Escape Mediocrity: How To Become A Better Drummer
Ever hit a plateau with your drumming? It happens to everyone.
Luckily, we’re here to help:
This is the stuff that can reignite your drumming inspiration, to turn average drummers into great ones.
They say drums are an easy instrument to learn, but one of the most difficult to master. This can feel painfully true for drummers who have played for a while, but just can’t seem to make it past what feels like a plateau of mediocrity.
So, how do you get better at drums?
The short answer is: practice!
However, not all drum practice is equal…
Hours and hours of aimless tapping or jamming are not going to get the job done: You need to 1) identify which areas of your playing require the most attention, then 2) tailor your practice to these. Beyond this, there are also some key skills that separate great drummers from average ones.
Whether it’s drum pad exercises to polish your chops, tightening up your feet with kick drum work, developing discipline when trying to drum faster, or simply experimenting with your sound, focused and targeted practice must be a regular part of your routine. Importantly, your practice should also revolve around tangible goals.
This type of focus is what separates pro drummers from mediocre ones, so working this into your practice routine can really help you take your drumming to the next level.
If you feel like you’ve hit a plateau with your drumming, this page should help lift you out of it.
Best of all, it’s free: You don’t need to buy a new bass drum pedal or snare to become a better drummer, and you don’t need to find the perfect drum wood for your sound, you just need to sit at your drum kit and put some extra work in each week.
It’s easy to get lost when figuring out what to target. So below, we’ve covered the most commonly underdeveloped areas of a mediocre drummer’s game, and outlined exactly how to improve these.
If you’ve never done some of these suggestions before, you’re guaranteed to be playing better after working on them. The more time you put in, the more you’ll get out of it. So let’s take a look!
Become A Better Drummer: Left (Weak) Hand Development
Weak hand development is one of the most neglected areas of so many drummers’ skill sets, so working on this can really set you apart from other drummers.
Conversely, failure to work on your weak hand can mean sloppy playing and difficulty sticking to a tempo. And even worse: the longer you put off improving it, the greater discrepancy you’ll have between your weak hand and your strong hand.
You’re only ever as fast and accurate as your weakest hand, so it’s critical to place extra focus on it to keep your playing balanced.
It can be daunting for drummers to unpick bad technique in their weak hand. Practice, for mediocre drummers, almost always revolves around their strong hand: For right-handed drummers, the left hand is mainly just following as opposed to leading, and this severely limits what you’re able to play on the drum kit. So, don’t fall into this trap!
Developing your left-hand technique will arm you with more complex independence, which will allow you to play more interesting parts and tricky off-beats. It will also make you more accurate, more powerful, and more consistent.
Here are some great examples of how to target your left hand.
Playing open handed
First up, spend time playing open-handed: For a right-handed drummer, this means playing the hi-hats with your left hand, and the snare with your right. This builds excellent left-handed control and coordination.
If it’s really difficult, then you’ll know how underdeveloped your left hand actually is. This is actually a good thing though – keep at it, and you’ll see some big drumming gains very quickly.
Beyond just gaining a stronger left hand, playing open handed can change your entire perspective of the drum kit, and spark creativity. You’ll play new fills, and place accents in unusual and interesting places. You’ll add a new depth of dynamics to your playing which will add to your overall musicality.
Okay, so you’ve got your head around open-handed playing. Now let’s take things a step further, to really kick your left hand into gear.
The only way to get your left hand fully up to speed with your right is to apply the same practice routine to both limbs. Any rudiments you practice should be repeated with your left hand leading, ensuring that any accents are as clean as they are when you lead with your right hand. To track your improvements, write down the highest tempo you can play comfortably when leading with each hand, and practice consistently until your left hand catches up. Having modest BPM goals is a great way to keep track of your progress.
Mirror your kit
Another great tip for right-handed drummers to strengthen their left drumming hand is to set up your kit as if you were left-handed (left-handed drummers: do the opposite!).
This can reveal movements you really struggle to do with your weak hand, and it’s a great way of building coordination between all of your limbs. It also forces you to lead grooves and fills with your weak hand, and you can apply your rudiments this way too.
It’ll feel weird at first, but that’s exactly why you should do it! Set some tangible goals, like playing some simple songs as cleanly as you can play them right-handed.
Become A Better Drummer: Tighter Feet Coordination
Foot control is another key attribute separating good drummers from mediocre ones. It’s easy for your feet to get left behind, even if you’re quite disciplined with practicing and improving other areas of your playing.
Aspiring metal drummers often identify the need to develop their foot coordination early in their drumming journey, as they try to tighten up their double kick technique. However, it’s not always prioritized by drummers in other genres, who can competently play beats with conventional kick drum placement, and can keep time with their left foot in standard 4/4 measures.
If you want to level up your drumming, work on your feet. Having the ability to use your feet as another pair of hands is fundamental to becoming a more complete drummer.
Excellent foot control can open up a whole new depth to your playing. And this isn’t just for using a double-kick pedal: You can do some amazing things between your kick drum and hi-hat, or with foot-controlled cowbells, tambourines, snare drums, or any other instrument.
Not only will you play far more creative grooves and fills, but you’ll also add to your unique style and set yourself apart from other drummers. Furthermore, as keeping time with your left foot becomes more natural, you’ll add depth and comfort to your relationship with time and tempo, and glide seamlessly between time signatures. This is one of the vital skills of a session drummer, and it will help you become an indispensable member of any band.
To develop coordination with your feet, you should have a rudiment routine for them – just like for your hands!
Run through different rudiment variations on your feet. This page covers every rudiment you’ll need. Start simple though, as flam and drag exercises can be very difficult with your feet. Begin with single strokes to check your basic technique first, then get to work on doubles, triplets, and paradiddles. Note down your top tempos for each exercise and work towards BPM goals.
Foot Ostinato Patterns
Once you’ve started incorporating foot rudiments into your drumming, you can begin to add some ostinato patterns on your feet as well. Once you’ve started to master these, you’ll open the door to a huge range of new beats and fills.
Ostinato means a repeated music rhythm or pattern. In this case, you’ll be doing a repetitive pattern on your feet while doing something else with your hands.
For example, you can do single strokes, double strokes, or paradiddles with your feet while you do other different rudiments with your hands.
Try different combinations of rudiments between your hands and feet. When learning a new pattern combination, begin extremely slowly, so you can feel exactly where each hand and foot should land. Over time you’ll speed up, until it feels extremely natural.
Once you’re comfortable with that, you can even start to explore polyrhythms between hands and feet. One step at a time though!
For a great overview of foot ostinato patterns, check out this video:
Become A Better Drummer: Being More Versatile
If you’re stuck in a drumming plateau, it can seem like you’re simply recycling the same drumming styles in everything you play. You can feel like you’re stuck in the same habits and without inspiration.
To step out of drumming mediocrity you should look beyond these limitations and the habits with which you have become accustomed: Versatility and adaptability rank highly on the list of attributes of in-demand drummers, whether it’s in their ability to turn their hand to different styles, read a piece of music which a band member has written, or make the most of low-quality drum kits in dingy venues.
Being as versatile as possible will simultaneously help you develop a unique style, while also serving individual musical styles and songs with exactly what they need.
That all sounds great, but how do you actually get there? Let’s put things into practice with some great tips:
Change Your Drum Kit Setup
One of the easiest ways to get out of your comfort zone and break a plateau is to simply adjust your drum kit.
Try changing the heights or placement of your drums and cymbals to positions you’d never normally play. You can also add cymbals, percussion or an extra tom.
Even better: Remove things from your kit. Playing with a minimal set up can spark creativity, and force you to coax new sounds and feels from your drums.
Try Some New Drumming Genres
Another great road to becoming a more versatile drummer is to branch out into new genres.
We all have our favorite style to play, but experimenting with a new style can introduce you to new flavors that spice up your playing. You can also develop your ability to read music by studying what these new beats and feels look like written down, giving you more context and a deeper understanding of what you are playing.
Try picking a genre you’ve never played before, learn a couple of songs, and note down the new ideas you’ve picked up as a result.
If you’re struggling to find a new drumming style, just browse through YouTube (for example you can simply search for “jazz drumming“, “breakbeat drumming“, etc.), or open up your favorite music app and flick through the different genres available. Create playlists with any tracks you like, to slowly build a collection of great songs that you would have never thought of playing. I guarantee you’ll find some amazing and inspiring music if you spend a little time searching.
Become A Better Drummer: Create A Drumming Warm Up Routine
In the hour before hitting the stage, warming up is not often high on the list of priorities for local bands. Their members can often be seen clobbering a set list together, or hanging out at the merch stand with a drink in hand. When you hit the stage though, it can take a little while to really get into things, which means you’re not on top of your game at the beginning.
Having a proper (and memorized) warm up routine will help your playing on so many levels. Not only do you get the blood flowing to the areas you’re about to need most, but you also get your mind and muscles synced up to ensure you’re ready from the very first note of the set.
Having a warm up routine will help get you comfortable for every show you play.
Warm Up Routine Goals
Your warm up routine doesn’t have to be an elaborate display of all your chops at once. Start with more basic movements.
First, do some stretches to loosen your wrists and fingers, followed by 5 or 6 rudiments (just a couple of minutes on each), with a metronome at a comfortable tempo.
Ideally you’d repeat the process for your feet too. If you’re sitting at a table having some pre-show food or drink, you can even tap your feet or bring your practice pad along.
Throw in some exercises related to the more difficult drumming parts you’ll need to play (to help you really nail them), and then end with a few minutes of clean single and double-stroke rolls.
Aim to give yourself around 20 minutes before every show to get your body and mind ready to play.
Practice at various tempos with a metronome, leading with both left and right hands, and playing with accents. Over time it will help to tighten up your drumming, make your performances so much more consistent, and reduce tension in your body while you play.
Stuck for warm-up ideas? Check this out:
And don’t just use your warm-up for shows. Do it before every practice session and rehearsal, to really get on top of your drumming game.
Become A Better Drummer: Care More About Your Drum Sound
Sometimes it’s easy to spot a professional drummer. When comparing a mediocre drummer with a professional, even the untrained ear can identify which player is which. Even if both players play the exact same part and don’t make any mistakes, there is something just better about the elite drummer’s playing.
It’s not just about playing the correct notes at the correct time. There are so many factors involved in creating your best sound.
Mediocre drummers can get lost thinking about a lot of other “stuff”, and forget to focus on how they actually sound. The “sound” I’m talking about actually relates to a few different areas: How each hand and foot stroke sounds alone, the sound of your drum kit overall, and how those things fit into the sound of your band and the venue you’re playing in. When you’re focused on just playing your parts, it’s easy to overlook all of these factors. However, if you can improve these things, you’ll start to really stand out as a great drummer.
There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to drum sound, so we’ll get straight into some improvements you can work on right away.
Tuning Your Kit & Pinpointing Problems
First up, it’s essential to understand how to tune drums, and tune them relative to each other. What this means is listen to your kit, and ensure every drum sounds good on its own and when you’re playing the entire drum set.
Pinpoint anything that sounds strange – for example clashing overtones, too much (or not enough) sustain, or one drum sounding more choked than the others. If one of your toms doesn’t seem to fit as you’re doing a roll across the kit, think about whether it would fit better if tuned higher or lower.
Tuning takes a lot of time and practice, but you’ll start to get a lot better when you really start to focus on it.
Dynamic control is one of the big secret weapons of great drummers.
You’ll notice it when a drummer seems extremely in control of their limbs, their drum kit, and when their drumming fits seamlessly into the music.
So what is good dynamic control? It’s the ability to hit every drum and cymbal at the perfect velocity (as opposed to smashing everything as hard as possible).
Put simply, dynamic control = volume control. It’s the volume of each of your drum hits, and also the volume of your overall drum kit.
Hitting every drum and cymbal at the exact same volume will lead to a monotonous and boring drum sound… Some parts should be accented to stand out, some parts should be played softer, and drummers really shine when both of these things are done at the same time across the kit.
The more you improve this, the better your drumming will become, and people will take notice. As you start to master it, you’ll be able to fit into any style, any venue, and any studio.
Luckily you don’t need to be a pro drummer to have great dynamic control – it’s developed across time, and with practice. And like with a lot of the exercises on this page, the more you struggle at the beginning, the more you’ll improve if you stick with it.
We’ve got some great exercises here to improve your drum kit dynamics right away. There’s stuff there for beginners right up to extremely experienced drummers. Get through some of those exercises, and you’ll instantly start sounding like a more professional drummer.
Listen To Your Drum Sound
Of course you’re listening… hopefully! But think about how your kit fits into the bigger context that you’re drumming in. This means the music, the room, and the audience.
Are you using cymbals appropriately for the style of music you’re playing?
Are you hitting the drums in the correct place (in most cases, this should be near the center!)?
Are you using the wrong drumheads for the sound you’re trying to achieve?
When playing live or recording drums, mic placement and the room will also affect your drum sound immensely. So when you’re in these situations, try to get a good idea of how your drums sound through the microphones and/or around the room you’re playing in. For example, if you’re doing a show at a tiny venue, you’ll need to rethink how hard you hit the snare.
Take pride in your sound and don’t be afraid to chat with engineers about changes if something’s not right. Trust your ear and continue to evolve it.
A lot of this will come with experience, but it will come quicker if you have your eyes and ears open at all times. Listen to the drum sounds on your favorite records and live shows, and try your best to replicate them. By studying and cherry picking these, you’ll produce your own unique sound. Percussive sounds are subjective in terms of quality, and you should take care in developing your personal taste and executing it in your playing.
Become A Better Drummer: Play Faster (And Smoother) With A Metronome
It’s easy for mediocre drummers to run off the rails at high speeds. Things don’t sound as smooth, your limbs can get tired, and you can start to feel really uncomfortable quickly. This means you need to improve your technique and control at high tempos.
So, you want to know how to play drums fast? Well here it is, the secret – use a metronome.
Use A Metronome!
As an aspiring drummer, it’s critical that you find a way to become best friends with the metronome. It’s by far the best measurement tool for speed and accuracy, and you should use it every time you play (be it on the practice pad, full drum kit, or an electronic drum set).
Run through your rudiments with it, run through your own tracks with it, and use it for anything else you’re playing as well.
Remember, if you’re playing a rudiment at 200BPM and falling in and out of time, you are not in fact playing that rudiment. So find the sweet spot where you can play fast but still fairly comfortably.
Bring down the tempo until you can consistently stay in time, but you feel close to your limit. Keep practicing at this tempo and then increase the BPM gradually. You should not feel tension building in your hands… If you do, and can’t release it, drop the tempo back down to a more comfortable level.
This kind of practice takes time, but it’s well worth it. After a few weeks, you’ll notice big improvements in your stamina, and in the smoothness at both high and low speeds.
Using a metronome will allow you to have a true measurement of your ability to play at high tempos. Use a journal to take notes of your process, and be honest with yourself to develop true speed over time.
There are 40 key rudiments in drumming, and these will let you know how fast you can truly drum. You should note down your progress on each one in a drumming journal. Write down the BPM you can play for 2 minutes without any mistakes. This will be different for every exercise, and you should have a target BPM for each written down in your journal. When speed and accuracy goals are being met, you should then work on applying them into grooves and fills on the full kit.
Become A Better Drummer: Time To Start Drumming..!
Okay, so hopefully these tips have given you more than enough to work on, to really lift your drumming up to the next level.
By recognizing which of these vital areas are holding you back, and by building your weekly practice routine to address them, you’ll build the tools you need to become a stand-out drummer and escape mediocrity for good.
If you can remain disciplined, goal-oriented, and patient, you may be surprised at how quickly you improve.
So go to your kit (or practice pad) and start putting into practice all of the above exercises. If you can make just some (or all!) of the suggestions part of your weekly drumming routine, you’ll be on track to becoming a stand-out drummer.
Got any other tips to become a better drummer? Let us know and we’ll add them here!
Want some more inspiration, or some more great drumming articles?
- Nine (actually useful!) things you can do with your old drumheads
- Avoid buying a lemon: Here’s how to spot great used drums
- Find the perfect drumhead for your sound with our free drumhead selector