Okay, you want to be a drummer. And, of course, the place for a drummer is a rock band, no matter what they said in Whiplash. So you read every tom stand or double bass pedals review. Watch training routines on YouTube. Choose sides when Redditors argue over Zildjian vs. Sabian. But it’s all in vain unless you focus on yourself.
Let’s talk about what it takes to become a rock drummer. How to prepare yourself. What to obtain and master. What skills, attitudes, and devices it requires. Come on, let’s kick, crash, and ride, and also snare, hi-hat, and stuff.
Things to Obtain
In the perfect world, you would have been born into a house with a studio and a drum booth with the drumkit already set up. If you are not that lucky, you would, first of all, need the gear of your own, first of all — the drum kit. It usually includes a kick drum, a snare, one or two tom drums, hi-hats, a crash cymbal, optionally a ride cymbal. For a beginner, we’d recommend starting without a ride and the second tom and add them later if necessary.
But if you don’t have your own studio, you’ll need either a place for practice or a special practicing set. Practice pads and low-volume cymbals produce much less sound, but physically, you’ll get very realistic training. In addition, you will hear yourself well and even record your training sessions with a usual recorder.
If you opt for a premade drum set, you’ll get it with all the hardware required. You may want to change it later. Make sure that your training kit mirrors the setup of your actual one if you already have it.
Among extras, you will need several pairs of drumsticks. Better leave mallets or brushes until you feel sure with the regular sticks and ready to experiment. As for drumsticks, you will break them more often than you hope.
A metronome is a must too. Set the desired BPM and run it, then keep the rhythm to it. A metronome is one of the greatest inventions made in the music industry. Of course, you should aim for growing your own built-in metronome and feel the rhythm within. But while you’re learning, a metronome is great. It will also help you practice new songs.
To hear the metronome, you will need a pair of headphones. Monitoring the sound of the entire band is also better through the headphones. For protecting your ears, you will need earplugs (even if now you think your hearing is completely okay). You hope for a long successful career with frequent gigs in very loud places like concert halls and stadiums, don’t you?
We have mentioned a recorder. In fact, even a regular smartphone can record your training session for you to review it later. But having a dedicated one is great. Especially if it has a line input: then you’ll be able to record your rehearsals or live gigs with your band via the concert mixer.
Various accessories are necessary to take care of your drums. You’ll need covers, wiping cloths, polishes, adjustment keys and wrenches for both drums themselves and the hardware.
Finally, you will need bags to pack your drums when it’s time to go out for a gig. As for the transportation, it’s your manager’s duty. But if your band does not have a manager, you will probably need a car large enough for all that drum load.
Skills to Gain
Many things to learn there are, young padawan. Can you sit still for two hours? Not that absolutely still, of course. But you will need to spend the entire gig behind the drums, so prepare yourself for those long sessions. When it comes to technique, you need to take lessons; YouTube or books are not even close to the effect that a good teacher can make. Even if it’s not a teacher at all, but just your friend who has mastered drums to some extent.
Holding the Sticks
Did you know there are four basic grips for the drumsticks? Well, read about them before you take your sticks and try to practice. And then try them all, until you can choose how to hold the sticks. Yes, that’s the basics to begin with. As for the force, it’s a sort of Goldilocks zone: hold them too loosely, and you may lose them, hold them too tight, and they won’t bounce right. You will need to experiment to find your perfect grip yourself.
Pedals also offer some style choices, though there are basically two options – heel up and heel down. But the right combination of all these options is the first step to your own style.
Not that it’s as exciting as beating the dust out of a kick drum (or even of training pads). But it’s necessary to learn from those lessons on YouTube you have already bookmarked in a special folder. Or to speak to other drummers. It will be hard to ask what words like “diddle”, “reso”, “pies”, “money beat” or “Amen break” and return to woodshedding to up your chops.
Rudiments are the fundamentals of drum playing – micropatterns that form the structure of the song. After mastering the basic rudiments (there are 40 of them considered the essential elements of drumming, but in fact, there are much more) you can go further and combine or alter them. But rudiments will take a lot of your time.
As the band is playing, hardly can you even drop a word to another member. It’s just too loud for that. So train your skill of reading gestures, mimics, the entire body language. In a good band, members develop this sort of non-verbal communication by constant interaction. But you need to be prepared for that, having mastered the basics of non-verbality.
Taking Care of Drums
Learn the right ways of keeping your drums in the best shape. Polishing them every day is not necessary. But you will find out that they need to be wiped with a cloth, taken by edges, tightened in order to sound right, carried with care, and so on, and so on. Without that gear, you are not a drummer. So use the accessories.
It takes more than general fitness to be a great drummer. Keeping yourself in a good shape is just a part of it. There are other qualities you need to develop in yourself. It may take some time and effort; but even if you prefer a different career later, you’ll still benefit from that.
Training is not an era in your life: it’s a part of your everyday activity once you are serious about drumming. If playing with your band does not provide enough income yet, you might have to devote some time to another job. Besides that, there is your private and social life, your other hobbies if any, plus a reasonable time of good sleep. You need to learn to plan to manage all your activities.
Yes, there are special workouts for drummers meant to strengthen the muscles a drummer needs the most. The areas of interest include core strength, climbing, squats (lots of them!), running and powerlifting. Many drummers consider cycling the right exercise. For example, Neil Peart of Rush was a big fan of it and even wrote a book about his cycle touring, and many other famous drummers share this love.
Of course, you are also supposed to practice overall body workouts and pay special attention to posture exercises. After all, it will help you handle your heavy drums and hardware. Everything that keeps you fit keeps you lit.
Drums and bicycles – what a combination!
You may get angry: is it rock’n’roll or what? But, let alone drugs, even smoking and drinking will not make you stronger, even if it does not kill you. Even John Bonham admitted he did not dare to drink before a gig because he would get tired and blow it. Alas, he did not follow his own advice thoroughly enough. But you better do as he said, not as he did.
On the other hand, a bit of relaxation after the show is quite a must. If you feel you are stronger than that, you can afford a shot or two… or more. Unless it menaces your shape. Maybe you won’t need no recreational chemistry: the music itself is strongly psychedelic.
It takes constant practice to remain a good drummer. Not only does it mean to keep perfecting the same rudiments, patterns, and songs all over. It means liberation as you play. Well-mastered techniques are the best base for improvising with inspiration.
Yes, you can invent some new grooves or even solos and insert them into a song. Yes, you can use exotic instruments or modify your drumkit to make it more comfortable for you and recognizable for the listeners. Sometimes it becomes a must: Rick Allen of Def Leppard had to modify (and seriously electrify) his drum kit after losing his left arm in a car crash. But you don’t have to wait for such a sad event to start experimenting.
As you see, playing drums professionally is rather a lifestyle than an occupation. And while this lifestyle obviously is common for most musicians in many aspects, there are also specific ones for drummers. Even if you change your mind later and switch the instrument or leave your band at all, the skills you have gained will remain and still serve you.
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By Chad Smith
Bio: I am a drummer. I started playing drums at the age of 8, and since then I have never parted with my favorite musical instrument.