Everybody can play drums or percussion. Each one of us has rhythm, which, we take for granted, and the exercises contained in these pages will help you to develop that rhythm and your co-ordination skills.
If the patterns seem not to come easily to you, you must persevere as if in training. For this is partly what you are doing by practising these simple but sometimes demanding patterns. A skilled drummer who may amaze you with stunning feats of speed and complex poly-rhythms, has spent thousands of hours practising and training his limbs and muscles to respond to the lightning quick speed of the signals from his brain. However it is not necessary to dedicate this amount of time to benefit from a little effort to improve your mental and physical powers. Read through the following sections and get started playing some simple patterns.
The exercises on this site are written from the perspective of a RIGHT-HANDED player. Left-handed players should reverse R and L in the exercises.
Bars or Measures
Two (empty) bars of drum music
All music happens in "bars" of time. In America this is more often called a measure which is a slightly more descriptive word. A bar is a like a length of time. If you think of it as time, it can vary according to the tempo (speed) of the music, but, it can always be divided up into more notes over that space of time.
The time signature is written at the beginning of each line of music and tells us how many beats there are in one bar of the music. 4/4 means there are four quarter notes in each bar of music (or notes and rests that add up to four quarter notes) therefore you count 'one two three four' and that is the first bar. Count it twice and you will have counted two bars. The bar is usually further divided into eighth and sixteenth notes to produce the different rhythmic patterns, with some notes played and some left out. Where a note is omitted or not played, a rest sign is written in the space where the note would have appeared.
3/4 time means that there are three quarter notes in each bar (or notes and rests that add up to three quarter notes). Two bars of 3/4 time goes 'one two three one two three'. As featured in the type of music, 3/4 time is also known as "Waltz Time".
6/8 time is featured in much African and Afro-Cuban music. 6/8 means that there are six eighth notes in each bar of music (or notes and rests that add up to six eighth notes). You count (more quickly) "one two three four five six one two three four five six" to represent two bars of 6/8.
When we say, "add up to", we should perhaps say 'notes to the value of'. More complex patterns will have some notes that are closer together than just the spaces between quarter notes. A pattern may have a mixture of three or more "note values",eg. quarter, eighth and sixteenth notes and/or rests to those note values. When you add them all up they make one whole note or four quarter notes (in 4/4 time). For the moment you just need to know about quarter notes and eighth notes.
Progress will be best accomplished by following the above counting instructions and then applying them to the rhythms in the various sections of this page. If you have a metronome use it! If not, practise these rhythms playing along with tape or radio. It's a good enough substitute and helps you to keep in time. Be aware that when starting off you may not be able to play anything very fast, so, stick to slow tempos. Not being able to keep up with something that is just too fast can be frustrating.
Most music is mathematically balanced and logical. You find that parts of songs and tunes stack up in sections of eight or sixteen bars and after a while of playing many different tunes you start to "feel" these sections without having to count them.
Key to Drum Music used on this website
Key to Music Symbols
Bar rest (ie. The value of four quarter notes)
Quarter note rest
Eighth note rest
Repeat marks - Play the phrase repeatedly (without stopping)
Accent - An 'arrow' placed above a note means that the note is accented. Accented notes are, essentially, played louder than other notes in the phrase which do not have the accent symbol placed above them. Accents in percussive phrases really 'make' the rhythms and it is important to develop your ability to play the phrases with the accented notes standing out distinctly against un-accented notes. The caixa patterns for Samba iare good examples with which to practice playing accented notes, as it features accents played by both hands.
One two three four. This is what we count if the rhythm is in 4/4 time. Each of those beats is a "quarter note". Try repeating the count and tapping the beats with your right hand. One two three four one two three four (that makes two bars) and keep repeating. Practise it until you can keep going comfortably and without speeding up or slowing down. When you have got that, practise the same pattern tapping your right foot on beats one + three of each bar and keep repeating until steady. After playing this for some time you will not feel the need to count it out loud or in your mind. This leaves you free to consider more appealing aspects of playing music like 'feel' and expression. While you are first "getting your head around" some of the patterns you will need to count the beats.Count it out loud and tap your right hand with each beat.Then do it while tapping your right foot on the beats of one and three. If you are sitting at the drum kit, use the bass drum pedal.
Simply put, eighth notes are twice as many notes as quarter notes played in the same space of time. So, if you count it, you count One and two and three and four and one and two and three and four and. As above, play this with your right hand as you count the beats and when you can keep that steady introduce the right foot on the beats of one and three.
Count out loud and tap the beats, "one and two and three and four and" (that represents one bar) and keep repeating taking care to keep a steady time..
Play your right foot on the beats of one and three.
Sixteenth notes may be played with both hands <RLRLRLRL> in an upbeat pop of funk number. However, all are played by the right hand in a Bossa Nova for which your right hand has to be really fast to play normal tempo.
You can warm up with some of the basic exercises on our Exercises page, eg Ruffs and Rolls. These will get your hands working the way they need to and give you more control.
Basic Pattern For DRUM KIT
Here are some very basic patterns, featuring Eighth Notes played with the right hand, for a full drum kit. Play the top line on the (closed) hi hat. The snare drum is on the middle line and the bass drum on the bottom line. The first exercise is almost the same as what we did earlier with tapping our right foot on 1 and 3. This time you add the snare drum on beat 2 and beat 4, ie. the alternate beats to those that your foot plays. (Imagine walking on your right foot and your left hand, starting off with your foot). At the same time your right hand is playing 1+2+3+4+1+2+3+4+ on the hi hat. Stick at it until you get this. When you can do it you'll know you are playing the drum kit.
Then move on to the variations.The second pattern is a great standby for practically any situation you are likely to find yourself in 4/4 time.It's getting harder now but stick with it.
The third pattern is heard everywhere and at one time was the principle Indie beat although it goes back a lot further than that. It has some sixteenth note snare beats slipped in the middle and is quite tricky at first.When trying to conquer a drum part like this, the golden rule is slow it down or break it down. One or the other will work. Perhaps try concentrating on the middle section of the bar between beats 2 and 4 and hen seeing if you can loop that before tackling the whole phrase.
The fifth pattern is a well known rock/pop drum beat and features some 'off beats' on the bass drum. Start off slow and practice it until you get it.
When mastering difficult or complex drum patterns the policy of 'slow it down or break it down' can be very useful.
When approaching the later patterns in this group you may want to master the bass drum and one hand, then the bass drum with the other hand, or foot, first andwhen you have those put it all together. Alternatively you could try mastering the first half of a phrase and then the second before having a go at it all.
Congratulations - You are now a Drummer !
Next - practice the Shuffle exercises on the Exercises page and learn the Shuffle rhythms on the Jazz/Blues/Reggae page. Visit the other pages on this site. Buy one of my cd's.
Then learn to feel the beat. Feeling the beat is something that comes with experience and to begin with humming, or, "clicking" the beats (making a quiet sound with your mouth just to help you keep in time) can help a great deal. But, after you have been playing a year or two it comes automatically and you hardly think of it. Similarly like making a change after eight or sixteen bars without counting. You can feel the music and you know it's coming up but you are not actually counting. This kind of skill comes with time as long as you keep playing and practicing regularly.
Even if you don't have drums or a drumkit you can start to prepare for the time when you do or for when you can get on your drums by just tapping your feet and your hands on your knees. Whether you are learning to tap your foot on one and three while playing two and four on your knee, or, whether you are trying to perfect a fast Samba, you can always make use of idle time this way. Why delay? Start today and master the material on this page.
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