What a beginning drummer should learn

I know I'll be getting flack for this blog because there are so many varied opinions on this subject. However, I will barrel ahead and damn the torpedoes.

The majority of my students play in school bands and so I see the parts and playing tests they are asked to perform. Here is what I've noticed:


1) Too much attention paid to rudiments they won't need for a while or at all.

2) Snare music performed at the kit sitting down, concert bass drum part played on the drum set bass drum.

3) Too much reliance on counting every single sixteenth and eighth.

Now I will discuss my pedagogical misgivings with the above:

1) Drummers and percussionists use the single stroke roll (RLRL) most the time, regardless of musical style. I see too many young drummers bringing me playing tests full of stroke rolls, paradiddles, and flams when their single stroke roll is uneven and slow. This makes no sense. It's like learning fractions before you know how to add.

2) Not only does this look lame from the audience's point of view, it separates the snare drummer and concert bass drum player (they should be together as a musical team). Sometimes a school band will be without a concert bass drum, so the practice is justified. However, snare and concert bass are the bread and butter of the percussion section, so it's rare that a school won't have a concert bass drum. If there is only one percussionist, they could still stand at the snare and pull it away from the kit. If they have to cover both parts at the same time, be aware that this is much trickier than it appears, especially for an inexperienced drummer.

3) Reading accuray increases enormously when drummers learn to count quarters while they play other rhythms. I see this time and time again. Once you know the speed of sixteenths and/or eighths relative to the quarter note, you simply need to track quarters. There are many reasons for this which I will treat in another blog. Decoding a rhythm is a different but related process to reading and THAT involves counting subdivisions.

Know how a song is structured and where "one" is. It's all about the music. Knowing where "one" is in a song takes practice, especially if you have no knowledge of chord structure. It's common for a drummer to place the snare where the bass drum should be, I call it "getting turned around". Remember, your goal should be musician first, drummer second.

Stickings are enormously important at the beginning. Many reading mistakes are actually sticking confusion. I am a big fan of keeping the right-hand on the quarter and eigth at the beginning. This means the student will be using a lot of rights but that will train his or her time keeping abilities. We all know how important time is to a drummer, riiiiight? For right-handed beginning drummers, it's difficult to lead with the left hand. That's one important reason why there are rhythmic mistakes. When my students lead with their right-hand in the first six months, they make far fewer mistakes. There needs to be a consistent sticking pattern.

I will conclude with one more item: the down stroke. Students learn this quite fast, actually. The down stroke is vital for accents, which are the strokes that give your playing color. It also starts the student with a certain amount of stick control that's well within their grasp (pardon the pun).

I think this article needs a part two…