kit of a drum teacher, you will need drums and a drum tabs, so you can play along to tunes.
Drums tabs are a more simple version of sheet music. They’re also more accessible–you can find drum tabs pretty much anywhere online, no lessons necessary.
While you’re learning on your own, it’s important to keep in mind you can sign up for a drum class anytime you feel yourself losing motivation, or if you’ve hit a bump in the road and struggling to progress. You can even sign up for a class to work on a specific technique you’re having trouble with. Everyone has off days, months or even years when learning something new, and a teacher can help you move past this.
Searching online can help you a lot when you’re learning an instrument. It’s pretty easy to find tabs online, and guides for tuning your kit.
Ultimately, anyone can learn to play drums if they want to! Self-taught musicians are all around us, and have vast amounts of talent, drive and creativity. You have a huge selection of online resources to help you along the way, but if you do need a little help, you can always sign up to online lessons, attend a drum school, or get the help or a private teacher who can cater their lessons to you.
A tutor is helpful in that they can focus on areas you’re struggling with and create a plan to suit your skill level. It’s helpful to have that face-to-face connection too, when you’re learning an instrument, especially when you’re a beginner, so you can ask questions and get clarity during lessons.
The drums are a fun, diverse and integral instrument. There are so many directions learning to play the drums can take you and there are all sorts of styles to learn, so grab a drum pad and sticks and get on it!