A full set of drums would be a bit of a mission to take with you on a holiday or work trip. If you’re away from your practice room for extended periods of time, you may be itching to do some sort of practicing to improve your skills. I’m here to give you some unique practice tips that don’t require any part of a drum set!
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The most obvious solution to practicing without a drum kit would be to bash out some rudiments on a practice pad. There are many practice pads out there that have different shapes, sizes, and materials. They’re intended for different purposes. So, get one that will fit your playing style and situation. If you ask me, I recommend this practice pad for most people.
In terms of how to practice with a practice pad, you can work on your hand speed, rudiment clarity, comfortability with a metronome, rhythmic ideas, and so much more. Playing on a practice pad just means you’re one small step away from playing on a drum kit, so practice what you would on the kit.
Some practice pads have different surfaces to emulate the feel of an acoustic kit. The Remo RT-0010 pad is a great example. Now, let’s move onto some less obvious ideas that will deeply develop the way you play on the drums.
As drummers, we rely heavily on the drum sticks that we hold to get ideas across. However, everything you play actually starts at your hands and wrists. Taking some time to develop the way you move your hands can increase your technical proficiency when playing the drums.
Some things you could do with just your bare hands would be tapping rhythms on your legs while sitting. You could tap along to your favorite songs or you could try tap complicated rhythms.
The idea behind doing this would be to increase your wrist strength. Many drummers rely too heavily on their fingers when playing. Tapping your hands will force you to focus on your wrists.
If you have a pair of drum sticks, you can tap out patterns on any surface that feels comfortable to play on. Pillow drumming is a highly popular way of practicing as pillows don’t have much rebound to them. This will further increase your wrist movements, stopping you from relying too heavily on your fingers when playing fast patterns.
Another thing you could do with your sticks is solidifying your gripping technique. Feel the difference between holding them tightly or loosely and what a difference that makes to sound and feel.
One fantastic exercise is to hold your sticks upside down and play patterns on your forearms. Holding the sticks like this will force you to play with a solid gripping technique.
Once you’ve focused on your hands, you can move on to focusing on your feet. After all, they’re just as important when playing a full-sized drum kit. Many drummers have dominant right feet, thanks to the constant use of the bass drum pedal.
Now would be a good time to work on your left foot. Play some patterns on your legs with your hands while tapping rhythms with your left foot as if it were a hi-hat pedal.
You could also work on strengthening your ankles and hip flexors. When you play heel-down on the drums, there’s a lot of ankle movement put into it. Playing heel-up requires you to lift your whole leg up and down. Doing exercises to strengthen these two body parts will make playing the bass drum feel a bit easier.
Hand and Foot Independence
The next step would be to play rhythms with your hands and feet together. You could play along to songs like I mentioned earlier with the bare hands. However, a great thing to do would be to work on complicated rhythms.
Independence is a huge aspect of playing the drums and using all four limbs at the same time to make music can get very tricky. So, working on some overlapping rhythms is a great exercise to do.
A basic groove to learn that will benefit you in this aspect would be the Bossa Nova. Once you can play a Bossa with all your limbs, you can move onto some more complex patterns and grooves.
Rhythms and Subdivisions
Moving onto the theory side of things, internalizing rhythms and subdivisions is a useful exercise to do. Most drummers are familiar with 8th notes, 16th notes, and some triplet subdivisions. Now would be a good time to learn about quintuplets and septuplets.
These are complicated subdivisions that take some time to get used to. Playing them with your hands along with a metronome is a great way to learn.
You can also explore subdivisions and how they relate to each other. Many metronome apps will have options to mix subdivisions in click tracks. Playing along to those is a load of fun.
On that note, intense metronome work is vital for developing your sense of time as a drummer. Pull out a pair of sticks and a metronome app and play along to a steady click. One fun thing to do with a metronome is to play with ghost clicks.
Ghost click means that the metronome will tick and there’ll be silence every now and then, forcing you to keep time without hearing the click for a while. If the click comes back and you’re still on time, you’ll know that you have a good sense of timing!
Another fun thing to do with a metronome is to put it on the slowest BPM possible and try to clap along with the clicks. This is way more difficult than it sounds. If it’s too difficult, start on a higher BPM and then lower it once you get comfortable.
Listen to Music
Listening to music can definitely form part of your practice routine. It’s one of the most important things you can do as a musician. As a drummer, listening to what other drummers play will increase your sense of musicality and broaden your creativity. It will give you ideas of what to play when you’re in gigging situations.
So, turn on the radio when driving and consider it drumming practice. A fun thing to do is to listen to music that isn’t your preferred genre. If you play rock, listen to some jazz drummers. It will give you a perspective on how far you can push this instrument.
Each one of these things I’ve mentioned will improve your abilities behind the drum kit in a small way. You may not see it immediately, but they will definitely help in the long run. Most drummers carry sticks around with them everywhere. If you get in the habit of doing that, you’ll be able to practice wherever you are.
If you don’t have sticks with you, you can still practice! Use one or two of these methods and try not to make any excuses. These are some fun exercises to do. They’re all worth trying. Give them a go and see how you can transfer those skills over to the drum kit.