5 Important Drum Lessons

When I started teaching drum lessons in the Philadelphia area, I wanted to provide my students with a personalized teaching approach that focuses on their interests and goals.  What I’ve realized is that drum students are often taught what to do, not why they should do it. Here are some helpful tips to take into consideration:

Don’t just learn music theory. Apply it.

Music Theory is an interesting topic to most drummers. A lot of it’s contents are not directly related to drumming. It’s certainly worth understanding from a musical standpoint, but we tend to put more emphasis on the concepts within Music Theory that relate to rhythm and notation, more so than the ones that relate to melody and chord progressions. While it’s debatable as to whether or not that is actually detrimental to a drummer’s growth as a musician, at very least, it’s important that you find ways to apply those theoretical elements. Let’s take a drag… a rudimental note combination that involves a single stroke followed by dragging the stick at the end of the stroke to create two touches on the drum. This right here is the foundation of a drum roll. How can you possibly apply a drum roll to your playing without the fundamental ingredients that are used to put it together. In this case, students need spend a lot of time focusing on drags, using them in different contexts, at different speeds, and developing wrist technique to be able to put a full roll together. In general, students should devote time to understanding the theoretical components within music but then explore ways to apply them to the drum set, in the songs they play, and discover ways to use them appropriately so it’s more than just an exercise used in practice.

Embrace imperfection

One of the biggest setbacks I see is self-inflicted. We have the ability to hold ourselves back so much by  being afraid to make mistakes. This can cause us to avoid practicing certain things or even worse, practicing things the wrong way. I would much rather see a student stumble through a 16 bar exercise playing notes incorrectly, using improper technique, and missing accents than stopping every two measures to redo the part they messed up. There’s an old saying, “you perform how you practice,” and I promise you it will not go over well with your audience if you keep starting a song over in order to get it right. Embrace imperfection. Don’t be afraid do make mistakes. Be afraid of practicing incorrectly.

Develop a structured approach to learning

Most of us don’t just start playing Buddy Rich drum solos week 1, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be the model for you to work towards. If you look at a 12 bar solo, at first glimpse it may just seem like a complicated mess of notes with hands flying in all directions. But if you were to break it down, transcribe it, and really understand what is going on, you will most likely find it’s not as complicated as it appears. Better yet, you might take away key things about the ideas used in the solo to help your own playing. Dissect the things your favorite players do. Seek to understand their approach, any technique elements they utilize, and set goals for yourself. We don’t practice paradiddles to simply play paradiddles. But once you can play them at faster speeds, around the drums, in different patterns, they take on a whole new life. Approach everything about the drums that way. Get your hands dirty, roll up your sleeves, and work to understand the mechanics behind it all.

Capitalize on your weaknesses

We all cater to our strengths and for good reason. Those are the areas that make us satisfied with ourselves as drummers. It can  be a trap though. When I take myself out of my comfort zone to try something a little less natural, it often paves the way to an entirely new skill set in the making. Take the right handed drummer that leads every fill with the right hand… that comfort you feel with your right hand; Imagine if you got that with your left hand. Or maybe you’re a rocker with zero interest in jazz. I would advise you to at least pay attention to the components of jazz drumming. You don’t necessarily have to swing like Elvin Jones but I guarantee you exploring jazz drumming will add to your overall drumming arsenal. Bottom line, don’t put things off because they are weaknesses. Improve them and you will be on your way to becoming a very well-rounded player.

Hearing is seeing

Some of us are more visual players. We need to see notes to be able to put rhythms together. Others are less about the notes but have great ears. This means you might be better at learning simply by listening to others play. There is a balance that must be achieved, as both have their value. If you fall into one category over the other, going back to the previous point, spend some time focusing on the less proficient of the two. Since we were children, we’ve been told how our senses must work together. Well drumming is a very sensory process and your limitations will decrease as your senses are leveraged to develop skills. Drummers who play by ear tend to have stronger feel, while drummers who primarily read the notes are typically more precise. Bridge the gap and develop abilities in  both areas to get the most out of your playing.


Songs that made my life better

I Want To Hold Your Hand – The Beatles

This might actually be the single-most important song of my life. It was the first song I ever played on the drums. I just played to it by ear, probably not note for note, and had a lot of fun figuring it out. I sat behind my drums with it on repeat and when a part came up that I messed up the time before, I tried to fix it.  I was able to separate the things I was playing that matched the song and the things I was playing that the drummer on the recording wasn’t. I think this song was my first experience intentionally breaking a boundary on the drums and being innovative.

Immigrant Song – Led Zeppelin

I knew Led Zeppelin songs as a kid but didn’t know they were Led Zeppelin songs. As I got more into music, I had that feeling “Wait, this is Led Zeppelin?” a few too many times not to investigate further. So I bought the Live “BBC Sessions” double disc set to see what the rage was all about. The first track on disc 1 is “Immigrant Song”. I then went on to become psychotically obsessed with Led Zeppelin. Being that this was the first song I listened to consciously knowing it was Led Zeppelin, I gotta give credit where it’s due.

Goodnight Saigon – Billy Joel

Well if I’ve ever let my guard down, this would be that time… This is one of few songs that successfully makes me cry every time I hear it… And I lift weights 🙂 War is just about the worst thing that can exist but I’ve never experienced the camaraderie of it, having never actually fought in one. Billy Joel paints a picture of that experience that makes me feel like I’m surrounded by my closest friends fighting with everything we have in the strongest bond of unity. It just pulls all the right strings, emotionally, lyrically, and patriotically.

Money – Pink Floyd

My parents got me a Dark Side of The Moon CD for me on my 13th birthday, which introduced me to Pink Floyd. Money was the track I new best but like most people, I was mesmerized exploring the rest of the album. I started noticing the Floydisms in other bands I was listening to and really grew to appreciate their role in history. And one day, I’d like to by me a football team too 🙂

Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd

This song couldn’t be more appropriately titled. It actually has the ability to reduce stress. When I listen to this song I feel like I’m floating on a cloud through a sunset with rainbows and unicorns all around me… Or something like that. It’s just as advertised, and perfect in every way.

Breathless – Spyro Gyra

This might be a little less obvious to most people but my stank face is in full effect throughout this entire song. I LOVE IT! I LOVE IT! Time passes by and I’ll realize I haven’t listened to it in a while, throw it on, and it’s like the first time I heard it (except now I’ve memorized the drum part). My Dad introduced me to this song somewhere in the early 90s, and the album in which it’s featured: “Three Wishes”. It was probably the first “Jazzy” song I really paid attention to, which most likely stirred my curiosity to know more about Jazz.  Now it’s a huge part of my playing. So I feel pretty strongly that this song changed me as a drummer. Thank you, Dad!

One More Red Nightmare – King Crimson

I’m not sure what it is about this one. It just hits my ears well. The first time I heard it, Prog Rock was a newer sound to me. I liked the weirdness of it and that it didn’t just follow a formula. One More Red Nightmare kind of makes you panic lyrically, being that it’s about an air travel scare, but it does it in a way that sucks you into the song. A simple lead guitar line, a great groove, mixed in with a very appealing rhythms. It pisses me off the Spotify doesn’t stream the original version. Grrr!




My Friend, My Friend – Phish

It would seem pretty ironic how the history played out with this one. My sister had this song on a mix tape sometime in the mid 90s. I heard it and was really drawn into the instruments. It didn’t sound like anything I had heard but there was also something sort of familiar to it. So I bought the CD it was on and actually ended up HATING IT! I would listen to My Friend My Friend every now and then but for the most part, just sort of put the album aside for a few year. I came back to it a few years later when I started to meet more people that liked Phish. From there, the cultural grip that band has on millions sucked me in the same exact way. Some of the best experiences I’ve had in my life were because of this band, and I guess because of this song.


25 or 6 to 4 – Chicago

I played this one in my middle school jazz band. It was one of the first performances I ever got a positive reaction to. After playing this song at a school concert, people began to know me as a drummer. Since that moment, it’s only become a more permanent part of my identity.

What Would You Say – Dave Matthews Band

Carter Beauford is probably my favorite drummer ever. I don’t like the word “favorite” but with my life on the line, Carter wins. When this song got me into the Dave Matthews Band, I started paying very close attention to Carter’s style. He was doing things other drummer didn’t do and made the band sound completely different from anything else at that time. So I started playing along to the recordings, learning the parts by ear. It was only months later that I actually began listening to the other instruments. The drums were so great, nothing else really mattered to me. It was later in life I learned the importance of listening to music more holistically, but it was pretty cool this guy made the other instruments invisible to me.

Richard Brill: Drum Student Tabloids

Richard is about as devoted as they get. Give this man a challenge and he may very well spend the next month of his life locked in his basement trying to master it. Richard and I have been highly focused on technique and the adjustments that can be made to improve speed, control, footwork, and overall comfort around the drum set. After all, the main categories in drumming education have a ton of cross-over. So the effects of the Moeller Technique, for example are not just on speed and control, but also dynamics. Usually we hear the Moeller Technique as a solution to playing faster and controlling hands but Richard is starting to play some really cool stuff using the Moeller Technique as a means to play more musically. A similar approach to footwork has Richard playing those Bonham bass drum triplets and improving comfort in his feet while looking at different hand/foot combinations.

I’m having a blast with this guy!


Read it, hear it, feel it: How senses help our drumming memories

Reading music is a necessary part of learning an instrument. We must have the visual understanding of how note values work together to form rhythms. As drummers, we aren’t as focused on keys, chords, etc. but an overall understanding of music theory is arguably important for any musician.

So we must be able to see the music in order to determine what it sounds like. Similarly to how we read a book. We read the words on the page, they form sentences, and we understand the full story being told. Music is no different, except we are making an action after reading each note. The note is read and them a drum is hit, or a chord is strummed.

It might seem obvious for me to suggest it’s also important that we hear the music. While obvious, the challenging part may come when you ask someone to see and hear what they are playing at the same time. I’ve had students that are excellent readers but they are so involved with reading the part that they aren’t actually hearing what is being played. Getting both senses to work together creates a necessary checks and balances system in which your eyes identify the musical phrase and your ear validates how it sounds. Yes, there are amazing musicians without these senses. While this article assumes the reader can read and hear, I will say musicians without those abilities are extraordinary. They would have to overcompensate with certain senses to make up for the lack of another one.

7feec80aa0b202eb36c330f08db94419--drummer-quotes-drum-sheet-music.jpgPlenty of musicians “play by ear”, which just means they can play back some sort of musical phrase without the need to see it written down. We all want to get to this point. It’s really turning something that’s theoretical into second nature. Once we can play the drums without our focus being on reading the part, we can refocus that energy towards feeling that party and actually making it sound musical.

Once your eyes and ears have helped you get this far, you want to make your playing more natural.  In second nature playing, you are better able to anticipate changes, create comping patterns, navigate your way through a song, and generally become a more improvisational player. Instead of worrying about how 2 dotted eighth notes followed by 4 sixteen notes SOUND while the feet are playing an alternating quarter note pattern, you are now in a position to make that whole idea FEEL a certain way. It’s amazing how you can put 10 drummers in a room, have them play the exact same thing, but each will have subtle nuances that make them different from one another. That is the power of feel.

Drummers refer to muscle memory, a term used to identify comfort as your muscles develop from a drumming perspective. For example, when I first started playing, I couldn’t play a very strong double stroke roll. By working on way to play a better one, over time, the muscles I used to execute a faster and more controlled double stroke roll had gotten smarter, stronger, and familiar with the movements I wanted to make. So in a way, the development of muscle memory is really just you telling your body what you want it to do and changing it over time.

Gavin Hansen Yeager: Drum Student Tabloids

Before Gavin started playing the drums, he would beat on everything. So when his mom asked if he wanted lessons, it was a total no brainer… On top of being an excellent learner, drumming has proven to be a great way to channel his unstoppable energy! Gavin is a naturally creative young man. When he’s not whackin’ the drums, he often spends time writing his own stories and doing art. Gavin even creates his very own T-shirts, such as this one pictured here. I even got one for myself…
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Gavin’s favorite bands are 21 Pilots, Queen, David Bowie, Imagine Dragons and the Foo Fighters; So a good amount of old and new. I’m always a fan of a young drummer taking inspiration from the days of old and new. Gavin likes to emulate his favorite drummers, including the likes of Taylor Hawkins, Dave Grohl and Josh Dunn. We’ve had a great time going over drumming basics and are now beginning to explore a variety of rock beats. Great job Gavin. Keep up the good work!