How To Play Drums (The Ultimate Beginners Guide!)

Want to learn how to play drums? Whether you’re staring at your first drum kit or are simply looking for some guidance on how to start, we’ve enlisted the help of award-winning British drummer & educator David Ingamells to give you the lowdown on everything from the best drum brands for beginners, to the triple flamadiddle…

Hi, David here.

As a boy I watched reruns of the hit 1960’s American TV show ‘The Monkees’, and was particularly taken with the shenanigans of their drummer Micky Dolenz. After about six months of putting dents in pots and pans, I got my first drum kit.

It’s hard to know where to start before you dive in, so I’ve compiled a few tips and tricks, along with some general principles, which will help the beginner drummer in their journey to learn to play drums.

There’s nothing to it really – a couple of sticks, some differently sounding surfaces to hit, and all of a sudden you’re the engine of the band.

None of this tricky embouchure stuff brass and woodwind players have to deal with, or fiddly fingerings string players and pianists have to learn.

There is a thriving amateur drummer scene, which means instruments are mass produced on a huge scale and the cost of starting out is relatively low.

This also means there is a wealth of information and unending enthusiasm for the instrument which a drummer of any level can access easily and quickly.

But where does the drum kit come from? Why is there so much variety in how it is set up and played? And what is a triple flamadiddle anyway?

All this, and more…

How to start learning drums?

The drums are not that hard to learn initially.

You’re not dealing with many elements, and anything which needs to change is literally right in front of you – no need to visualise diaphragms or strengthen weak fingers!

There are plenty of videos online, and it is easy to find information about how to grip the stick and play different exercises.

The drummer’s equivalent of scales and arpeggios are The Rudiments, which, if practised diligently, will provide you with a solid technique.

beginner drum patterns

Alongside that, you’ll want to work on some co-ordination exercises, and study different grooves and styles.

The best place to start, however, is to play along to your favourite music.

Play whatever comes naturally at first, then see if you can copy what the drummer is doing on the track you’re listening to.

Your First Drums 

If you’re just testing the waters and don’t know if you want to fully commit yet, just pick up a pair of drum sticks from a drum shop – Vic Firth 7As are a good place to start!

It’s also worth buying a practice pad at the beginning.

This is usually a piece of rubber stuck to a hard surface, and can be placed on a stand. Explore YouTube and, as I said above, tap along to your favourite tunes.

A metronome is a useful aid for developing a good and consistent sense of tempo. You can buy a standalone one, or there are plenty of smartphone apps – check the web for a myriad of ways to integrate it into your practice.

You might want to consider going to a commercial practice studio near you and hiring a room with a drum kit to have a play around. You can usually pay by the hour for these, and you don’t have to worry about bothering your neighbours. 

Warning: Drums Are Loud!

Drums is a loud instrument, and it will be some time before a beginner has developed the control and finesse to play quietly.

We at JazzFuel highly recommend getting some earplugs. They don’t have to be expensive, just type the word into Amazon and buy whatever looks the most comfortable.

To parents reading this and thinking about getting their children into drums – this is absolutely mandatory. You may want to consider wrap-around ear defenders for extra comfort.

If you’re thinking of playing the drums long-term, regular hearing tests are also a good idea. You only get one shot at hearing – once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Buying a beginner drum kit

So you’ve been to your local drum shop. You’ve bought a pair of sticks, a practice pad, maybe a stand for it, and some earplugs for when you go to the practice studio.

You have a taste for the real thing by now. But there are so many options – it seems like all your favourite drummers use completely different set ups, models, drum companies…

It’s possible to buy the whole thing as a package, but it’s worth knowing what you’re getting and whether the ‘complete set’ isn’t missing anything vital. Sometimes what’s advertised as a drum kit is just the ‘shells’ (drums without hardware or cymbals).

You can read an in-depth review of drum kits for the needs of everyone from a beginner to advanced pro.

Parts of the Drum Kit (with Beginner Sizes)

The following is a list of bare-bones necessities, as well as some extras you may want to try out later, in terms of the parts of a drum kit which you need.

Sizes are diameter by depth, and are commonplace but not the only options.

Once you get your drums and feel confident enough to perform in public, it’s a good idea to get cases to protect them when moving them around.

These should match the sizes of the drums, and the cymbal case should be big enough to carry your biggest cymbal in.

Be also sure to get a good supply of drum keys. Every keyring should have one, just in case of emergencies!

Snare Drum

Best size for beginners: 14” x 5.5”
Corresponding Hardware: Snare drum stand

Bass Drum

Best size for beginners: 20” x 16”
Corresponding Hardware: Bass drum pedal, Small riser if the drum is 18” diameter or less, Optional Extra – Double bass drum pedal

Rack Tom

Best size for beginners: 12” x 8”
Corresponding Hardware: If your bass drum has a mount, use a tom arm or attach it to a cymbal stand using an arm and clamp; another option is to put it on a snare stand and raise it to the right level

Low (or Floor) Tom

Best size for beginners: 14” x 14”
Corresponding Hardware: Use legs (x3) if the drum has the appropriate mounts, or if the drum requires an arm, you can attach it to a cymbal stand using the arm and a clamp

Hi-hat Cymbals

Best size for beginners: 14”
Corresponding Hardware: Hi-hat stand (check it has a clutch for the top hi-hat!)

Ride Cymbal

Best size for beginners: 20”
Corresponding Hardware: Cymbal stand, either straight or boom

Crash Cymbal

Best size for beginners: 16”
Corresponding Hardware: Cymbal stand, either straight or boom

Optional Extras

  • Additional floor tom
  • Additional splash cymbal (best for beginners: 8”)
  • Additional ride cymbal
  • High tom (Best size for beginners: 10”x6”)
  • Music stand
  • Drum mat – good for protecting wooden floors and stopping the bass drum and hi-hat from sliding about
  • Drum Stool

Best Drum Brands For Beginners

Of course, once you have made progress as a drummer, you will have a better idea about the sound you want and the makes and models which can help you achieve that.

As a beginner, though, the key is to get started with something acceptable!

With that in mind, our pick of the best beginner drum brands are:


Drum Workshop
Gretsch, Ludwig
Mapex, Pearl




Pro Mark
Vic Firth



Drum Heads


Drum Cases

Protection Racket

Before we unbox, it’s worth getting to know a little about how the instrument came to be! This will help us understand what goes where and why.

History of the Drum Kit

Drumming is as old as mankind.

Ancient pictures involving drums have been found on cave walls, accompanying religious rituals and animal hunts.

The drums comprised a cylindrical shell with animal skin stretched over one or both ends, creating a resonating chamber. The skin could then be struck with hands or sticks.

Drums have had extensive use in military settings, often carried when marching with a strap on the side of the body – more frequently the left side, to allow the usually right-handed player room to swing across and strike it.

As military drumming became more specialised, the left hand became involved and needed to hold the stick differently from the right to accommodate the drum’s position.

The stick, rather than held in the fist as in the right hand, was laid across the upward-turned palm. This has since become known as ‘traditional grip’.

Orchestral and military percussion music had a variety of snare drums, bass drums, tom-toms, cymbals, among all manner of auxiliary instruments. In mid- to late-nineteenth century America, the bass drum pedal was developed and two drums could be played by one person.

In 1909, the bass drum pedal was patented by the instrument manufacturer William Ludwig, and the snare drum stand had already been invented by another drum maker Ulysses Grant Leedy in 1898. The drum set was born!

Musical styles in the early twentieth century had drummers add tom-toms and differently sized cymbals to the snare and bass drums. These would normally be set up favouring the right hand, with the bass drum played with the right foot.

Although it had precursors, it wasn’t until around 1926 that the hi-hat stand we know today came into use. This was set up to the left of the snare drum, which meant that if the drummer wanted to play the cymbals with the sticks, the right hand would need to cross over the left.

More musical changes in the 1950s and ’60s led to drum heads being made from more durable plastic, and drummers’ set ups became bigger and more varied. Some drummers, such as Billy Cobham and Simon Phillips, played what is called ‘open handed’, where the hands never cross one another.

Today, there are as many ways of setting up a drum kit as there are drummers. Double bass drums, left-handed set ups, even drums and cymbals are tuned chromatically!

I would, however, suggest this as a starting point.

Can You Learn Drums Quietly?!

We’ve already discussed the impact of a loud instrument on the musician, but spare a thought for your co-habitants and neighbours.

There are a few ways of making sure you remain on good terms with those around you without limiting your practice time too much.

The most cost-effective way is to place thin tea-towels on the drums and cymbals, and keep in place with small binder clips.

However, low volume cymbals are also available from a few manufactures, and muffling pads for drums are a useful way of both keeping the noise down and protecting your ears.

Another option is the electric drum kit. There are pros and cons to this alternative.

Quiet instrumentFeels very different to a drum kit, and therefore can encourage bad technique
Low maintenanceMakes you dependent on technology
Often includes a console which has lots of different drum sounds, metronomes and backing loopsSetting up is complicated for a beginner as placement of individual parts needs to mimic the real thing

The most popular brands for electronic drums are Roland and Yamaha.

I recommend that drummers going down this route should buy one with mesh rather than rubber heads, as this will give a more authentic experience.

Can You Teach Yourself To Play Drums?

Whilst no musical instrument is easy to learn, the drums can be considered relatively accessible both for its low cost-of-entry and the fact that you don’t need to think about harmony or melody.

The hardest part about drumming is developing the coordination to play more than one thing at the same time – something which everyone can learn with practice !

As I’m sure you know, the internet (and Youtube in particular) is a goldmine for self-education.

If you’re an adult beginner, it’s never too late to learn drums!

There’s a whole host of beginner drum tuition online, much of it free, if you want a low-risk way of starting.

It’s totally possible to learn like this, especially if you’re short of time or just looking to test out the instrument.

However, if you’re looking to learn fast, or have a young child looking to start, a private teacher can be essential in getting you into good habits.

They could easily speed up the process so you master some basics in just a couple of months, rather than a year or more on your own.

In general, though, getting better at the drums (and anything else!) can be divided into two categories:

  1. planning what you should learn next
  2. doing the actual work

Although nobody can practise for you, a teacher can help with the first task.

They are vital in not only showing you what the next step should be, but correcting mistakes as you go along.

If that’s outside your budget, consider some of the many online drums courses as a good middle ground.

Listening to Drums

Learning cannot happen in a void.

Regardless of how you decide to get started playing drums, hopefully at some point you’ll decide to invest more and more time into it.

Practicing aside, it’s essential that you listen to lots (and I mean lots and lots!) of music from all sorts of genres.

Start with what you like, then see who else the band members have played with and go from there. Try and work out what other drummers are doing and play it yourself.

If you can, go and see some live music.

This is an ecosystem which you may one day be a part of, and it needs your support. But most importantly, you get to see and hear in real time what is going right and what is going wrong, and feed that back into your practice.

Finally, remember that the drum set is a supporting instrument.

It’s great to solo, but 99% of the drumming you love will be as part of a group. Find other musicians locally, start a band, and maybe even write your own music!

Round Up: How To Play Drums

Hopefully this guide has provided you with some valuable insight into how to play drums as a beginner.

It comes down to this:

  • Get yourself a suitable beginner drum kit
  • Protect your ears
  • Practice some basic rudiments
  • Play along with your favourite drum songs
  • Find a drum teacher to speed up your journey

If you have additional questions, feel free to use the comments section.

And lastly, no – we didn’t forget about that famous triple flamadiddle!

Also known as the Flam Paradiddle, it’s a hybrid rudiment which combines the elements of a flam and a paradiddle. It helps in developing hand independence and dynamic control and you can hear it in action right here!

Looking for more tips?

Check out our pick of the best drums songs ever – and tell us what we missed!

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