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For the Percussionist: “Drum Machines Have No Soul”

by recycler on April 27, 2011


Drums are cool. There’s no argument there. They just are. There is something so natural and primal about a drumbeat, dating back to the earliest forms of man. The steady heartbeat of life is harnessed and unleashed by the drummer. It is the drummer who controls the tempo and emotion of the music he is playing behind. It is the drummer who sets the pace of a show, rules the thumping jungle, directs the toe-tapping symphony of sound, manipulating the pulse of power and pleasure. You can be that drummer.

It won’t be easy, but it sure will be a lot of fun.

Buying Your First Set of Drums – what you need to know and what you don’t

Before you go out and buy the biggest, baddest, loudest drum set on the western hemisphere, there are some things you should consider and know.

First of all, drums are loud…if you are playing them correctly anyway. Electronic drums are perfect if you live in an apartment (or have grumpy neighbors), if your parents aren’t quite sold on the idea of you drumming all the livelong day, or if you really like Genesis; however, acoustic drums are the way to go if you can get away with it. There are ways to sound proof a garage or room (or at least deaden/absorb much of the sound), but you should still always be considerate of those around you.

Now that you have that under control, you can go out and buy your first set. As a beginner, there is no reason to get a brand new, top-of-the-line drum kit. After all, you are just banging sticks against tightly stretched polyester. How you hit the drums is more important than what you are hitting—practice is the only way to get better, the price of the drum won’t matter nor will expensive drums make you better than you are. You just want to choose a drum that is cheap, sounds good, feels good, and looks good.

Also, a 3- or 4-piece drum set is perfect to start. You don’t need (and shouldn’t even want) a complex and loaded set up like what Rush’s Neil Peart has going on (which is truly mind boggling). We recommend you keep it simple as you gain skill and confidence and then start adding onto your kit with more toms, octobans, and cowbells.

You can find good deals at music stores and you will have the opportunity to sample a few different models and brands, but you can find the best deals in classifieds. Used is a great way to go for beginners!

Setting Up Your Drum Set

Though image is a big part of rocking, you never want to sacrifice looking cool for functionality. The way in which the drum kit is arranged affects your comfort, stamina (you’ll need it!), and your sound. You can get the most out of a set by having a good set up!

Start with the drummer’s home, the throne. Make sure its height is comfortable and gives you balance and control over your legs and arms without much straining. Your butt, legs, and back will thank you later.

Now that the throne is in place, try playing air drums and see what is natural. Let your body tell you where the drums should be placed. You will have more power and control when the set is directly in front of you. It is important that nothing is hard to reach or awkward to hit. Try to remember where your hands and feet are while air drumming and then you can begin setting up the kit.

Start with bass and hi-hat, as their placement affects the rest of the kit’s positioning. They are controlled with foot pedals, so situate them so that you can easily and comfortably work them with your feet. It’s a good idea to continue air drumming as you place each peace to make sure everything is still in a good location. Next do the same with the snare and ride cymbal. Finally, place the toms.

Now…rock on! If anything is hard to reach or uncomfortable at this point, adjust away!

Learning to Jam

If you are young enough to take advantage of school band programs, we urge you to! You will get free lessons, and since you will be doing percussion, free equipment to beat on. Plus, you will be exposed to many different types of percussion instruments (just watch Drumline if you have doubts about percussion being cool).

If you are no longer in school, private drum lessons are still an option and highly recommended, but not required. You can bang on your drums on your own and learn just fine (but it will take more work and self-discipline).

Play along with your iPod or record player and start slow. You’ll soon be rocking better and harder than the best in the biz.

Your Homework:

One concept that is often overlooked by musicians is the skill of active listening. To improve, you want to listen to what the pros are doing. You don’t want these tracks playing in the background as you read a magazine. You want to actively focus on the music, key in on the drum line, and air drum with your sticks as you feel the beat.

Some drummers we recommend you listen to:

Bonham, Led Zeppelin (the wild man)
Neil Peart, Rush (insane drummer!)
Ringo Starr, The Beatles (no joke, he was good. And, oh yeah, a Beatle!)
Keith Moon, The Who (insane person)
David Grohl, Nirvana (finesse? No. Fun to watch? Yes)
Charlie Watts, The Rolling Stones (simple and not overly impressive…but it’s the Stones, listen to them!)

Please leave suggested listening from your favorite drummers in the comments…

Rock on!



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