What You Need to Know Before You Play the Drums


Drummers always look like they’re having fun — and that’s probably because they are! The drums are one of the most enthusiastic, energetic, and just plain fun of all the instruments; but learning takes a lot more work than most people realize.

If you’re interested in getting started on the drums, or your kids are showing interest, here are some of the basics you should know.

How Drums Work

All sounds are really just vibrations. When a drumstick connects with a drum, the flexible skin of the instrument vibrates up and down. It’s the air above the skin that makes the sound you hear when it moves — and the differences in air pressure make different sounds.

Sound waves move outward, much like the way water in a pond moves out in ripples. So, when someone beats on a drum a certain way or with a specific technique, a predictable sound occurs based on the sound wave it creates. Learning how to make those same sounds at precisely the right moment encapsulates good drumming.

Drum Set Parts

Contemporary drummers perform on a drum set, also called a drum kit. The parts of the drum set, when used together, produce the percussion sounds common in today’s music. A drum kit consists of:

  • A snare drum that is positioned between the knees of the player and utilizes drumsticks, brushes, and rutes. This drum sits on a stand, so the player doesn’t need to reach far to hit it.
  • A bass drum that sits near the player’s right foot. When the drummer pushes down on a pedal connected to the bass drum, a beater hits the drum head, making a sound.
  • A couple of tom-tom drums – usually at least two per set. These are played with brushes or sticks.
  • A hi-hat, which consists of two cymbals mounted directly on top of each other. They open and close together when the left foot pushes down on a pedal, creating the classic cymbal sound. Sometimes the hi-hat is played with drumsticks, too.
  • One or more cymbals that are on their own stands (separate from the hi-hat), played with drumsticks.

How Drums are Played

Percussion instruments make their sounds when struck by something else (like a stick, or even the hand). Drums differ from other instruments because they do not follow specific notes, like what you would see written on a musical staff. Instead, drums are tuned to a specific single note. Larger drums, and drums with looser heads, are deeper in their sounds. Drums with tighter heads make higher-pitched sounds. So while drummers can elicit the type of sound they would like with technique, the general note and tone of the drum is determined when it is constructed and doesn’t change.

Talking Like a Drummer

If you get serious about playing the drums, you’ll find that the activity has a language all its own. Here are a few of the terms you’ll want to know before you sit down behind your snare:

  • Tubs – this is just another name for drums
  • Kick – another name for the bass drum
  • Pies – another name for the cymbals
  • Drum Fill – this is a musical phrase that is used to fill space in a song. It often moves the song forward to the next section, like a bridge or refrain.
  • Drum Throne – it’s really exactly what it sounds like. The drum throne is where the drummer sits.
  • Rudiments – there are about 40 common rudiments, which are different drum patterns, that can go along with most music. Mastering these goes a long way towards drum mastery.

Think you’re ready to learn the drums? Book a lesson and apply these basics to what you learn! With a little professional training, you could end up the next big rock star, sitting atop your drum throne.