How to Play Drums – The Ultimate Guide

The drums are an incredibly exciting and rewarding instrument to play. It’s very easy to learn some basic beats and get quickly get started. This guide will tell you everything you need to know.

From understanding the purpose of each part of the drum set to learning your first beat, we’ve got you covered in this article.

1. The Parts of a Drum Set

A drum set is made up of drums, cymbals, and hardware. Let’s go through each of the important ones.

We’re going through the parts of an acoustic drum set here. Electronic drum sets are built in the same way, so what you learn here will apply to that also!

Snare Drum

The snare drum is one of the most important drums. This is usually placed in between a drummer’s legs. It has snare wires at the bottom that give it a cracking sound. You can adjust the tension of the snare wires using a mechanism at the side of the snare drum shell.

This drum has that ‘marching drum’ sound to it. They are great to play rolls and rudiments on.

If you walk into a room full of drummers, they will talk about two things: snare drums and cymbals.

The snare drum adds an incredible amount of character to the drum set. The way it’s tuned or muffled can add to your signature sound as a drummer.

Bass Drum

The bass drum (often referred to as the ‘kick drum’) is the biggest drum in the set. It is often either 20″ or 22″ inches in diameter.

The size of a bass drum has little bearing on the volume it creates. Although there are many different sizes, all of them produce roughly the same amount of sound. In many styles of music, the bass drum is used to keep or measure time.

This gives a punchy sound and it is played with a bass drum pedal.

This forms the backbeat of the music. The bassist in the band will usually ‘lock in’ with the timing of the bass drum.


These are usually taller drums than the snare drum. Toms can either be connected to the top of the bass drum and the biggest toms usually have their own metal ‘legs’ that allow it to stand on the ground.

Toms are almost always arranged from smallest to biggest on the drum set, i.e. the highest pitched sound to the lowest pitched sound.

Toms feature very often in drum fills. These are when a drummer moves outside of their regular drum beat to play something different. This can be as simple as a very short change in beat, or it can be something more extreme such as a fast roll around the toms.

Hi-Hat Cymbal

The hi-hat consists of 2 matching cymbals facing each other and mounted on a stand controlled by a pedal.

The bottom cymbal stays stationary, and the top cymbal moves up and down.

The pedal moves the long metal rod up and down, the top cymbal is connected to this rod via a clutch. You can vary the position of the top hi-hat on the rod by altering the position of the clutch

There is an amazing variety of sounds that you can get from a hi-hat. Pushing the hi-hat pedal hard can give a very tight sound. Loosening up the pedal a little can make the hats louder and ring for longer.

In dance music, you often hear relatively high-pitched hi-hat samples (e.g. KICK – HAT – SNARE –  HAT – KICK – SNARE –  HAT).

To achieve this effect, drummers open and close the hats very quickly while they are playing them.

Ride Cymbal

The ride cymbal is usually the biggest cymbal on the set. This is used to play rhythmic patterns.

You can strike it at the edge to create a louder and more sustained sound. You can also hit it with the tip of your drumstick to create a clearer and higher-pitched sound.

These can be very beautiful cymbals to play. They can often be hit in many different places to achieve different sounds.

Ride cymbals can also include a large ‘bell‘ area, which is the higher area close to the center of the cymbal. Hitting this can produce a loud ‘bell‘ sound.

Crash Cymbal

The crash cymbal is a dramatic and very satisfying cymbal to play. When hit, it produces a loud and sharp ‘crashing’ sound.

A drum kit always includes one or two crash cymbals. Occasionally, a drummer may use two different crash cymbals in the kit simultaneously to generate a very loud accent. They are generally 14 to 18 inches in diameter.

Other Cymbals

There are also other cymbals that you may find on a drum set, such as a ‘china’, ‘splash’, or effects cymbals. We’re not going to go into too much detail with those.

The ride and crash are all that’s required to start off playing drums.

Some drum sets have a combined ‘ride-crash’ cymbal, which acts as both.

Drum Heads

We’ll quickly talk about drum heads before we move on.

The drum head that you hit is called a ‘batter’ head. The drum head at the bottom of the drum is called the ‘resonant’ head.

Drum heads can be clear, coated, double-ply, and more. The type of head varies the sound of the drum.

If you hit the batter head hard, you will see the bottom head resonate or vibrate as a result of this.

Drums are tuned using a drum key. A metal hoop secures a drum head onto the drum, you then use the drum key to screw drum rods into the lugs on the side of the shell.

As a beginner, it’s far easier to tune drums when using a drum tuner.

2. How To Hold Your Sticks

Holding your drumsticks is extremely important for both your efficiency and fluidity of drumming.

You should check out our article about how to hold your drumsticks, as we go into much more detail.

We’ve included a great video by Jared Falk from Drumeo, who shows you exactly how to hold drumsticks using the American matched grip.

There are multiple different ways to hold your drumsticks (French grip, American Grip, German Matched Grip, traditional grip). When starting out, we recommend that you use the American Grip.

It’s very useful to learn other grips later on, as they all have their advantages. The Traditional grip is heavily used in Jazz drumming, if you are learning drums to start playing Jazz, then consider using this grip.

3. Buying a Drum Set

Acoustic or Electronic?
They are both great. There are pros and cons to each type of drum set. Acoustic drum sets have a greater depth of sound, Electronic drum sets have a much greater variety of sound. Acoustic drum sets are very loud while electronic sets are much quieter. If you want to learn more about the differences in detail then check out our article which compares acoustic and electronic drums sets.

Buying An Acoustic Drum Set

We have put together a great guide that shows some of the best drum sets for beginners. If you’re on the lookout for a set then be sure to check out that article.

Buying An Electronic Drum Set

Alternatively, check out our popular article that gives you a great overview of the best electronic drum sets. They range from low-priced items to fully-fledged professional sets.

Buying A Drum Set for Kids

If you’re looking to buy a drum set for kids, we have two articles that you should check out: drum sets for kids and the best electronic drum sets for kids.

4. Set Up Your Drum Set Properly

Are you right-handed or left-handed?

The below image is a right-handed setup for a drummer. You can switch this to a left-handed setup by switching the positions of the drums and cymbals the complete opposite way. The hi-hat should go on the right-hand side, the ride cymbal should go on the left, the floor tom should go on the left, etc.

If you are left-handed, you may decide to learn to play right-handed instead from the very start. Most drummers play right-handed – if you’re sharing drum kits with people for gigs, it’s a lot easier to play this way.

Most electronic drum sets can also be switched around for lefties.

Try to adjust your drum throne so that your knees are at a right angle to the floor. You should be able to reach all of the hi-hats, cymbals, and drums with easy motion. Awkwardly placed drums and cymbals can ruin your fluidity when drumming.

Make sure that your hi-hat is well positioned, not too high, and not too low.

5. Learning Your First Drum Beats

Below is another great video by Jared Falk from Drumeo.

He very nicely demonstrates some extremely popular and easy-to-play rock beats on drums.

Once you know how to play these rock beats, you will be able to play the majority of many thousands of sounds.

Even the best drummers in the world use these as the backbone for beats in their songs.

Notice that Jared is using a metronome when playing. This is vital. If you want to become a great drummer, then you need to have great timing.

Get a metronome and make your practice sessions a whole lot more productive.

6. Drum lessons – Local and Online

If possible, try to get the help of a local drum instructor. They can be great to set you on the right path and identify any bad habits early on.

For some drumming newbies a few classes will do, while some others might need to keep taking these lessons for a few months.

When you’re considering what teacher to hire, take into consideration their references and their teaching attitude. It’s important to find a person who will suit your personality and your musical preferences. Also, the right teacher will know how to inspire you to keep on practicing when you come across an obstacle in the learning process. You can read this beautiful story written by a drum instructor and his success with a potential quitter.

Alternatively, you should check out our list of some of the best resources for drum lessons online.

7. Top Tips When Learning To Play Drums

Learn to walk before you run

When starting off drumming, you should strive to master the basics before moving on to more advanced methods. For example, learn to play the basic rock beats, the basic rudiments, etc.

You should also try to play beats slowly and build your muscle memory and coordination from the ground up.

A common way of failing to progress while drumming is by starting too advanced, while they still should be working on the basics.

Also, while it’s great to have drumming idols. You should not necessarily try to mimic how they look playing straight away. Truly advanced drummers have a very large range of motion and expression with their drumsticks.

However, many drummers tend to ‘over-drum’ with really exaggerated motions on their stick-stroke height and cymbal chokes. Learn good technique first, then you’ll be properly set up to play like a rock star!

Hold your sticks properly

Getting the right grip is extremely important when you’re beginning to play drums. If you’re a drum kit player, the easiest beginner’s one to use is the American matched grip. This is the grip where you hold both sticks in the same way.

After a while, you can start to use the rebound and feel of your drumsticks to do wonders for your drumming. You should try to keep the drumsticks loose in your hands, not choked up. Not only will this improve your drumming, but it will also help prevent injuries to your wrists.

The opposite of the matched grip is the traditional grip, which is most commonly used for jazz players and drum corps.

Sit up straight

One of the basic things to learn even before you make your first kick is to learn how to properly sit. The right posture is extremely important for the later stages of your drumming quest.

If you learn how to keep your body straight, you’ll be less tired and exhausted from your playing sessions. It will also help prevent drum career-ending back problems further down the line!

For starters, you need to get a suitable drum throne. They come with back and footrests, as well as without these add-ons. Check out our drum thrones guide for more information on this.

Wear ear protection

I tend to sound like a broken record when I preach about ear protection. As a musician, protecting your hearing is your biggest asset. You MUST wear ear protection while drumming on acoustic sets or playing with a band. There’s no compromise, otherwise, you will end up with hearing damage and an incurable chronic ringing in your ears if you don’t.

Get in the right mindset

Giving up is a common thing with every instrument. When you’re starting to play drums, your commitment to this instrument is the key feature that will determine your success.

Even if you’re keen on learning how to play drums, there are some obstacles that you can’t eliminate. For instance, if you work and play drums, then sometimes you might not have that much time to practice.

But regardless of your current situation in life, one thing will ensure steady progress: regular practice. Just like with learning anything else in the world, it’s better to spend playing your drums for half an hour every day, then to drum 6 hours in a row every two weeks! So, you can make a plan every Sunday about your drumming practice for every day of the following week.

Even if you have a family, you should be able to squeeze in 20-30 minutes of drumming a few times a week.

It can also help to learn to play the songs you like. Drumming can take you in too many different directions. Try to concentrate on the numbers that stir your emotions. Today you can use hundreds of online drumming tutorials that break down songs into tiny details. By doing so, you’ll be more inspired to take a persistent approach to drum practice.

Get set up for practicing

One of the most important things for a new player of any musical instrument is getting equipped for regular home practice.

In the case of drumming, the most obvious problem you might have is the noise you’ll be producing. If you live in an apartment building, some of the neighbors might frown upon your new drumming career.

As a site dedicated to electronic drums, you might expect that might first suggestion is to grab a set of these straight away. However, I think a drum practice pad is actually the first and most important item to buy.

After that, if noise is a problem, you can drum without annoying your family/neighbors/police by using electronic drum sets. You can connect them to an amplifier or hear them with a pair of headphones. That way, you’ll eliminate any disturbing noise, while still getting the genuine drumming feel.

What’s more, you’ll hear the nuances of your drumming progress more clearly if you use the headphones during the practice sessions.

Playing electronic drums at home is also a great option since you can adjust the volume of these sets so that you create the optimal atmosphere for relaxed home jamming.

Start playing with other musicians

A great way to make progress when you’re learning to play drums is to practice with other musicians. While you’ll sometimes need to practice home alone, the next step is getting out of the room and playing with a band.

That’s a vital way to improve your skills as a musician, such as fine-tuning your drumming pace, listening to the harmonies, and adjusting your speed and rhythm with the band.

It’s also very useful to try to collaborate with different musicians across various genres. The more styles of music you can play, the more versatile skills will you develop.

How do you get involved with other musicians? Drummers are usually one of the more difficult band members to find, so it should be an easy one. Ask around locally, use social media, forums, etc.

If all else fails then just try to get yourself out there, go to local gigs and try to get involved with the local music scene. It won’t be long before you start to make friends and contacts.


Playing drums is a fun activity at any stage of life, no matter if you’re an aspiring teenager or an enthusiastic adult.

Just like any other musical instrument, it requires time and patience. Also, drums are the backbone of every musical group, since they set the pace for the rest of the crew. That’s why being a drummer demands a special mindset that can carry the rhythm section of the band.

This mindset is created from the first day you sit at your drum throne and should keep developing for as long as you plan to keep on drumming.

Have any tips on how to learn drums for aspiring beginners? Write them in a comment below!

Mike O'Connor
Mike O'Connor

I've been playing drums for over 18 years. I work as both a session drummer and a drum teacher, and I love to share my knowledge and tips on this site. You can also find me on the Electronic Drum Advisor YouTube channel.

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