When it comes to learning to play drums, there are five questions you should ask yourself:
1. What am I learning and why?
2. Is this natural or forced? (is it relaxed or tense?)
3. Is it easy as pie? If not, then why?
4. Am I making progress?
5. Does it sound the way I want it to?
Speed is a big thing for drummers. It’s impressive and it just looks awesome. Using these five questions, let’s do some drum technique exercises that will not only give you more speed, but better tools to improve your drum technique.
1. What Am I Learning and Why?: Answering this question will help you establish a very clear goal with room for improvement. Since your first goal is speed, find out what is the fastest speed you can comfortably play, and see what that sounds like. After that, your focus should be to play any amount faster, or play a faster version of the previous easy tempo.
Here are some drum technique exercises that will help you boost your speed:
- Play 8 eighth notes with one hand, and four sets of 16ths starting with the opposite hand.
- Then, do the opposite: 8 eighths with the opposite hand and four sets of 16ths with the hand you started with.
Do this at a very comfortable tempo, one where you can really feel how your hands move and make it as natural as possible. Make sure that the stick is bouncing. If it’s not bouncing as much as it can without getting out of hand, you will not be able to play faster.
Remember, let the stick do the work at all times!
2. Is it Natural or Forced?: This question is my personal favorite. No matter what you do, it’s crucial that you’re relaxed when you play. If you’re straining to play something, it will sound hard and harsh, and you run the risk of getting hurt.
Make sure to check your grip. Let the stick bounce and rebound off the head with your hand. This will make the stick and your hand move in unison.
3. Is it Easy as Pie? If Not, Then Why?: If the stick is moving freely with your hand but you can’t reach the goal you’ve set, then you have to ask the question, “is it easy as pie? If not, then why?”
What’s the easiest thing you can play that you don’t have to think about? Are there any similarities to this and the goal you’re trying to reach?
Let’s say striking the drum at an easy, medium volume twice (once with each hand) is the first answer. For the second question, it could be that you’re only hitting the drum twice. Those two questions are really easy to answer, but it’s the third question where you start to do your problem solving.
Playing fast involves striking the drum many times. The motions of striking the drum are the same, just faster. What about that motion makes it easy? Whatever that is, it’s important to maintain that same feeling when you play faster. You know you’ve reached your natural limit when this seems too difficult.
4. Am I Making Progress?: This process of critical thinking and questioning is very valuable when you’re learning drums. During practice, you will mainly be asking yourself questions two and three: Is this natural? Is it as easy as pie?
Trying to get the motions to feel natural and easy is the best thing you can do to reach your goal and achieve the sound you desire.
Once you’ve accomplished this, you will be able to answer the fourth question because you will be able to see and feel your progress.
5. Does it Sound the Way I Want it to?: Now let’s assume that you’ve answered all of the previous questions. The final question is, “does it sound the way I want it to?” What you’re doing may feel natural and easy, but if you aren’t getting the sound you want, you will still need to make a couple of tweaks.
Since you’ve already done the work to make things easy on yourself, it will be that much easier to make these changes. Sound is generally influenced by three factors: evenness, dynamics, and sound quality.
1. Evenness: If the sound is uneven, make sure you’re playing in similar places on the drum, and that both sticks are the same height and are going the same speed to and from the drum. Also, make sure both sticks are rebounding, and that you’re holding the sticks in similar places.
2. Dynamics: Stick height, placement on the drum, and rebounding are all very important to manipulate your dynamics. If you want to play fast but soft, then you have to practice playing the natural, quick motion low, and vice versa for playing loud. If you want to play crescendos and decrescendos, you have to have an even staircase effect where your heights get higher or lower while maintaining the natural, easy feel you acquired.
3. Sound Quality: The question of quality is the tricky one, which is why it’s the last step. In the end, you want your playing to sound good, not just to you but to other people listening as well. If you’re making fluid movements and letting the stick bounce, that’s more than half the battle and things will sound good naturally. With these little tweaks, you’re just fine tuning the work you’ve already done to make it sound “clearer.” This is similar to clicking “HD” on a gritty YouTube video, but even with that, the video still may not look great.
The same goes for your sound. You may be producing nice sounds that sound easy and not hard or harsh, but people may not like the sound you’ve chosen. It’s not any fault of yours, this is how you chose to play and you should be proud of this accomplishment. Let’s say, however, a band director asks you to change your sound; you now have the ability to do that!
You’ve practiced different tempos, and you know your limits. You’ve practiced different dynamics, and you know how to change them. These two elements alone can help you change almost any part of your playing! By simply learning to play faster, you have gained the necessary tools to improve your technique. Remember, everything should feel easy and natural. The stick has to rebound, otherwise it will create a harsh sound.
If you approach your goals and your drum technique exercises with these five questions, you will make significant progress. You can use this method to improve your speed, drum technique, and any other goals you set for yourself.
Don’t stop there. As you saw, even within the set questions there were other things you could think about. The more you ask, the more you will find out and the easier the process will become. Being curious will definitely help you grow.