Drums and Drumming - Drumming Practise and Tips

Written by Graham W Wöbcke

Drumming is such a great musical outlet, a source of creativity and relaxation for me. I've been playing drums since 1983 and I've played in a few bands that have gigged in Brisbane and Sydney in Australia. I'm putting together a post about three of the most common questions I am asked about drumming by those learning:

  • How can you practise without it getting boring or disturbing people?
  • How can I make sure I choose a good electronic drumkit?
  • How can I setup and configure acoustic drums and record them well?

I hope you find the details about how I answer these 3 questions interesting.

How can you practise without it getting boring or disturbing people?

Learning to play drums well does mean you need to put in the time to learn drumming technique. I can understand that if you are learning to play on a snare drum while you are learning, it can be annoying to others. This is why it is ESSENTIAL to get yourself a top quality practise pad and metronome. For a practice pad, I would recommend either the HQ Real Feel Dual Tone Practice Pad by Evans or the Tru-Bounce Practice Pad by Aquarian Drumheads. By getting a practice pad, you can practice your sticking exercises (drum rudiments) and not disturb others too much. Make sure your metronome has a headphone jack so this doesn't disturb others, and try to find one with visual and sound indicators of 1 in the musical bar. For a metronome, I would recommend either a Boss (Dr Beat DB30 is great for the price) or Korg Metronomes.

However, if all you practice are your rudiments, there is a good chance you might get bored with this and not put the effort in to learning drumming. So another important part of practice is to play along with music or other musicians. Obviously the style of music will depend upon the level you are capable of playing and the music styles that interest you. If possible, playing along with a MIDI player offers the advantages of playing the song with drums, and then you can turn the drums off and play along with drums in the track.

Practice Pad and Metronome

A HQ Real Feel Practise Pad and a Boss DB30 'Dr Beat' Metronome


Practice Option A: Rudiments

If I only have a small amount of time to practice drums, and I don't want/need to practice a particular song, this is the program that I follow. This is also an excellent warm up before a gig. I hope it helps some of the other drummers out there. I recommend you do each example for a minimum of 5 minutes without stopping and concentrating on the accuracy of play, rather than the speed. Try to play just under you current speed limit where you lose your accuracy of play as this will build your speed and endurance as well as improving your playing accuracy.

Single Hand Four Stroke Roll

This little exercise is great for limbering up the forearm muscles. It's also a great practice exercise for developing arm and hand strength and speed! The idea is simple: play quarter notes only with the right hand. When you have finished with the right hand, move to the left hand. When you have finished with the left, go back to the right. Do twenty (20) reps of this pattern, keeping the speed and stroke weight consistent (ie. no accents).

single

Paradiddle

It's our 'old friend' the Paradiddle. The object of this one is to maintain a consistent tempo through the various speeds. Again, start slow, then speed up; first leading with the right, then with the left. Do twenty (20) reps at 60/80/100/120/140 bpm.

paradiddle1

Triplet

With triplets, each quarter note gets three beats, instead of just one. Again, twenty (20) reps at 60/80/100/120/140 bpm.

triplet

Flams

A flam variant that works through those little, fast, intricate doublets and triplets. Work at a steady speed. As usual, twenty (20) reps at the same tempo.

flams

Double Stroke Roll

Start this one slow and work up to speed, hold, then slow down, taking roughly 1 minute per repetition. Pause for 20 seconds, then repeat. Perform this for 5 reps.

doublestroke

Sticking Accents

Example one will help with dynamics while working on doubles and triples. Work through it as previous routines. The second example is the Paradiddle but with accented strokes on the ONE.

Example One

accent1


Example Two

accent2


Paradiddle Rhythm

In Rhythm 1, the paradiddle is played between the snare and the bass drum. This is probably the simplest application. "Pattern 1" above starts the paradiddle with the snare; "Pattern 2" starts it with the feet.

paradiddle2


Practise Option B: Songs To Play Along With

Sometimes, when you just want to play drums and you don't feel like playing rudiments, you might prefer playing along with some songs instead. I have specifically created a playlist for my practice needs and these songs are challenging yet offer you a lot of fun, and freedom for your own creativity to add grace and ghost notes and try different fills when playing them. At the risk of getting flamed, here are those songs:

  1. Toto: Hold The Line
    Drummer: Jeff Porcaro
  2. Boz Scaggs: Lido Shuffle
    Drummer: Jeff Porcaro
  3. Michael Jackson: Billy Jean
    Drummer: Ndugu Chancler
  4. Madonna: Like A Virgin
    Drummer: Tony Thompson
  5. AC/DC: Back in Black
    Drummer: Phil Rudd
  6. KISS: Detroit Rock City
    Drummer: Peter Criss
  7. Sugar: Helpless
    Drummer: Malcolm Travis
  8. Boom Crash Opera: The Best Thing
    Drummer: Peter Maslen
  9. Jamie Cullum: These Are The Days
    Drummer: Sebastiaan de Krom
  10. Jamie Cullum: Singin' In The Rain
    Drummer: Sebastiaan de Krom
  11. No Doubt: Hey Baby
    Drummer: Adrian Young
  12. ZZ Top: La Grange
    Drummer: Frank Beard
  13. Nelly Furtado: I'm Like a Bird
    Drummer: Russ Miller
  14. Blondie: Heart of Glass
    Drummer: Clem Burke
  15. Frank Black: Los Angeles
    Drummer: Nick Vincent

So you can see, they are a fairly varied bunch of songs covering a couple of popular music styles. I wonder what songs other drummers would choose?


How can I make sure I choose a good electronic drumkit?

Information To Help Find The Right Electronic Drumkit For You

I've been playing ddrum electronic kits since 1992. I still own a ddrum AT module, a ddrum4 module, a ddrum3 pad set and a ddrum4 cymbal and hi-hat pad set. I have also used a TD-20 with the full Roland pad setup quite regularly so I think I am fairly informed to offer some valuable insight on this subject.

I will firstly give my opinion of some modules and then give a list of questions you need to make sure you answer or you will quite possibly not be happy with your purchase.

My PERSONAL Opinion is that I feel a lot of sounds produced by the Roland gear doesn't live up to the hype it receives, however, Roland quite possibly has the most accurate hi-hat reproduction around. I do feel that the ddrum3 and ddrum4 modules are still better at reproducing accurate drum sounds compared to say a Roland TD-12 or TD-20. The ddrum hi-hat is only capable of 4 position sounds - closed, open, half-open and foot-chick, while Roland is far superior as I have previously mentioned. The other areas ddrum could improve at the number of inputs, the amount of memory and sample dump speed into the module. The Yamaha DTX units are very good and if I was made to choose between Yamaha and Roland, I would choose the Yamaha.

I also have an older Alesis D4 and that module was good value for the price. I believe the DM5 is much better than the D4, but I have never had an opportunity to play a DM5. If budget is your primary concern, I would start looking at some of the cheaper Yamaha kits. An Alesis DM5 would be a good choice for someone only wanting to trigger sounds, like on kick drums for loud music and perhaps snare and effect sounds.

Questions To Ask And Answer HONESTLY Before Buying An E-Kit

Ok, so when you are buying an e-kit you need to answer these questions:

  1. Does the module have enough inputs for my pads/triggers? You will need a minimum of 10 inputs in my opinion - kick, snare, rim, 3 toms, 3 cymbals, hi-hat.
  2. If I want to add pads/triggers in the future, does the unit have the capability?
  3. Am I happy with the sound quality? (not the salesperson)
  4. Can I add in new sounds or my own custom samples? Can I save my own kit configurations? Is the interface easy to program?
  5. Can I connect the module to a computer and does it come with computer editing software?
  6. Can I hear the playback via headphones?
  7. How many outputs does the unit have? Can I split the drums and cymbals to different output? Can I assign an output for the snare and kick, independent of the toms and cymbals?
  8. How easy is it to set the pan? How easy is it to adjust the gain and threshold?
  9. Does the module have on-board effects? Do I care if it doesn't (such as you already own a decent effects unit)?
  10. Does the module have a click track? Do I care if it doesn't?
  11. Does the module have the ability to accept a sound source input so I can play along to music tracks? Do I care if it doesn't (such as you already have a mixer)?
  12. When I strike one pad hard, does it trigger sounds from other pads?
  13. When I strike two pads at the same time, can I hear both sounds being triggered? If you have a dual-zone pad, can you strike the rim and not hear the pad sound? And vice-versa?
  14. When I strike a pad softly and build up to loud hits, how good are they dynamics represented?
  15. When I play a press or buzz roll, does it sound like a snare drum or a 'machine gun'? How easy is it to adjust the threshold or gains on the trigger inputs to reduce this?
  16. If your concerned about the noise made when striking the pads, how loud is it when the pad is hit? Can I change the heads to mesh heads to further reduce the impact noise?
  17. What is the quality of the hardware and pads/triggers? Are the pads single or dual-zoned? Are the cymbal pads choke-able? Do the pads offer position sensing depending on where the pad is hit?
  18. And finally, does the kit fit into my budget? If not, if I really want this, how long will it take me to get this?

Regardless of which module and pads you choose, make sure you answer those questions honestly and you are happy with the answers. I hope this helps someone choosing their electronic drum setup.

Electronic Drum Set

My electronic ddrum4 setup


Which electronic drums did I choose?

I am still using ddrum. The ddrumAT was my second e-drum system after I first dabbled with the Alesis D4. I now own and use a ddrum4 unit, which I use with ddrum3 cast precision pads and ddrum4 cymbal and hi-hat pads. I can't speak highly enough about the ddrum4, especially regarding the sound quality and reliability. When given the opportunity, I like to use the ddrum4 triggered with an acoustic kit live in a mix of about 60/40 with mics.

For those interested, here is a scan I made of the ddrumAT Manual in PDF format [approx. 4Mb]. You can also download the ddrum4SE Manual in PDF format [approx. 3Mb].

Clavia sold off ddrum to Armadillo Enterprises in the USA. I am waiting to see what develops of this but I currently feel the glory days of ddrum are over.


How can I setup and configure acoustic drums and record them well?

Before you begin recording

Before you commence any recording, you need to configure your kit accordingly. Firstly, I would check the sound absorbing/reflecting qualities in studio/room. This effects the drum sound and how the drums will sound recorded. Take a 10" or 12" tom and hit is a few times in various parts of the room and try to determine if it sounds bright/dark and/or boomy/smothered. Once I have found a location where to my ears my tom sounds bright and boomy (unless I want a dark and smothered sound), I set my kit up in that location.

Just before setting up my kit, I need to decide on what drum set configuration I will be using. 99% of the time I would start with a 'standard' 4 piece setup (kick, snare, 2 toms) as a guide and work from there. Other considerations before I setup include:

  • Decide whether to add an extra tom or two (add a 12" and/or 16") or if you need to swap the tom sizes (have a 16" instead of the 14")
  • Does the song require double kick work? If so, will I use two drums or a double pedal?
  • What size kick drum is required - 18",20",22",24"? What kick drum front head settings? (no head, a head with a hole or a full head).
  • What type of snare to use - Wood, Metal, Acrylic? What snare drum dimension and depth - I currently only have available a 14"x5" nickel brass snare and a 13"x6.5" maple wood snare.
  • How many cymbals and hi-hats will I be needing? Is one crash enough? Do I need splashes and/or chinas? Double hi-hats?
  • What type of sticks should I use? (or maybe brushes)
  • What type of beater will I use on the kick pedal? (rubber, felt or wood).

Tune Your Drums

Now, after the kit is setup, it is time to tune the drums as close as possible acoustically to the actual sound I want recorded, applying any muffling if required. After the drums are tuned (the best I can do), I now need to eliminate any excess noise from the kit such as squeaks and rattles.

If there is a spare mixer input and mic available, try to use it as an ambient mic placed at a 'sweet spot' in the room, and a certain distance from your drums. This will add 'liveness' and an ambient character to your drum sound.

Now, if you are lucky to be working with a studio engineer, let them do their job and help you get a great sound. If you find your sound is not to your liking, simply tell them what you want. Occasionally, you might find a engineer who has very set ways in how they want drums to sound. Just kindly remind them that you are paying for this studio time and as the customer, you want the drums to sound how you want them. Communication is key!

Oh, and try to stay cool and play for the song, using your normal manner and style.

Pork Pie Acoustic Drum Set

A Beautiful Drum Set To Record With


Drum Recording Configuration

Drum and Cymbal Recording Tips

My Preferred Recording Settings For Snare Drums

  • place mic 1-2" above the rim and facing the head at 45 deg
  • more 'beef' - mic closer to the head
  • less 'beef' (thin) - mic more away from the head
  • My preferred EQ settings: increase 8-12 kHz to keep it crisp, reduce 2-3 kHz to keep drum from sounding boxy (unless you want that sound) and roll off extreme low end (below 50Hz) to avoid a muddy sound

My Preferred Recording Settings For Kick Drums

  • place mic 2-3" inside the front head, aimed at beater contact spot
  • more 'attack' - mic closer to the beater contact spot
  • less 'attack' (airy) mic more away from the beater contact spot
  • My preferred EQ settings: increase 6-8 kHz to increase stroke definition and reduce 1-2 kHz to add punch to the sound
  • Use a KickPort!

My Preferred Recording Settings For Tom Toms

  • place mic 1-2" above the rim and facing the head
  • My preferred EQ settings: increase 6-8 kHz to maintain stick attack, increase around 120Hz to add sustain and a beefy sound and reduce 2-3kHz slightly if the toms sound boxy

My Preferred Recording Settings For Cymbals and Hi-Hats

  • "overhead" condenser mic's are best
  • if one mic, place it several feet above the kit pointing straight down
  • if two mic's, place one mic at around 60 deg. and the other at around 120 deg., arranged so they are nearly touching, with their signals panned hard left and right in the mix for stereo imaging
  • if a separate mic is used for the hi-hat(s)/ride, place the mic so it is facing down at an angle, about 6-12" from the top of the cymbal
  • My preferred EQ settings: increase 16-18kHz slightly to keep it crisp andincrease 1-2kHz slightly to promote 'bell' sounds

Some Other General Drum Recording Tips

My Preferred Mixer Settings For Drum Tracks

  • set all mixer controls to the lowest position ie. 'zeroing' the board
  • bring in kick drum, panned centre, adjust EQ
  • bring in snare, panned centre, adjust EQ and EFX
  • bring in toms, panned left (high) to right (low), adjust EQ and EFX
  • bring in cymbals, not as prominent in the mix as the rest of the kit
  • bring in ambient mic if used, gradually until the mix is just right

My Preferred Reverb Settings For Drum Tracks

  • choose an appropriate reverb 'room' for the track ie. hall, stage, room, plate etc.
  • slower tracks can use more reverb than faster tracks
  • sparse arrangements can also use more reverb than busy ones

My Preferred Compression Settings For Drum Tracks

  • don't use on whole kit unless a squashed sound effect is required and if your compressor allows, set cutoff frequency ranges as appropriate
  • you can use a moderate amount on the kick to tighten the track and give it punch -- as a start point, use the 4:1 setting and then set the threshold so that most of the loud hits fall between the 4db and 6dB range

Acoustic Drum Set

The acoustic drumset I play at gigs - with Pearl Drums and Hardware, DW Pedals and Hi-Hat Stand, Pork Pie Little Squealer Snare Drum and Zildjian cymbals. I've recently added a LP cowbell and a Meinl Mini China cymbal.