How To Play Drums

Drums are awesome but like… really complicated. If all you want to do is learn how to play drums without becoming the next Buddy Rich, this is the site for you -- welcome to! From buying the right gear through to setting up your drums and playing your first drum beat. No mucking about, let’s get on with it…

How to Play Drums

On this one page you’ll get an ultra quick overview of everything you need to know to get started on the drums. Stuff you need to know:

  1. How to set up a drum kit
  2. How to read drum notes
  3. How to read drum rhythms
  4. What drum music looks like
  5. How to sit behind the drum set
  6. How to play your first drum beat

1. How to Set up a Drum Set

Here’s how to set up your drum kit, along with the names of everything:

Parts Of A Drum Set - Drum101

The above is a standard 5 piece drum kit in a right-handed configuration. Keep in mind:

  • Your drum set should feel ultra comfortable
  • You shouldn’t have to ‘reach’ for anything
  • Adjust EVERYTHING to get things right for YOU!

FAQ: 5-piece drum set… what does that mean?  The number of pieces in a drum kit refers to the number of drums with drum heads. So we don’t include cymbals or hardware in the ‘piece count’. A 5 piece kit has a bass drum, snare drum and 3 toms. Oh, and there’s no such thing as a ‘standard’ drum kit… 5 piece is probably the most popular but trendy folk might have a 4 piece kit. If you’re Nicko McBrain from the awesome Iron Maiden, you’ll make do with an 11 piece kit.

2. How To Read Drum Music

You don’t have to read music but it helps. Obviously there’s a lot more to reading drum music than this, but this is enough to get you started:

Drum Set Notation - Drum 101

At the moment we’re going to assume that you’re going to hit the hi-hat while holding it closed with your left foot. Nothing more complicated than that. Opening and closing the hi-hat is far too advanced for this site!

3. How To Read Drum Rhythms

The above tells you what notes correspond to what drum. The below tells you the lengths of the different notes. This is key to being able to read drum rhythms!

Drum Set Note Lengths - Drum 101

Obviously there’s a LOT more to reading drum rhythms than the above, but this is plenty to get you started.

FAQ: Why is an eighth note half a beat? In short, don’t worry about it. But if you really want to know, a quarter note is a quarter of a ‘whole note’ and a whole note lasts for 4 beats. That’s just the way it is! You can read more about this on Wikipedia if you like… but honestly, don’t over-think it.

4. Drum Notation In Action

Here’s what some very typical drum notation looks like. Don’t worry about all the stuff in grey, we’ll come to that later.

Drum Notation Explained

FAQ: What’s a drum clef? A clef is a marking at the beginning of a line of music that indicates what instrument is getting played… kind of. OK, there’s much more to it than that and if you really want to know more you can read all about it here. All you need to know is that on drum music you’ll see the drum clef at the start of each line. If you’re only reading drum music you can completely ignore it.

5. Get Ready Behind The Drum Kit!

OK, so you know the fundamentals to get started. Sit behind your drum kit and hold some drum sticks in your hands. Your limbs should be positioned as follows:

  • Left foot on the hi-hat pedal, holding it closed
  • Right foot on the bass drum pedal
  • Left hand is going to play the snare drum
  • Right hand is going to cross over your left hand to play the hi-hat

FAQ: How do I hold my drum sticks?  It’s really important that you sit comfortably -- your feet should be resting on your pedals with your heels down. Straight back and good posture is key. Your arms should be floppy with your wrists pointing downwards. Nothing should feel uncomfortable or forced. If in doubt, dangle your arms at your sides, completely relaxed. Bring your forearms up to horizontal. That should be your ‘default’ playing position.

6. How To Play Your First Drum Beat

OK, this is what it’s all about! How to play your first drum beat. This is a bit of a ‘patting your head and rubbing your tummy’ moment so it might take a bit of practice. Go VERY slowly to start off with:

How To Play Drums - Drum 101

So, you’ll be playing like this:

  • Bass drum & hi-hat together
  • Hi-hat on it’s own
  • Snare drum and hi-hat together
  • Hi-hat on it’s own
  • Keep repeating the above

Here’s an awesome video to help you get started:

Watch this video on YouTube.
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Counting Tips

It will really help if you count out loud while playing, at least to start with. You’re going to count:

  • ONE
  • and
  • TWO
  • and
  • and
  • FOUR
  • and

You’re going to do this over and over again, perfectly evenly…

  • ONE (bass drum & hi-hat)
  • and (hi-hat on it’s own)
  • TWO (snare drum & hi-hat)
  • and (hi-hat on it’s own)
  • THREE (bass drum & hi-hat)
  • and (hi-hat on it’s own)
  • FOUR (snare drum & hi-hat)
  • and (hi-hat on it’s own)

Speed wise, you should be aiming for the ONE, TWO, THREE AND FOUR to come roughly every second. The ‘ands’ are going to come exactly half way between the numbers. The numbers get known as ‘beats’ and you should end up with about 60 of them in a minute. That means, to start off with you’ll be playing at 60 beats per minute, or 60bpm. This is known as your tempo.

If you get stuck here’s a great article over on our sister site to help you along. As you get more confident with this fundamental drum beat you can start to increase the speed. Once you’re totally confident, congratulations -- you can play the drums! Well, OK… not quite. BUT this drum beat is used on 99% of western pop music so it’s enough to get you started.

Your next job is to play this beat until you can do it in your sleep. You’re going to play it over every piece of music you hear on the radio… sorry, Spotify. Play it over all your favorite tunes. Play it to your friends, your family and everyone you ever meet. You need to become so confident with this beat that you can play it at any time, at any speed without thinking about it. A massive WELL DONE! Want to take things further? Head over to our sister site, Beginner Drums, for a more in-depth guide to getting started on what is the coolest of instruments.