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Drum Tips

The following are drumming tips from the DRUM SET Bulletin.
They are in no particular order.

* When you change your drum heads, write the date in small numbers off to the side of each new head. This will help you remember how long the head has been on the drum. (There is no specific period of time that a drum head should stay on the drum though. That should depend on how they sound, feel, how hard you hit, and how often you play.)

* Write down the serial numbers of all of your drums and other equipment (and also take pictures) so if they should get stolen, you have a way for the police to identify them. This will probably be required if you have insurance on your equipment (also a good idea).

* Say it, then play it. A great way to internalize a new rhythm or drum fill on the drums is to say it out loud first.
* To save time when setting up your drums (and to ensure you set them up the same way every time), use memory locks on your stands or mark off the height and angles on your stands. If memory locks are not available, use hose clamps. You can get those at any hardware store and they are not expensive. Also, use a drum rug and mark where all of the stands go. A drum rug will also ensure that your bass drum does not slip away from you when you are performing. When a drum rug was not available, you can use the floor mats from your car.

* It is a good idea to develop co-ordination and control with our feet just like we should with our hands. A good place to start is to practice all of the rudiments with your feet.

* Playing a cross-stick on the snare drum can be a nice variation to bring the dynamics of a song down.

* Protect your ears! Most musicians take their hearing for granted until it’s too late. Drums can get quite loud and ongoing exposure is detrimental.

* Keep a journal of your practicing. It will keep you on track and increase your rate of learning.

* Keep a tool kit with spare drum parts, drum keys, snare wires, etc. in case something breaks or goes missing and needs to be replaced ASAP.

* Dynamics are important in playing music. Practice playing everything at various dynamics from very soft to very loud.

 

* Practice the rudiments along to music. It makes practicing them more fun. Find songs at different tempos to keep challenging yourself.

* Check your local library for drumming resources (DVDs, instruction books, etc).

* Invest in cases or bags for your drums and cymbals. Even if you’re careful, little nicks and scratches are unavoidable when moving your drums. Cases can help your drums look great for years to come.

* Get creative by playing with a shaker in one hand as well as a stick. It may feel awkward at first, but you can come up with some interesting rhythms.

* It’s a good idea to take a spare snare drum to your gigs. It is the drum we play the most and if the head should happen to break, you can quickly replace the drum between songs and continue the set.

* Videotape yourself playing drums. It can reveal a lot about your set up, posture, and even facial expressions while you play.

* When working with a sound engineer (whether recording or playing live) and they ask you to play certain drums for a line check, just strike that drum repeatedly so they can get a good signal for recording or amplification (so they can make you sound good). Avoid the temptation to play bombastic solos or to show off. If they ask you to play a beat, try to incorporate every drum and cymbal in that beat so they can get a nice balanced signal out of all of the microphones.

* If your snare cord breaks (the part that holds the snare wires to the snare) and you don’t have a spare, you can cut another one out from a used drum head. You can also use a drinking straw.

* Don’t tighten your wing nuts too tight on cymbal stands and drum stands. This can strip them out. You want to make sure they are tight enough to not come loose during a performance but wing nuts are designed to work efficiently with only moderate tightening.

* Resonant drum heads (the bottom heads) will eventually loose their tone from constant vibration. You don’t need to change them as often as batter heads, but if they’ve been on there a while, put a new one on and it will liven the drum up.

* If you are having snare buzz problems, check your tuning, extreme high and low tunings encourage snare buzz. Also check the snares themselves that they are not bent or loose. Remember though, that the drum set is one instrument and that some snare buzz is to be expected.

* Be aware of your posture when you sit. Slouching or sitting unnaturally can affect your stamina and can make it difficult to play after a while.

 

* Be careful you don’t store or keep your drums in extreme weather. Extremely hot or cold climates can damage the drums if left there over a long period of time.

* Try playing the snare drum in different parts of the head. You can get the fullest tone by striking the head in the center but you can also get some open sounds by striking the head more near the rim.

* When learning songs, write out the form (verse, chorus, etc.) so you know where you are in the song when you play it.

* Cover your drums with a sheet or blanket when not in use. Dust settles on the drums over time and a blanket can help to keep the drums and cymbals clean.

* Play with other musicians as often as you can. That is where you can apply all of the things you have been practicing.

* You can get some really interesting sounds by playing your cymbals with a violin bow (Jimmy Page did it with the guitar). Try playing the bow at a 90 degree angle to the cymbal.

* If you play really hard and have a problem with your snare drum moving around, try loosening the snare stand so it’s not too tight. Also, make sure the snare stand’s legs are retracted considerably.

* If you have tonal problems with your toms, it is most likely due to the tuning relationship between the batter and the resonant head. Make sure the heads are in good condition and experiment with the tuning. Also, try replacing the resonant heads with coated ones. This will cut down on overtones.

* When listening to music, listen with a critical ear; trying to discern the different instruments and how they fit together.

* Most timing issues with playing the drums come from the lack of understanding of the subdivision of the tempo. Make sure you understand the relationship between quarter notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes, etc.

 

* I recommend using “Mother’s Mag and Aluminum Polish” to clean your cymbals. It does a great job and doesn’t require much elbow grease. You can find it at most auto parts stores. As with any cymbal cleaner, test it out on a small edge of the cymbal first to ensure you don’t get any discoloration.

* You are ten times more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down and review them often. That’s a true statement in general but it also applies to drumming and music. Write down specifically what you want to achieve (for example: be able to play paradiddles around the drum kit at 160 bpm, or to play Madison Square Garden within the next five years).

* Every successful musician was once a beginner and has made the same mistakes we all have. Think of the mistakes you make when playing your instrument as part of your growth. As the saying goes, “The most successful people are those who have learned to make mistakes faster!”

* Improper stick technique can cause calluses on your hands when practicing for long periods of time. Work on your grip and motions to avoid unnecessary problems.

* Experiment with the settings on your bass drum pedal to find the right feel and sound. Try different beaters, the angle of the beater, different tensions on the spring, and even where on the pedal you place you foot.

* We can easily develop bad habits in our playing that will take a long time to unlearn. Be sure you fully understand what it is you are attempting to do. Don’t invest hours of practice with things that may be detrimental to your playing.

* Making time to practice will usually involve the cooperation of others in your household. Whether its a significant other or room mates, let them know your goals and how important your practice time is to your improvement and try to come to an agreement on when you can have uninterrupted practice time.

 

* One way to spark some creativity in your playing is to give yourself some limitations. Play along to songs with just your snare drum or try playing songs with just a kick, snare, hi hat and nothing else. You may come up with some good stuff.

* If you feel stuck in a creative rut with your playing, one thing that may inspire you is to move your drums and cymbals around. Change the order of your toms or take away or add things to your kit.

* I recommend keeping your snare side head tuned kind of tight for articulation. For a looser snare sound, use the tension adjuster on the throw off to get the feel you want.

* Every style of music has a history. If you want to play a certain style authentically, study the music and the players in the genre.

* Stay loose when you play. Tension anywhere in your body will prohibit your speed, flow, and may cause damage.

* Don’t play into a drum. Allow the stick to naturally rebound off of the drum head. This lets the stick do some of the work and it sounds fuller.

* If you find yourself with some sticks in your hands and nothing to practice on, turn them upside down so the tips hit your forearms. (CAUTION: Possible side effects may include pain in your forearms after a while). Don’t play too hard.

* To get some drumming ideas, play phrases from your favorite songs on the drums. For example, work out the guitar lick on your drums.

* When playing odd time signatures, it can help to break down the count in groups of 3s, 2s, and 1s. For example, think of a measure in 7/8 as a group of 3 and two groups of 2. (1-2-3, 1-2, 1-2)

* Practice things only as fast as you can play correctly. Make sure everything lines up in time and that you can play comfortably before you play it faster.

* The sound of the snare drum plays an important role in the overall sound and feel of a song. The diameter, depth, shell construction (what its made of) choice of drum heads, and tuning all affect the sound of the drum. Keep that in mind when listening to music. The snare sound on a slow ballad will usually sound different than an uptempo rocker. Similarly, the snare sound on a ska or reggae song will sound different than in an 80s rock song. Go to your local music store and see if you can try out different snare drums.

 

* If you find it difficult to find the time to practice, try this. For one month, make a commitment to practice for just 5 minutes-5 days a week, for the whole month. (Most likely you can find 5 minutes to practice and you will usually want to play longer). After you have made a habit of doing it consistently for a month, increase the time to 10 minutes-five days a week, for a month. Then 20 minutes, then 40 minutes, and then 60 minutes or as long as you can. If you can practice specifically targeted material consistently, you will definitely see improvements.

* Each part of a cymbal’s anatomy has an effect on its sound. Larger diameter cymbals usually have a lower pitch than smaller ones. Thicker cymbals are usually louder and have more sustain than thinner ones. Cymbals with a big bell will have more overtones and cymbals with a small bell will have more stick definition. Use this knowledge to pick the right cymbals for your situation but overall, let your ears make the final decision.

* If you can’t seem to find the time to practice regularly, try writing down everything you do in a day. That may give you an insight into things that you can replace with some practice time.

* Keep in mind who first inspired you to play. Think of who inspires you today. This can help to keep your motivation to practice.

* When you practice for long periods of time without stopping, your muscles will develop and you will start to feel it in your forearms, hands, and/or shins. This is a good thing (assuming you are using proper technique) but don’t play into the pain for too long. Take regular breaks when you start to feel discomfort.

* Warm up before you play. This will help you play your best and also help to avoid injuries. It may take a couple of minutes before the blood starts flowing through your hands. I recommend practicing the rudiments slowly for a couple minutes until you feel properly warmed up.

* Learn to enjoy the process of practicing. You can become the amazing drummer you want to be with focused, specific, consistent practice. Keeping that in mind and keeping track of your results will help to keep you motivated to practice.

* Practice and experiment with playing rim shots on your snare drum (hitting the rim and the drum head at the same time). It takes a little bit to get used to playing them consistently from hit to hit, but rim shots can beef up your snare sound.

* Use a can of compressed air to help clean out dust between lugs and places that are hard to reach with a cleaning rag.

* Take the time to listen to music actively. Take note on how all of the instruments interact and keep in mind the style and genre of music you are hearing. This will make you a better musician.

 

* Old chrome hubcaps can sound very musical. If you like the sound, drill a hole in the center of one and mount it on a stand just like a cymbal.

* To be the best drummer you can be, keep challenging yourself. It’s easy to become complacent with our drumming, especially when you reach a certain level. Strive to constantly improve during each practice session.

* Snare tension can change the characteristic of the drum sound. Busier and faster drumming can warrant a tighter tension but slower songs can benefit from looser tensions. Experiment and record to hear for yourself.

* Playing with other musicians is an important part of being a good musician yourself. If you haven’t played with anyone in a while, get out to a local open mic night or invite some friends to jam.

* Repetition is an important part of learning. When you work on something, make sure you repeat it enough to have it mastered before you count it as done. That doesn’t mean you can’t work on something else until you perfect it, but come back to it until you can play it without having to think about it too much.

* Playing music often comes with criticism. It can come from another musician or from the general public. The best musicians get bashed. Listen to it with an open mind and assess where you can improve, but realize when people are just bad-mouthing or being negative and let it go.

* Develop drum solo ideas in case you have to improve one on the spot. Having things worked out in advance will give you options to draw from as you perform.

* Playing with musicians who are better than you will raise your level of musicianship. You can learn a lot and they can inspire you to step up your game. Don’t pass up a chance to play or just jam with really good players.

* A good alternative for a hardware case is a golf club bag. You can get good ones with wheels used at garage sales and thrift stores.

* Dents on your drum heads can make a drum difficult to tune. If you are having trouble getting a good tone out of a drum, check for dents and replace the drum head if that is the case.

* A duct tape roll makes a great drink holder. It helps prevent spilling when you place your drink on the ground when you play.

* Don’t play when you practice, don’t practice when you play. Dedicated practice time should be focused on things you want to improve. Don’t play things you have already mastered during this time. Likewise, don’t “practice” things when you are playing with a band or in another setting that is focused around playing music.

* If you have many stands that you set up and break down, it can save time to color code or number the separate parts so you know which part goes where.

* Just as important as being able to play your instrument well is having the right attitude. Be a musician that others like to be around and can depend on.

* The diameter of a drum shell affects the tuning range of the drum while the depth of the shell affects the resonance and volume.

 

* Set aside specific time for practicing. Try to have your practice sessions at the same time of the day if you can. We are creatures of habit. If we make practicing a habit, we will come to expect it.

* Often times when we are busy with other things or when we just don’t feel like practicing, it’s easy to skip it all together. I find that if I just get started, even if I only have a few minutes, I tend to want to keep on practicing. The trick is to just get started.

* It’s a good idea to keep your practice space and materials organized so you know where everything is located. It will save you time and will also make it easier to get started if you don’t have to do too much just to get going.

* If you play cross handed (one hand crossing over to the hi hat) and your arms are getting in each other’s way, try raising the hi hat or lowering the snare a bit to give you more room.

* If you’ve been playing for a while and are looking for a challenge, set up your drums backwards (left if you play right handed or right if you play left handed).

* Store the different parts of your gigging kit in one location. It’s easier to make sure you have everything before you leave for the gig if everything is in one place.

* Playing music requires concentration. You must be aware of not only what you are playing, but also what the other musicians you play with are playing. Therefore make sure you can concentrate when you practice. Try to eliminate any distractions that can take your attention away from what you’re practicing.

* Playing at least one other instrument besides the drums, even badly, can help you relate to what other musicians you play with want to hear and can help to understand how the drums interact with the other instruments.

* You can get some interesting sounds by inserting a long plastic tube into the vent hole of your floor tom and blowing air through it while you’re playing.

* When playing to pre recorded music at an audition or gig, make sure you can hear it well. Playing to tracks feels different than playing with live musicians. Make sure you have a monitor nearby or bring headphones that you can plug into.

* Holding the drumsticks about a third of the way up gives you an optimum balance point, allowing for the most rebound. To find this balance point, hold the stick with the fulcrum (thumb and finger) and dribble the stick with your other hand (like you would a basketball).

* If you really want to make an impression at an audition, learn as many of the band’s songs as you can and let them know that you can also play those songs.

* If you have trouble playing with a metronome, it may help to think of it as an instrument being played by another musician, like a cowbell, in perfect time.

* The tip of the drum stick (what it’s made of and its shape) somewhat affects the tone and articulation of what you play, especially on the cymbals. Tips are made of either wood or nylon. Wood tips produce a warm sound and nylon tips sound brighter. Oval shaped tips have a dark, warm tone while round and barrel shaped tips have a sharper tone. Teardrop and acorn shaped tips produce a full, rich tone, while arrowhead shaped tips have a light, bright tone.

* The chrome and metal parts of a drum kit and can rust and be ruined by moisture. Wipe off the lugs and cymbal stands after you play in the rain or even after moving your kit from cold to warm temperatures.

* When working on a difficult song or a long piece of music, work on it in sections. If you notice you are repeating the same mistakes when playing something, focus on just that part before continuing.

* Auditions can be a good source for networking with other musicians. That includes the musicians who are auditioning with you and the musicians you are auditioning for. Have business cards with you and give them out when appropriate.

* There is a difference between practicing your instrument and playing your instrument. I find that some students start their practice sessions practicing for a couple of minutes and then spend the remainder of time playing what they already know how to play well. I definitely think time spent playing your instrument is a good thing, but you will improve the most through focused, consistent practicing.

* Be honest with yourself about how much you practice. A half-hour practice session can turn out to be 10 minutes in reality because of disruptions, phone calls, and snack breaks. There is nothing wrong with any of these things; just don’t include them as practice time.

* Spend the first few minutes of you practice time warming up. Strenuous practicing without warming up can be dangerous, causing damage to your muscles and tendons.

 

* Take some water and snacks with you to your gig in case you get hungry. There may not always be food available. You’ll probably play better when you’re not on an empty stomach.

* I recommend warming up with the rudiments. The rudiments are the ABCs of drumming and are also excellent for working on control. You can practice the rudiments with both your hands and your feet.

* Videotape yourself playing drums. You will be amazed at what you can learn from this. Everything from your posture to the look on your face.

* If you have different sized sticks in your stick bag, consider marking the butt ends with different color marker or tape to distinguish the different pairs. This helps if you need to get to certain sticks in a hurry.

* If you are a working drummer, carry your calendar or date book with you wherever you go. If you get a call asking if you are available for a gig, being able to respond right away may give you the advantage. If the person calling needs someone right away, they may not have time to wait for you to get back to them.

* When considering the tempo of a song, the vocals are a good guide. Sing the song to-yourself to make sure the lyrics don’t sound rushed.

* In rock drumming, the beat is usually propelled by the bass and snare drum so they are usually played a little louder than the hi hats or ride cymbal. In traditional jazz drumming, it’s just the opposite where the ride cymbal is what drives the beat and is usually louder in the mix than the bass and snare drum. This is something to take in consideration when working with different styles of music but is more of a guide than a rule.

* While you warm up, take notice of your grip. Make sure it’s relaxed and balanced (the sticks reach the same rebound height).

* One thing that’s frequently overlooked when playing is posture.You can tire very quickly when playing with bad posture. Make sure you are sitting up straight and that your weight is balanced.

* Tilt your bass drum so that the beater strikes the drum head vertically (pointing straight up). This gives you just the right amount of momentum to make the stroke.

* If you have multiple toms in your set up, consider their pitches and how they sound in relation to each other to make you tom fills sound musical.

* Practice your double stroke rolls as inverted. (RLLR, RLLR, RLLR, RLLR) and also as triplets (RLL, RRL, LRR, LLR).

* The most popular materials used for bass drum beaters are felt, wood, and rubber. Experiment with different beaters to change the attack and tone of the bass drum.

* When playing an exercise that repeats with the opposite hand, also repeat it with the same hand. This helps with stick control.

* Practice the songs you’ll be performing both with the band and also by yourself. The more you practice the songs, the more confidence you’ll have performing them.

* Make sure the snares on your snare drum are evenly seated and tensioned. If the snares are uneven, the drum can sound chocked or even out of tune.

*With the internet, videos, and books, there are so many resources available to us that it can be so overwhelming to know what to practice. It’s important to understand what you are trying to achieve when you practice and choose the proper materials to reach that goal.

* If you’re playing bigger venues, carry some mics to amplify the drums in case there are no drum mics available. Even just a mic on the kick drum can make a difference in the overall sound, especially with dance music.

* If the band plays a song without drums, dis-engage the snare wires. Depending on how the snare drum is tuned, certain frequencies played by the guitars can rattle the wires annoyingly.

 

* While in transit, protect the hi hat pull rod (the part where the hi hat actually clamps onto) by extending the tubing all the way up. If that makes it too tall for your trap case, take the pull rod and the tubing off and store them together. Keep the hi hat clutch clamped on the top of the rod so they don’t separate.

* If you are having trouble with your hi-hat clutch slipping, try replacing the hi-hat rod with one that is corrugated (with ridges).

* For mellower parts of songs, try riding on the rim of a tom as part of the beat.

* Protect your bass drum hoops from the foot pedal by putting a piece of
bicycle tubing between the hoop and the pedal.

* Patience and persistence is important in your practicing. You will find that some things take more time than others to master and frustration is normal. If you are persistent, you will see results.

* If time allows, end your practice session on an up note by playing something fun or rewarding that you can play well.

* When recording, if you can’t hear something that’s important to what you’re playing, make sure it gets turned up in your headphones before you start the take. Similarly, if a certain track is out of time or distracting in any way, ask to have it turned down.

* If you play loudly, even for a short period of time, your ears are subject to damage. Wear earplugs when you practice or play loudly.

* Oil the tension rods on your drums regularly. They can get packed with dirt or they can dry out and the threading gets stripped.

* It’s important to be aware of when you need a break. If you find that you are practicing something over and over and its not getting better, take a break and come back to it later.

* Use words to help with odd time phrasing. For example if you’re playing in 5, think of a 5 syllable word or phrase like hippopotamus while playing.

* Have someone else play your drums while you listen to how they sound in the venue you’ll be playing. Even if they drums will be mic’d, what sounds good from the drummer’s perspective doesn’t always sound good further back and vice versa.

* When reading charts or sheet music, give them a once-over before you play to see where everything lies. Use a highlighter to highlight where the repeats or other important markings are.

* If you play a lot of rim shots, consider taping the sticks you do your practicing with (at the point where your stick makes contact with the rim) with some duct tape or something similar. It may affect the sound a bit but it will make the stick last longer.

* If the claws on your snare stand keep opening up when you play the snare, applying some plumber’s tape on the threading just below the adjustment mechanism should keep it in place.

* Save your drumming magazines. Going through your old ones can be just as informative and educational as reading the latest copy.

* You can get some cool muted sounds from your acoustic drum set by placing a spare drum head upside down on top of your drums.

* If you need to take cues from the band leader or other band members during a performance, consider arranging your cymbals so they have a clear view of your face. You can usually duck and weave your head around the cymbals to catch a cue, but the other musicians may need to get your attention unexpectedly, especially if you’re subbing for another drummer last minute and you and the band are not well rehearsed. It’s understandable to want the cymbals exactly where you’re used to playing them, but sometimes the flexibility of moving them is worth it.

* If you have to play the same songs over and over, it can be easy to tune out and go on auto pilot. If you find it hard to concentrate, focus on specific things like your feel, locking in with the bass player, where you place the beat, etc. This can help bring your focus back on the music you’re playing.

* To get different sounds out of your ride cymbal, consider using different drum sticks. What the tip is made of, its shape, and where you strike it affects how the ride cymbal sounds.

 

* When recording drums for a song with a tom groove, tune the toms to the root, third, and fifth of the key of the song; starting with lowest tom. When the toms are an integral part of the song and not tuned properly, it can make the bass guitar sound as if it’s out of tune.

* If you play music that involves loops, make sure to treat the loop like a musical instrument. It’s easy to fall into the habit of thinking of the loop as if it were there just for us to keep time, but the loop is conveying a feel and groove that we need to play with, not over.

* If your drum has a stripped tension rod and you don’t have access to a spare, some plumber’s tape wrapped around it can temporarily keep the drum in tune.

* Mastery requires more dedication than motivation. Consistency is key to getting good at anything, even if you don’t feel like it sometimes.

* If you mike your drums (or anything else) and have problems with the mikes slipping from the holder, put a rubber washer or rubber band on the far side of the mike between the mike and the clip.

* To save time when changing snare side heads, use some paint or nail polish to mark the position of the straps or wires that hold the snares, so you can put them back exactly where they were.

* Try hanging your stick bag off of the snare drum. It might not work for everyone but it puts your sticks right in front of you for easy access.

* There are several tools available to help you cut a hole in your bass drum head but if you don’t have any handy, I usually use a 6 inch splash cymbal to guide my cut and I heat up a knife or blade over a flame to make it easier to cut an even circle. Be careful not to cut yourself or damage your drum head.

* When playing side stick on the snare, you can use your fingers to play ghost notes.

* If you amplify your bass drum and the microphone cord hangs off of the drum head, it can stop the head from resonating fully. Consider clipping the cord to the drum hoop with a binder clip from an office supply store.