Drums For Dummies book cover

Drums For Dummies

By: Jeff Strong Published: 07-15-2020

Become a different drummer  

Drumming is natural to all of usÂafter all, it mimics the regular beat of our hearts. But some of us want to go further and really lay down a big beat. And no wonderÂwhether you want to become the powerful backbone of a band or just learn how to play a hand drum for pleasure, drumming is a lot of fun. Oh, and itÂs scientifically proven to make you smarter. Bonus: healthier!  

Drums For Dummies gets you going on the road to becoming the drummer you want to be. Get started with the basicsÂwhat drums to buy, exercises that build your skills, and playing simple rhythms. Then move into more complex topics, explore drumming styles from around the world, and add other percussion instruments to your repertoire.  

Written in an easy-to-follow step-by-step style by respected instructor Jeff Strong, youÂll go from banging out basic rhythmsÂwith or without sticksÂto acquiring versatility with different styles and types of drum. The book also provides online audio files to drum along with, as well as suggestions for solo approaches to wow your bandmates.  

  • Understand fundamental techniques 
  • Hone your technique with exercises 
  • Explore other percussion instruments 
  • Care for your drums  

The all-time drumming great Neal Peart of the band Rush once said that when he saw a good drummer, all he wanted to do was practice. Drums For Dummies is your best way to do just thatÂand start hitting your perfect groove. 


P.S. If you think this book seems familiar, youÂre probably right. The Dummies team updated the cover and design to give the book a fresh feel, but the content is the same as the previous release of Drums For Dummies (9780471794110). The book you see here shouldnÂt be considered a new or updated product. But if youÂre in the mood to learn something new, check out some of our other books. WeÂre always writing about new topics!

Articles From Drums For Dummies

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6 results
Drums For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 02-25-2022

Becoming a great percussionist is more difficult than just hitting drums with sticks. Developing your own fluid and easy style on the drums involves practicing rudiments (sticking pattern exercises) in one of two ways: with a metronome or drumming at various tempos.

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Beating the Bongos

Article / Updated 01-24-2017

When someone mentions playing bongos, you probably think of a beatnik poet embellishing his obscure poetry with flourishes on a pair of these little drums. Though this image may seem somewhat ridiculous, the role of the bongos as an instrument of improvisation and accentuation isn't far from true. The bongos hail from Cuba and came into being within the Son style of music in the mid-1800s. Son is an organic merging of African and Spanish music from the eastern part of Cuba. The bongos were originally the only drums used in Son music and, because of their soft sound and high pitch, were played only during the introduction and verses of the songs. During the louder sections of the songs, the bongocero (the name for the bongo player in Cuba) switched his or her playing to a cowbell, traditionally called the campana. Today the bongos (see Figure 1) are one of the most recognizable of the Latin drums, and you can find their sound in all styles of music. Figure 1: The bongo drums come from Cuba. Bongo playing position The bongos are a pair of small drums that are connected and played as a unit. Traditionally, you hold the bongos between your legs with the smaller drum on your left. Figure 2 illustrates the proper holding technique. Figure 2: Traditional playing technique for the bongos. As a bongocero, you use four basic strokes: The open tone: Hit the edge of the drum with the knuckly part of your palm and let your fingers bounce off the head. Experiment by moving your fingers about 4 inches in from the center of the drum and see how the sound changes. You want a rich, clear sound without any overtones (those annoying ringing sounds that get in the way of a clear tone). The slap: Cup your fingers slightly as you strike the head to create an accent (louder) note that adds color to your drumming. After your hand contacts the drum, relax your fingers and let them bounce off the head. The slap stroke makes a "pop" sound of a higher pitch than the open tone stroke. The heel-tip movement: Rest your hand on the head and rock from the heel of your palm to the tip of your fingers. Remember to always keep your hand in contact with the head when you play this stroke. The basic muted tone: Strike the drum in the open tone fashion, but allow your fingers to rest on the head after you strike it. Keep your hands relaxed and barely move them. All you really hear with a muted tone is a light touch of your fingers against the head. Traditionally, your left hand does a heel-tip rocking movement, but most modern players choose the basic muted tone instead. Understanding the rhythms The Son bongo rhythm, called the Martillo, has an improvisational quality to it. Traditional players used this rhythm as the basis for experimentation. Not too much though, because the basic 1, 2 pulse created by this rhythm is important to the overall feel of the song. If you're going to play the Martillo in a Son group, you can't stray too far from its basic 1, 2 pulse, or you'll end up getting a few nasty looks. Figure 3 shows the Martillo and a few variations on the rhythm. Figure 3: A few bongo rhythms: The Martillo and some variations. The basic Martillo in Figure 3 includes two hand patterns (the hand patterns are the Rs and Ls written below the rhythm). One is the traditional heel-tip pattern while the other shows the basic muted tone. Try them both to decide which pattern you prefer. The variations show only the basic muted stroke, but you can substitute the heel-tip movement instead if you choose. The first rhythm in Figure 3 is a two-beat pattern. Beats one and two (both played with your right hand) play an accented slap tone at the edge of the smaller drum. On the "&" of beat two, your right hand plays an open tone on the larger drum. In this rhythm, your left hand plays soft, muted tones to give the rhythm a sense of movement. The second and third rhythms are four-beat variations. You may not have much of a calling for playing the Martillo in a Son band, but this rhythm and its variations apply to contemporary music as well. All the rhythms in Figure 3 can fit into most pop music situations. In contemporary music, the bongos are often mounted on a stand next to the conga drums and played as an accent to the main conga beat and as a solo instrument. Because of their high pitch, the bongos work best when playing a syncopated beat (a rhythm that accentuates the "e" and "a" of a beat rather than the downbeat — the 1 or 2), especially during a solo. Experiment with the Martillo or one of its variations and add more left-hand accents. Doing so gives your rhythm a syncopated feel. For contemporary music, you can even eliminate the right-hand accents once in a while.

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Deconstructing the Drumset

Article / Updated 01-24-2017

Before the advent of the drum set, drums were played one at a time. Each drummer played one drum, and in order to make bigger and better noise — er, music — more drummers were needed. Then somewhere along the way, innovative drummers started putting groups of drums together and beating them all at once. As shown in Figure 1, today's drumsets consist of the following: Bass drum. The bass drum usually sits on its side on the floor and is played by stepping on a pedal with the right foot. This drum is generally between 18 and 24 inches in diameter and between 14 and 18 inches deep. Its sound is the foundation of the rhythm of a band, often pounding out the basic pulse of the music or playing along with the bass player's rhythm. Snare drum. The snare drum is a shallow drum (typically between 5 and 7 inches deep) that's 14 inches in diameter and has a series of metal wires (called snares, hence the name snare drum) stretched against the bottom head. When you strike the drum, the bottom head vibrates against the snares. What you hear is a hissing sound. The snare drum creates the backbeat (the driving rhythm that you hear in most popular music) of the music and is what makes you want to dance. Tom-tom. The tom-toms are pitched drums that are usually between 9 and 18 inches in diameter. A drumset commonly has at least two, if not three, of them (some drummers, such as Neil Peart from the 1970s rock band Rush, have dozens of tom-toms, so go wild if you want to). Generally, the largest tom-tom (called a floor tom) is set up on the floor with legs that are attached to the shell of the drum. The smaller tom-toms (often called ride toms) are attached to a stand, which extends up from the bass drum or from the floor next to the bass drum. These drums are used for fills (a fill is a break in the main drumbeat) or as a substitute for the snare drum in some parts of songs. Hi-hat cymbals. The hi-hats are cymbals that are mounted on a stand, one facing up and one facing down, and are 13, 14, or 15 inches in diameter. The stand has a pedal that pushes the cymbals together (closed) or pulls them apart (opened). Your left foot controls the opening and closing of the hi-hats with the pedal while you hit the cymbals with a stick. The hi-hats can make either a "chick" sound when closed or a "swish" sound when open. You use them with the bass drum and snare drum to create the basic drum beat. Ride cymbal. The ride cymbal is an alternative to the hi-hats. Ride cymbals range in size from about 16 inches all the way up to 24 inches across (20- and 22-inch ride cymbals are the most common). The ride cymbal is traditionally used to create a louder, fuller sound than the hi-hats and is often played during the chorus of a song or during a solo. Crash cymbals. The typical drumset usually has one or more crash cymbals used for accentuating certain parts of the music, usually the beginning of a phrase or section of a song. These cymbals create a sound that resembles — you guessed it — a crash, not unlike the sound of a frying pan lid hitting a hard floor, only more musical. Crash cymbals generally range in size from 14 inches to around 20 inches in diameter. Figure 1: The modern drumset. The following aren't included in Figure 1, but many sets include them. Splash cymbals. Crash cymbals aren't the only accent cymbals that drummers use with today's drumsets. Other cymbals include the splash cymbal, a small cymbal usually between 8 and 14 inches in diameter, which makes a little splash-type sound. The splash cymbal is kind of a softer, watery-sounding version of the popular crash cymbal. Chinese cymbals. These accent cymbals have become common over the last couple of decades or so. Chinese cymbals have a slightly rougher, clangier sound than a crash cymbal (more like a trashcan lid). They range in size from around 12 inches to 20 inches and usually have an up-turned outer edge. They're often mounted on a stand upside down. Gongs. These cymbals were really popular additions to drumsets during the stadium rock era in the 1970s when drumsets were huge and drum solos were a staple. Gongs actually come in many shapes and sizes, but the most popular are large (up to three feet across) and very loud.

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Choosing the Perfect Rhythm for Your Drum Part

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Playing a percussion instrument is all about rhythm. So if you play the drums, when you get together with other musicians, you need to be able to choose the correct rhythm for each song. If you end up reading music, this task is easy because the style of the music and basic groove pattern are notated on the chart (sheet music), but if you play without music, you have to figure out what to play. To do so, you need to listen to what the other musicians are playing and immediately choose a rhythm that fits. Getting hints from other musicians Often, somebody tells you the basic style of the tune by saying "straight-ahead rock" or "blues feel." This hint gives you some idea of the genre of the music, but, depending on the person's knowledge and skill level, it may or may not really help you figure out what to play. Just nod your head knowingly and listen very carefully (asking for clarification if you don't understand is often okay). If the person counts the song in (for example, "one, two, three, four — play") without playing an intro, you may have to fake it until you can actually hear what the other musicians are playing. The best thing to do is play the rhythm in Figure 1 until you can figure out what's going on. The rhythm in Figure 1 works well in these situations because it contains the core instruments (hi-hat, snare drum, bass drum), and it won't conflict with the rhythms of the other instruments, no matter what they're playing. Figure 1: A great rhythm to use if you're not sure what to play. Using the music as a guide The most important factor that will guide you in determining which rhythm to use is the overall feel of the music (the section or song). To figure out the overall feel, start asking yourself the following questions: Does the song have a straight or triplet feel? You need to listen carefully to the music to answer this question. Depending on the song and the abilities of the other musicians, the feel is pretty easy to determine. In some cases, though, hearing it will prove more difficult. Fast songs in a shuffle feel, for example, can sound surprisingly like a straight feel. If you're unsure if the song has a straight or triplet feel, asking is generally okay. However, if you're in a situation where asking isn't possible or desirable, the best thing to do is keep it really simple until you can figure it out (try starting with the rhythm in Figure 1). What subdivisions are being used? Whether eighth or sixteenth notes are the basis of the main rhythm determines what type of rhythm you choose. If the guitar or keyboard player uses sixteenth notes, for example, you will probably find that playing sixteenth notes on the hi-hat will fit well. Is the feel regular or half-time? To answer this, listen for the basic pulse and watch other musicians as they play their parts (they often give this information away by the way they tap or sway as they play). It's often pretty easy to tell the feel: One style fits much better than the other. What is the length of the rhythmic phrase? After you know the overall feel of the music, start listening for the rhythmic phrasing of the other instruments. The length of the rhythmic phrase can help you decide how long you want your rhythm. The most common lengths for rhythms are either one or two bars, although it's not unheard of to have a groove that's four bars long. Listen to the bass player. His or her rhythms are your cue for what to play on the bass drum. Unless you're playing in a free-form jazz-fusion band using bizarre odd meters or you're into experimental music where there isn't a distinguishable pulse, the style of the song gives you an immediate sense of what to play. In most cases, you draw from a handful of established grooves. Figure 2 shows you an example of how a drum part relates to the rhythms of the guitar and bass player's parts. Notice how the hi-hat pattern and the bass player's notes on the one and "&" of two (played on the bass drum) matches the guitar player's eighth-note rhythm. Because this is a rock tune, the snare drum plays on the two and four. Figure 2: This is how a drum rhythm fits with the other instruments in a band.

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Tuning Your Drumset

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Regardless of the size of a drum or what its drum head is made of, the fundamentals of getting a good sound out of a drum are the same. You need to tune your drum to its sweet spot in order for it to sound its best. The sweet spot is simply the pitch where the drum resonates best. This spot varies from drum to drum based upon size, the construction of the shell, and the type of head that you use. Finding the sweet spot is fairly easy: Just adjust the pitch a little bit at a time until the sound is clear and without a lot of overtones (higher pitched sounds that the drum creates, which are usually hidden behind the fundamental tone of the drum). After it's tuned well, you shouldn't need to dampen (stop from vibrating) the head with tape or an internal system in order to lessen the overtones because there won't be any. If you use the techniques in this article to tune your drums and still can't get the sound you want, more than likely your heads are the problem. A few people do seem to have a drum-tuning deficiency. If you're one of the few who can't seem to tune your drum, don't hang your head in shame; just find someone who can do it for you and then ask that person to teach you. Tuning a drum with lugs Got a wrench and a few minutes? Well, that's all you need to tune up your lug-tuned drum. Lug-tuned drums are by far the most common style these days; drummers use lugs on all drumsets and many hand and stick drums. For the most part, drums with this type of tuning system are pretty straightforward to tune. Start by removing the drumhead and the rim from your drum, and putting the drum on the floor. Wipe the edge of the shell with a dry cloth to get off any dirt or dust. Next, put the head on the drum and then the rim over that. Then follow these steps: 1. Tighten the lugs by hand until they're as tight as you can get them. Work the lugs by going across the drum as you go around. Start with the lug at the top (12 o'clock position), go to the lug at the six o'clock position, back up to the one o'clock position, to the seven o'clock position, and so forth until you go all the way around. This method ensures that you get the head evenly set on all sides. 2. Press down on the rim over each lug as you tighten it further by hand, following the same pattern around the drum. 3. After all the lugs are fully tightened by hand, gently press on the center of the head with your palm until you hear some cracking from glue on the head (be careful not to push too hard). This pushing seats the head and forces it to make full contact with the shell. 4. Using the drum key (tuning wrench), work around the drum in the same manner described in previous steps and tighten each lug one-quarter to one-half a turn until all the wrinkles are out of the head. This process should take only one or two times around the drum. 5. Check the drum's pitch (how high or low the sound is) by hitting the drum in the center of the head. 6. Continue going around the head using one-quarter turns until you get to a pitch that rings freely. If you notice overtones or if the pitch isn't really clear, lightly tap the head with your stick about one inch in from each lug. The lugs should all be the same pitch. Adjust any that are out of pitch with the others until all are the same. Repeat this procedure on the bottom head if you have double-headed drums. Some like to get both heads tuned to the same pitch, but other people tune the bottom head slightly higher or lower than the top head. Experiment and see what you prefer. Tuning a drum with a rope system Rope-tuned drums look hard to tune but they're really not. In some ways, they're actually easier to tune than drums with lugs, because you don't have to worry about getting the drum in tune with itself. The process for tuning a drum with a rope system is pretty simple. All you have to do is untie the loose end (usually the long section) from the rope so that it's free. You can find this section by noticing where the end of the rope is that's strung around the drum. To raise the pitch, feed the loose end of the rope under the next two vertical strands (keep the rope taut where it was initially tied off). Next, loop the rope back across the second strand to the first and go under that one again. Hold the drum securely (maybe by resting your knee on it) and pull the rope tight until the first strand crosses the second and the rope is straightened out. Continue this procedure until you have the drum at the desired pitch. Tie off the loose end of the rope, and you're set to play! Tuning the untunable Many frame drums are untunable — they don't have a hardware system that allows you to adjust the tension on the head. That doesn't necessarily mean that you can't adjust the pitch of the drum — you can as long as the drum has a natural skin head. Because natural hide heads are affected by temperature and humidity, you can use these factors to adjust the tension on the head of your drum. Higher temperatures and lower humidity result in the head becoming more tense, thus producing a higher pitched sound. Likewise, lower temperatures and higher humidity result in a lower pitched sound. In most cases, you find that your drum drops in pitch, sometimes to the point where all you get is a "thud" when you hit it. This drop in pitch is especially evident in thinner-headed drums. To raise the pitch of your untunable drum, place it in sunlight for a little while until the head warms up a bit. You can also hold it over a heat source for a couple of minutes (some people use a hair dryer). Be careful though: If you put the drum too close to extreme heat or leave it in the hot sun too long, the head will break. If you want to lower the pitch of an untunable drum, put it in the bathroom, close the door, and turn on the shower (don't put the drum in the shower though!). The humidity in the room will drop the pitch of the drum. These are both temporary solutions to tuning an untunable drum. The drumhead will eventually readjust to its natural pitch, as determined by the humidity and temperature in your room.

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Drumming the 26 Standard American Rudiments

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Rudiments are drumming exercises to help you develop fluency in a number of sticking patterns. Practicing these exercises builds hand-to-hand coordination and develops a relaxed sound. The following rudiments can be practiced in two ways: Set your metronome (or play along to some music) at a comfortable tempo and play steadily for a few minutes or longer. Start out slowly, gradually building up speed until you hit the maximum speed that you can play them and still be in control. Hold that tempo for a few minutes and then slowly reduce your speed until you’re back where you started. Click here to download and print a PDF of these exercises.

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