Drums and Drumming FAQ
Drumming is such a great musical outlet, a source of creativity and even relaxation for me. I have been playing drums since 1983 and played in a few bands that have gigged in Brisbane and Sydney in Australia. I’m putting together a post about the two most common questions I am asked about drumming by those who are learning:
- How can you practice without disturbing people and without it becoming boring over time?
- How can I setup and configure acoustic drums and record them well?
I hope you find the details here interesting.
How can you practice without disturbing people and without it becoming boring over time?
Learning to play drums well does mean you need to put in the time to learn proper 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 practice pad and metronome.
For a practice pad, I would highly recommend the HQ Real Feel Dual Tone Practice Pad by Evans or the Tru-Bounce Practice Pad by Aquarian Drumheads. By getting a quality practice pad, you can practice your sticking exercises (drum rudiments) and not disturb others at all.
For a metronome, ensure it has a headphone jack so this does not disturb others — and try to find one with visual indicators and sound differences when it reaches “one” in the musical bar. For a metronome, I highly recommend the Boss Dr Beat DB30 (great for the price) or any of the Korg Metronomes.
If all you practice are your rudiments, there is a fair chance you might get bored with this over time and not put in the effort into learning drumming technique. It is recommended that you also play along with music (either on the radio, on your music device etc.) or play together with other musicians of the same skill level.
Obviously the style of music will depend upon the level you are capable of playing and the music styles that interest you. Another great option is to play along with a MIDI player — which offers the advantages of playing the song with drums, and then you can turn the drums off and play along without drums in the track.
Practice Option A: Drumming 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 personally follow. It is by no means a comprehensive list of drumming rudiments — just ones I find the most useful to practice for my own playing. This is also an excellent warm up before a gig.
I recommend you do each exercise for a minimum of 3 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. I recommend starting these exercises at a tempo of 60bpm if you are new to doing them — and for the more advanced drummers start them at 100bpm and move up from there.
For those drummers learning double bass drumming, you could also apply these exercises to each of your feet and I guarantee your speed will improve following these exercises.
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 two groups of four notes only with the right hand and then two groups of four notes only with your left hand. There should be no noticeable gap when you play this and it’s important to keep the speed and stroke weight consistent (ie. no loud accents and tempo variations).
It’s what drummers often refer to as “our old friend” — a rudiment known as 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 hand, then reversing it and lead with the left hand.
Triplets are quite possibly my favorite rudiment to practice. With triplets, each quarter note gets three beats, instead of just one. The reason I like triplets so much is it gives you the perfect opportunity to work a little bit harder on building strength and control in your “weaker” hand — which in my case is my left hand — so I myself might do 40 repetitions of left hand leading triplets and 20 repetitions of right hand leading and repeat.
A flam variant that works through those little, fast, intricate triplets. Work at a steady pace and ensure your flam stroke is the same stroke weight as your other triplet strokes.
Double Stroke Roll
This is also a great practice exercise for developing arm and hand strength and speed! Play two strokes with each hand, then alternative sides starting with two right strokes and then two left strokes. When you have finished start with the left, then go to the right — keeping the speed and stroke weight consistent. Regardless of the hand you start with, the stroke should feel even and consistent when you play it.
Lastly, we have been concentrating on stroke consistency and accuracy with no accents for all the above exercises. I like to finish up with applying some accents to two particular patterns. The first pattern I like to apply accents to is “our old friend” the Paradiddle which applies a louder stroke on the first beat of each Paradiddle. The second pattern is not a rudiment as such, but it is an exercise that combines double strokes and triplet patterns, emphasizing the first note of a triplet and the preceding double stroke. It can be a real brain bender if you are not prepared for it.
Practise Option B: Songs To Play Along With
Sometimes, when you just want to play drums and you don’t feel like playing any rudiments, you might just prefer to play along with some songs instead. This is perfectly fine and I have specifically created two playlists of 10 songs for my own practice needs. I find these songs are challenging yet offer me a lot of fun and freedom to add my own creativity with additional flams, grace and ghost notes and I might also try different fills when playing along with them.
At the risk of getting flamed, here are the songs currently in those two playlists:
Playlist 1 — Rock, Pop and Shuffles
- AC/DC: Back in Black — Drummer: Phil Rudd
- Toto: Hold The Line — Drummer: Jeff Porcaro
- Boz Scaggs: Lido Shuffle — Drummer: Jeff Porcaro
- ZZ Top: La Grange — Drummer: Frank Beard
- KISS: Detroit Rock City — Drummer: Peter Criss
- KISS: Domino— Drummer: Eric Singer
- Michael Jackson: Billy Jean — Drummer: Ndugu Chancler
- Madonna: Like A Virgin — Drummer: Tony Thompson
- Blondie: Heart of Glass — Drummer: Clem Burke
- Led Zeppelin: Kashmir — Drummer: John Bonham
Playlist 2 — Alternative Rock and Jazz
- Jamie Cullum: These Are The Days — Drummer: Sebastiaan de Krom
- Jamie Cullum: Singin’ In The Rain — Drummer: Sebastiaan de Krom
- Sugar: Helpless — Drummer: Malcolm Travis
- The Young Gods: Skinflowers — Drummer: Urs Hiestand
- The Young Gods : Gasoline Man — Drummer: Urs Hiestand
- Linkin Park: In The End — Drummer: Rob Bourdon
- Linkin Park: Numb — Drummer: Rob Bourdon
- Urge Overkill: Sister Havana — Drummer: Blackie Onassis
- Urge Overkill: Tequila Sundae — Drummer: Blackie Onassis
- 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 — but they are by no means a fixed playlist — which is also important to avoid boredom. I could easily rotate in some Stone Temple Pilots, Helmet, Motley Crüe, Van Halen and Whitesnake into the playlists.
I often wonder what songs other drummers would choose? Maybe let me know in the comments below.
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, boomy and/or smothered. Once I have found a location where to my ears my tom sounds bright and hopefully boomy (unless I want a different 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 — and which dimensions and depth? I currently use a Pork Pie 13"x7" 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).
- Do I need to change any drum heads? Different drum heads have the potential to also make a drum sound more “dry”, more “wet” and can also enhance stroke articulation when tuned accordingly
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 microphone (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 set in stone 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! Try to stay cool and play for the song, using your normal manner and style.
Drum and Cymbal Recording and Microphone 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 further 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 at close to 45 deg
- 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 microphones are best
- one mic only? place it several feet above the kit pointing straight down
- just two mics? 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 and increase 1–2kHz slightly to promote ‘bell’ sounds
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 a reverb ‘room’ suitable 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
If you feel it’s worthwhile, please leave any comments you have about your drumming experiences or about this story. Thanks very much for reading.