How to Play Drums

How to Hold Drum Sticks

Matched Grip

Matched grip is the most popular drum stick grip and is recommended for beginners. The drum sticks are held the same way in both hands.

Hold the drum stick about a third of the way up the stick between your thumb and index finger, just below the last knuckle. This grip should be quite firm and acts as a fulcrum when you play strokes. Wrap your other three fingers loosely around the drum stick. The power comes from your thumb and forefinger while your other fingers control the rebound.

Make sure you don't point your index finger down the drum stick like you're holding a knife and fork. It may feel like you have more control but this will restrict your playing. Also be careful not to flare your fingers when playing rolls. Keep them wrapped around the drum stick to control rebound.

Traditional Grip

Traditional grip is a more advanced grip, common amongst older drummers. The right hand grip is the same as matched grip while the left hand grip is underhand.

Hold the drum stick in your left hand about a third of the way up the stick, in the cradle between your thumb and forefinger. Rest the stick on top of your ring finger, past the last knuckle. Wrap your middle finger and forefinger across the top of the stick and rest your thumb on top of your forefinger.

Your hand should face sideways with your thumb facing upwards. Play the stroke by rotating your wrist as if turning a door knob. The power comes from your thumb while your top two fingers control the rebound of the stick.

Traditional grip is used in the drum corps to play marching snare drum, which tilts to the right. This allows the left hand to play the drum comfortably without having to lift the elbow high above the drum.

Sitting at the Drums

Your drum throne (stool) should be set slightly above knee height. When you sit at the drums your knees should be at an angle of slightly more than a ninety degrees so that your thighs slope downwards slightly. This allows for correct posture and minimizes back stress. Keep your back straight and center your weight on the drum throne. Avoid twisting at the spine to play different drums and instead just move your arms.

Hand Technique

Single Strokes

Hold your stick about 10 inches from the drum at about 45 degrees to the drumhead. Use your wrist and fingers to play the stroke. Bring the stick off the drum as soon as you strike it so that you play a clean single stroke and the stick doesn't bounce multiple times. Use your arms to move around the drum set and position your hands over the drums and cymbals.

Use your fingers to help your wrist to play the stroke and control the rebound. Finger control is important for advanced drumming when you play double strokes and complex stickings (combinations of left and right hand strokes) at fast tempos.

Accents and Ghost Notes

The volume of a stroke is determined by how high your stick is when you play the note. Holding your drum stick high will produce a loud note and a low stick will produce a quiet note.

Ghost notes are notes that are played very softly and like a ghost, are felt but not heard. Ghost notes are played by holding your drum stick about 1/2 an inch from the drum or cymbal.

Accents are notes that are louder than the others. Accents are played by holding the stick about 10 inches from the drum or cymbal.

Double Strokes (Advanced)

A double stroke is when you play two strokes in a row with the same hand. Double strokes have many applications and are important to master. Double strokes are played by bouncing the stick on the playing surface.

Keep a tight grip on the drum stick between your thumb and index finger and relax your other fingers. Bounce your stick on the drum and pull it off as soon as you have played two notes. To control the speed and volume of your double strokes, use your fingers to catch the rebound and play the second stroke.

It takes a while to learn to play double strokes. Begin by just bouncing the stick on the drum without controlling it with your fingers. Make sure you only play two notes and don't accidentally let the stick bounce multiple times.

Drum Technique

Drums should always be struck in the center of the head to achieve the best tone.

Cross-sticks

A cross stick or side stick is played by holding one end of the stick (usually the tip) against the head and striking the rim with other end of the stick (usually the butt). This produces a woody click sound. The tone varies with the location of the stick on the drum, so experiment with different positions to find the sweet spot. Cross sticks usually sound best when the stick strikes the rim above a lug.

Rimshots

A rimshot is played by striking the snare drum with your drum stick at an angle where it strikes the rim and the head at the same time. This produces a sharp crack and is not be confused with a cross stick. To play a rimshot, lower your hand slightly to the point where your stick strikes the drum at the correct angle. It takes a while to learn to play rim shots consistently.

Cymbal Technique

Hi-hat

The hi-hat can be played either with the tip of your drum stick on the top of the hi-hat or the shoulder of your stick against the edge of the hi-hat. Accents are played on the edge of the hi-hat while non-accents and ghost notes are played on the top of the hi-hat.

Play open hi-hat notes with the hi-hats loosely touching, not all the way open.

Crash

Crashing a cymbal means to strike the edge of the cymbal with the shoulder of your drum stick. When you crash a cymbal, bring the stick straight back as soon as you strike the cymbal. This reduces the stress on the cymbal and prevents it from cracking. For softer crashes, use a glancing stroke to crash the cymbal. Instead of moving your stick back and forth in a straight line, move your drum stick in an arc to crash the cymbal.

Ride

Riding a cymbal means to play the bow (top) of the cymbal with the tip of your drum stick. Ride the cymbal about halfway between the bell and the edge. Play the cymbal closer to the bell for a drier ping and closer to the edge for more wash and sustain.

Bell

The bell of a cymbal is played with the tip of the drum stick for non-accented notes and with the shoulder of the stick for accents.

Foot Technique

Bass Drum Technique

There are two ways to play the bass drum: heel down and heel up.

Heel Down

Keep your heel on the pedal and play the stroke by pushing your foot down on the pedal as if tapping your foot. This is used for playing quietly and when dynamic control is required, such as for jazz.

Heel Up

Play the stroke with your heel off the pedal, pushing your foot down from the ankle. This allows faster, louder playing because the weight of your leg is behind the stroke. This technique is used when speed and power is required, such as for rock and heavy metal music.

When you play the bass drum, pull the beater off the head as soon as you strike it. This gives the bass drum a full-bodied, open tone. However there may be times when you want to bury the beater in the head. This will dampen the sound and shorten the note.

Bass Drum Double Strokes (Advanced)

Double strokes are played on the bass drum using a technique sometimes called the heel-toe technique.

Begin the stroke with the ball of your foot on the pedal and your heel up. Drop your heel and use the weight of your leg to play a bass drum stroke with your foot flat on the pedal. In the same motion, rock your foot on to your heel, ready to play the second stroke. Push your toe down and lift your heel at the same time to play the second stroke.

When you are learning to play bass drum double strokes, exaggerate the motion by playing the first stroke with your toe, quickly rocking back on to your heel and playing the second stroke with your toe.

Hi-Hat Foot Technique

There are three ways to play the hi-hat pedal: heel-down, heel-toe and heel-up.

Heel Down

The hi-hat is played heel-down when you want to play open and closed hi-hat notes. This technique is used for styles such as rock and funk. Playing heel-down can also be effective for playing the hi-hat with your foot at slow tempos, such as for jazz ballads.

Control the hi-hat by raising and lowering your toe with your heel down. This controls how open the hi-hat is when you strike it. Since the full weight of your leg is not used when your heel is down, this technique is not effective for playing the hi-hat with your foot at medium to fast tempos.

Heel-Toe

Rock your foot back and forth between heel and toe, to open and close the hi-hat. The rocking should be on the beat, to help keep steady time. This is recommended for slow to medium tempos.

Heel-up

This technique is preferred for medium to fast tempos. The ball of your foot remains on the pedal while while your foot bounces your leg up and down to quickly open and close the hi-hat. The weight of your leg will produce a loud, crisp "chick" sound. This technique is effective for playing at fast tempos and playing complex rhythms.

The Foot Splash (Advanced)

The foot splash is a way of playing an open hi-hat note with your foot. Begin the foot splash with the ball of your foot on the pedal and your heel up. Briefly take your weight off the pedal before dropping your heel and using the weight of your leg to close the hi-hat with your foot flat on the pedal. In the same motion, your foot rocks back on to your heel so that the hi-hats crash together and open straight away. The tone of the foot splash is controlled by how much you lift your toe at the end of the stroke.

When you are learning to play the foot splash, exaggerate the motion by playing the splash with your toe and rocking back on to your heel, sort of like playing a flam between the ball of your foot and your heel.