A question that often gets asked is how difficult it is to learn to play the drums. It’s a broad question that actually has many layers of an answer. While some aspects of playing the drums tend to be fairly easy to grasp, other things may take years to get a grip on.
Some people may learn these things faster than others thanks to their natural sense of rhythm. However, other people who are more academic-minded will learn other areas quicker. Let’s have a look at some easy aspects of drumming, followed by some harder ones.
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Drums fall under the category of unpitched percussion. This means that they don’t produce any melodic notes. You don’t need to worry about playing chords, scales, or anything in the same key as everyone else in the band. This technically means that you can’t play any wrong notes.
A mistake on the drum kit can very easily be fixed and most people in the crowd wouldn’t have even noticed. If you play a high tom instead of a snare drum, it won’t make too much of a difference. If you play an A instead of a C on the piano, it has the potential to make a massive difference.
So, playing the drums doesn’t require you to know much about music theory.
The whole point of a drummer in a band is to keep the time for everyone to fall back on. This comes in the form of drum grooves. Drum grooves can be quite repetitive, meaning you don’t need to think too much when playing and most drum grooves aren’t very complex.
Take Billie Jean by Michael Jackson for example. It’s one of the most famous songs in the world, yet most beginner drummers learn to play that beat in their first drum lesson. The same groove repeats throughout the whole song.
Technically, a beginner drummer could play that tune along with pros and hold his own, thanks to the repetitive nature of it.
One fantastic skill we have as humans is the ability to develop muscle memory. We don’t think about walking, we just do it. The same thing happens when you learn to play the drums.
You’ll heavily focus on playing certain beats and fills at first. After a while of playing them, they’ll become second nature and your body will just be comfortable with playing them.
Honing in on your muscle memory is the key to learning how to play the drums. And it’s not the most difficult thing to focus on. You could play on a practice pad while watching TV and your muscle memory would be developing without you needing to focus too much.
Drum Kits Are Big & Loud
Drum kits are one of the biggest instruments you get. They’re also one of the loudest. So, one of the hardest parts of learning to play the drums is actually just finding a space to put them and having an environment where you won’t get noise complaints.
You can substitute an acoustic drum kit with an electronic one to get through the noise. However, e-kits will never feel or sound as good as acoustic ones, so getting the optimal setup has the potential to become quite a mission.
Another laborious task is moving your drum kit around. If you’re going to start playing gigs, you’re going to be setting up and packing down drum kits constantly.
The biggest challenge everyone faces when learning to play the drums is having to use all four of your limbs in conjunction with each other. This is called independence and it’s definitely not easy. Playing one rhythm with your right hand while playing an opposing one with your left hand can take a good while to learn.
Once you’ve got that down, you’ll have to start adding even more rhythms with your feet. It sounds exhausting, right? It’s just one of the challenges of learning the drums and everyone who plays eventually gets used to it.
You get some freaks who can play the most intricate patterns with all their limbs moving independently from each other. Clashing rhythms are called polyrhythms and they can get quite intense. Juan Carlito Mendoza is a great example of a drummer who can play stuff like this. Go check him out if you’re curious to see.
Drum kits are one of the only physically demanding instruments you can play. Not many other instruments will make you sweat or give you back pain like the drum kit will. So, a hard part of learning to play the drums is learning how to play with proper technique so that you don’t injure yourself.
It can get quite physically demanding to play drums for an extended period of time. Many pro drummers will play 3-hour sets of high-energy music. This can get crazy on your body. You need to develop the endurance to keep that energy going for so long.
Another aspect of physicality is learning to play the drums dynamically. Not every song will have you bashing out at full volume. Playing dynamically with softs and louds can be fairly difficult to learn. Since the drums are so naturally loud, it’s a vital skill to learn to hit the softly, yet still play with authority.
Even though some aspects of learning to play drums are difficult, anyone can still do it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you need to have a natural sense of rhythm in order to play the drums.
You can learn to play beats and your sense of rhythm will develop in good time. You may just not grasp concepts as quickly as someone with a natural sense of rhythm.
Just remember that if learning to play the drums was easy, everyone would do it! If you decide to play the drums, you’ll face a few challenges and be a stronger person and better musician for facing them head-on.