I often have people contact me to take a couple of lessons before jumping in and buying a drumset. A topic that often comes up with these students is “How can I practice the drums without a drumset?”. I always welcome this discussion because it shows me that regardless of the fact that the student does not have access to a set of drums, they are still serious about learning the concepts and improving.
A lot of drumming is muscle memory and therefore you can actually do this without a kit. You just need to teach your limbs to move in a certain way. At the very least you can tap the floor with your feet and tap your knees with your hands to practice certain coordinations needed on the drums.
Another important aspect to drumming that can be worked on is timing. You can practice timing without drums as well, and if you continue to read this article I will give you several ways to do this:
1. Practice Pad
Practicing on a practice pad is the easiest way to practice away from the drums and to keep your hands in shape. You can work on things such as hand-technique, hand-conditioning, and rudiments while approximating the feel of a snare drum.
2. Multiple Stroke Exercises
You can easily work on hand-conditioning by practicing things like multiple-stroke exercises. The concept of hand-conditioning was covered in my article “12 Minutes to Stronger Hands”, and includes a 9-part video series. Check this article out. It contains many important exercises for those wishing to take their drumming to a higher level.
3. Master Studies
Also, check out Joe Morello’s pivotal hand-technique book Master Studies, which in my opinion is the authority on hand-conditioning.
Work on rudiments to expand your vocabulary. You can also work on important things such as articulation, precision, and fluidity. Don’t worry about speed, this will come on its own. Work on new ideas and review old ideas. Without a metronome FIRST, to develop fluidity in your playing, and then SECONDLY add the metronome to solidify your ability to play in time.
I preach to my students that we shouldn't use the metronome as a speed tool because this puts stress on the body as it tries to force its way through tempos that it is not prepared for. Speed comes with consistent practice and focusing on proper mechanics. Speed happens over time
5. Pillow Practice
Another thing you can do to build your hand muscles is to practice on a pillow! This is a great workout for your wrists as there is almost no rebound and you will be required to lift the stick yourself. Practice your rudiments, or multiple-stroke exercises such as the Stone Killer (which is covered in Master Studies). Or jam along to your favourite tunes. Pillow jam!
*Challenge: I once attended a Denis Chambers masterclass where he talked about holding phone books under his arms while he practiced on a pillow. This completely isolated his hands, thus not allowing him to move his arms in any way. Watch this clip below and you're see there is no arguing with Mr. Chambers' results!
6. Drum Beats
There are a ton of coordination exercises you can do away from the drum set. Firstly, I would recommend practicing the coordination for any beats you are working on.
Work on coordinations that are difficult and that you would need to spend time on before even getting to the drumset. This way you won’t have to waste any time when you do have access to a kit, rather, you can work on things like sound, articulation, rebound control etc….
7. 4-Way Coordination
The book 4-Way Coordination by Marvin Dahlgren and Elliot Fine is another great resource that you can practice away from the drum set.
8. The Wheel of Rhythm
A concept that myself and drummer Mat Higden have been working on is The Wheel of Rhythm. This is a four-limb independence concept that can be applied to any genre of music, and is very challenging! You don't need a drum set to practice it either, which is how it ended up here. Check it out:
9. Air Drumming
Another way to practice coordination is just to airdrum along to music! This is fun and easy, and who knows, maybe it will help you to become the next Neil Peart!
10. Rock Band
A favourite of mine, it’s to play Rock Band! I have witnessed people who can play at the expert level on Rock Band play drums for the first time and they are already playing the drums at an intermediate level, having learned the basic coordinations and the fundamentals for having good rhythm while playing a video game.
11. Foot Development
Working on 4-limb coordination will also help you to develop your feet as well. Practice heel down to develop your shin muscles. They might burn a bit at first, but push through it and you will really build your shin muscles.
Check out master drummer Thomas Lang discussing the many different facets of foot technique:
RHYTHMIC & MELODIC DEVELOPMENT
12. Clapping & Singing
One exercise that has helped me a lot with improving my rhythmic vocabulary away from the drums is to clap a repeating rhythms while singing a melody. For example, try clapping quarter notes and singing your favorite song. Can you do it without mixing up the clapping rhythm? It’s tougher than you think! Once you get the basic rhythm down then try clapping more complex repeated rhythms and singing along.
13. Slow Quarter Notes
Clapping slow quarter notes can greatly increase your sense of time. Set the metronome at 30 beats per minute and try to clap perfectly in time.
If you have the space to setup a drumset at your domicile, but volume is still an issue, then check out the Evans Soundoff Pads which can drastically cut down the volume of the kit.
Using the suggestions given above, you can still learn a lot and improve your drumming without even being seated at a kit! Now you know how to practice without drums. So get to work!
Note: Learn to play drums without a drum set PDF COMING SOON!
As I often mention, there is no substitute for a good teacher. If you have questions, or perhaps need clarification then I strongly encourage you to find a teacher and work through these ideas with them. You will develop much more quickly and will eradicate any bad habits that could develop if practicing without guidance. You can always contact me about lessons at my studio in Montreal, or on Skype. But this isn’t about me, it’s about the art of drumming, so find the best teacher you can and stick with it.
Brandon Goodwin Bio
Brandon has worked with renowned jazz musicians such as Braxton Cook, Grammy-award winning artists Delfeayo Marsalis, and Kebbi Williams, as well as some of Canada’s top talent, including Fraser Hollins, Al McLean, and Samuel Blais.
Brandon has studied with some of Canada’s top drummers, including, Nasyr Abdul Al-Kabyr (Dizzy Gillespie), Dave Laing, and Dave Robbins, and has also studied privately with internationally acclaimed drummers Ari Hoenig and Dan Weiss.
He has taught masterclasses at high schools and universities in Canada and the U.S. and is the owner/principal operator of Studio Drum MTL. Based out of Verdun QC, Brandon services Greater Montreal, Lasalle, Lachine, NDG, Westmount, and Cote St Luc with his high quality drum lessons.
Brandon’s group B’s Bees has performed concerts in North America and in Asia, at major jazz festivals and in some of the best jazz clubs in the world. The group has also performed masterclasses at high schools and in universities in Canada, the U.S. and in Asia.
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