How to Build Drum Speed, Part 1: Hand Speed

Building drum speed is one of the top priorities of most drummers in the world. Playing faster is part of the fun in developing yourself as a drummer. Check out an impressive demonstration of hand speed and some great exercises to build it in the Mike Michalkow’s Complete Drumming System (affiliate link).

Here are some tips:

  1. Even out your hands. We all have a stronger hand. Whatever you can do with your strong hand you should be able to do with your weak hand. Keep in mind that the hand that usually plays the hi-hat and ride is getting so much more practice than the hand that plays the snare. Practice open handed playing. Open handed playing usually means that the left hand plays the hi hat (for right handed players). Check out the book The Weaker Side (affiliate link) by Dom Famularo and Stephane Chamberland and The New Breed (affiliate link) by Gary Chester.
  2. Set a goal. For most hand speed goals that you set, the weaker hand is going to need to get stronger. It might be necessary to isolate the weaker hand and work on it. Increase the tempo in small increments. Keep in mind that certain techniques might take months (or years) to improve. Be patient and trust that it will get easier. If you can play 16th notes at 110 on each hand, then you can play 32nd note singles at 220 bpm. I recently set a goal of playing the Moeller technique relaxed with sixteenth notes, at 120 bpm for five minutes straight with each hand.
  3. Practice on drum pads that give very little rebound. Putty practice pads and Moongel Workout Pads (affiliate link) have become popular in the past decade. Mike claims that he put a putty practice pad on the left side of his dashboard and would tap the left stick while driving. Although this is an excellent use of time management, it does not seem to be safe. Don’t drive and drum.

The Blues Shuffle for Drums

While the shuffle is mostly associated with the blues, it’s a pattern that can be played in any style of music. As a drummer, it’s important to this pattern and all of its variations. While in high school, I studied drums with Chet Doboe. He told me that ability to play a good shuffle would allow me to make more money as a professional drummer. While I can’t draw a direct correlation between my ability to play this groove and my income, I will say that it has come in handy on many occasions.

Here are the basics:

  1. The cymbal pattern is based on triplets.
  2. You play the first and last triplet of every quarter note.
    1 trip let 2 trip let 3 trip let 4 trip let 1 trip let 2 trip let 3 trip let 4 trip let
  3. As it gets quicker, you’ll eventually stop counting and feel it.

To learn more about the basics, check out this article on blues drumming.

My friend, fellow drummer and drum teacher, Chris Scherer said to me once that he felt people get thrown off when learning to play triplets. There is something about adding that third note to the rhythm that makes it a lot more difficult than counting eighth or sixteenth notes. As a drum teacher, I couldn’t agree more.

It’s important to get comfortable counting and feeling triplets.

While the groove itself might seem simple, it can be quite difficult to execute. It’s important to count out loud, go slow, and use a metronome.

According to the Drumming System (affiliate link), the following grooves are important to know:

Jump Shuffle

This is a fast pattern. It’s mostly about what is going on with the hi hat.

  1. The hi hat opens on beats 1 and 3, while closing on 2 and 4.
  2. Next, eliminate the “let” of beats 1 and 3.
  3. This essentially becomes your standard jazz cymbal pattern.
  4. Accent the snare on beats 2 and 4.
  5. The bass drum can play a variety of patterns.

Texas Shuffle

This can be challenging to play at first because both hands play at the exact same time. One is on the ride (or hi hat), the other on the snare. Then accent beats 2 and 4 on the snare. The bass drum can be on beats 1 and 3 or on every quarter note. This is a driving groove! Check out music by Stevie Ray Vaughn with Chris Layton on drums.

Kansas City Shuffle

Like the Texas variation, this is a double shuffle (both ands play the exact same time). It’s a lot faster than the Texas variation. Played on the ride, it sounds happier.

Other Variations

Learn & Master Drums (affiliate link) teaches even more grooves, such as the Flat Tire Shuffle, the Driving Shuffle, and the Charleston Shuffle.

How to Become a Professional Drummer and Find Jobs, Part 6

The Drumming System (affiliate link) has an entire section dedicated to dealing with drum sound checks. Whether you are performing with your band for the first or 500th time, you’ll have to do a this before you perform. The sound person will meet you hours before your performance to make sure everything sounds good for you, your band members, and the audience.

Here are some tips:

  1. This can take a while and requires patience. In fact, it’s tedious and boring.
  2. Once the sound person arrives, you want to become his or her friend. It’s important to break the ice.
    Sometimes they can be incredibly cool. Sometimes they can be incredibly cruel.
  3. Remember that this person is in control of how you sound.
  4. When your asked to hit a drum, play slow quarter notes until you are told to stop. Don’t show off your chops. Sound checking one drum can take up to 45 minutes. Most good sound people can get a good sound in less than 5 minutes.
  5. Hit the drums as hard as you will in the show.
  6. After finishing one drum, you will be asked to do the same on the next drum.
  7. If there is a problem with the sound of a drum, be prepared to tune it and/or muffle it. Therefore it’s important to have a drum key and muffling on you.
  8. Play as many sounds as possible with your hi hat.
  9. When asked to play the whole kit, play the whole kit! Many drummers play the snare bass and hi hat. Also, keep it simple.
  10. When your sound check is done, you might not be needed for a while.
    This is a good time to warm up on a drum pad.
  11. After the other band members get sound checked, you will have to play as entire band. This is the time to make sure sound levels are good and you can hear everyone. If you need something, ask for it.
  12. In most cases, sound check won’t take that long, but sometimes it will. Again, be patient.

How to Become a Professional Drummer and Find Jobs, Part 3

As a professional drummer, it’s important to completely prepared for performances and rehearsals. In addition to having your music down, you want to have the right tools for the job.

First and foremost, you want to have a good drum set and cymbals. Be sure to invest in cases for your drums. Make sure that you have every single part of your drum kit before you leave. A checklist will help you make sure everything is accounted for.

According to the Drumming System (affiliate link), Here’s a list of some things that you will want to have on you at all times:

Stick Bag

It’s important to have a good stick bag with extra drum sticks. Not only do you have extra sticks, but you can put small tools. Here’s a list of tools you want to keep in your stick bag:

  1. Duct Tape – sometimes things break, such as cymbal stands.
  2. Muffling – Moongel (affiliate link) is great.
  3. Cymbal felts – these get lost in transit sometimes. You might take a cymbal off and the felt goes flying.
  4. Small towel – you sweat.
  5. Pens and pencils – you might need to make notes in your music or take down someone’s phone number.
  6. Business cards – always be ready to promote yourself.
  7. Drum keys – you can never have enough drum keys. Have at least 1,500… just kidding. You get the idea.
  8. Headphones or in-ear monitors – I bring my Vic Firth Isolation Headphones (affiliate link) with me and 1/4 to 1/8 inch adapters.
  9. Rubber bass drum hoop protectors – these can easily dissappear.
  10. Extra wing nuts in a few different tread sizes – make sure you buy the right wing nuts for the brand of hardware you use.
  11. Adjustable wrench – this can be used in place of a drum key and can fix anything!
  12. Extra bass drum pedal springs – if your spring breaks, your bass drum pedal will stop working completely.
  13. Sticks, brushes, and mallets – I personally prefer to keep sticks, hot rods, wire brushes, and cymbal mallets in my bag.

[Read more…]

Professional Progressive Rock Drumming

The Drumming System (affiliate link) has a great section on progressive rock. It’s kinda funny, but the instructor, Mike Michalkow, refers to it as wild and bizzare playing. He’s not saying this to insult the style, just stating an opinion (which I share). In fact, he’s a specialist in this style of drumming.

It’s easy to label it as wild and bizzare because it includes odd time playing, crazy fills, intricate snare and hi hat parts. Since most music is written in 4/4, any thing that is performed in an odd time signature might feel weird. Although not a progressive rock song, Dave Brubeck’s Take 5 is one of the few songs with an odd time signature that became wildly popular.

This style of rock began in late 1960’s with bands such as King Crimson, Genesis, and Yes. In the 1970’s bands like Pink Floyd and Rush became popular. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, Dream Theater kept progressive rock alive. King Crimson, Rush, and Dream Theater are still actively performing today.

Neil Peart, Mike Portnoy, Chester Thompson, Phil Collins, and Bill Bruford are drummers who considered to be pioneers of progressive rock. Be sure to check out some of the incredible footage of each of them on YouTube.

The Drumming System (affiliate link) has progressive rock training for drummers at every level.

  1. For beginners, their are beats with snare drum notes in random spots and thirty second notes on the bass drum. It might seem difficult, but it starts off very simple.
  2. For intermediate drummers, the beats add more random snare drum notes, along with sixteenth notes on the snare and bass drum.
  3. For advanced drummers, the beats are straight up WACKY! You get stuff like broken ride cymbal patterns and two and handed sixteenth note triplet ride patterns. Really weird…but also really fun.

Professional Grunge Drumming

The Drumming System (affiliate link) has some great grunge drumming lessons. In fact, I’ve never actually knew of lessons being taught on this style of music until I saw this.

Grunge rock began in late 1980’s and was very popular through the early to mid 1990’s. Bands such as Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam popularized this music.

It became known as the “Seattle sound”: Sloshy, heavy, grungy 1 bar and 2 bar patterns.

Pearl Jam

One memory of grunge music that I will never forget is the first time I saw the video for the song, “Alive”, by Pearl Jam. I was in awe of the drummer, David Abbruzzese. His sound was very powerful and incredibly clear. He also played with great fluidity. I still work to emulate his fluidity around the drum kit today.

Check out the video:


I was in middle school during the birth of grunge music and was heavily influenced by it. Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York album was a CD that I regularly played. (Remember CD’s?) Nirvana’s bestselling hit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” had a huge impact on my generation. I truly believe that this video captures the essence of grunge.

Check out the video:

Improving Your Skills

The Drumming System (affiliate link) has grunge drumming beats for beginner, intermediate, and advanced players.

  1. The beginner beats sometimes have no cymbals in them. This was very popular in the music.
  2. Intermediate beats are a bit more challenging with addition sixteenth notes on the snare and bass drum, plus fills at the end of the beat. Again this was very popular with grunge drumming. Most importantly, they need to be played with a “sloshy” sound.
  3. Advanced beats are so recognizable. They add broken up hi hat patterns, open hi hat patterns,  and sixteenth note triplets on the hi hat.

The actual beats in the style aren’t that technically difficult. The important thing is to develop that feel of this music.

Learn and Master Heavy Metal Drumming

Heavy metal is a style of music that began in the late 1960’s. The style originated from blues-rock and psychedelic rock. Heavy metal is known for its thick, massive sound, that includes extremely amplified distortion, long guitar solos, emphatic beats, and sheer volume. Bands such as Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, Pantera, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, and Metallica are some of the more popular heavy metal bands.

The Drumming System (affiliate link) contains a variety of heavy metal exercises for all levels of playing:

Beginner Exercises

These are usually eighth note based grooves with the hi hat cymbals slightly open. Maybe you might began to add sixteenth note variations on the bass drum and the snare drum. Play them at a moderate tempo and play them HEAVY.

Intermediate Exercises

Add a partial sixteenth note triplet added to the snare or bass drum. Make sure you play with a powerful bass bass drum sound, a convincing pulse on the hi hat, and a slamming 2 and 4 on the snare drum.

Advanced Exercises

These include broken ride patterns, incorporate the toms, and add quarter note triplets.

For myself, I play along to AC/DC.  I have found Phil Rudd’s grooves to be rock solid! There is an art to keeping the groove simple and solid. In terms of drum sound, Lars Ulrich (Metallica), has an incredibly clear sound that inspired many of the drummers of my generation.

Shortly after getting my first drum set, I remember seeing the “Lars Ulrich” drum set in the music store and wanting it so badly. Seeing all of those toms and cymbals looked so cool. Nowadays, I am only concerned about having the smallest drum set possible. It’s interesting how things change.

Sorry to go off on a rant, but I encourage you to check out the Drumming System (affiliate link) and work on the heavy metal exercises. If you’re new to this style, you will find these exercises challenging. If you’re a veteran of this style, you will find these exercises refreshing.

Professional Punk Rock Drumming

According to the Drumming System (affiliate link), punk rock began in the late 1960’s and carried on through the 1970’s. The movement was popularized by bands, such as the Descendants, the Black Flags, the Ramones, and the Sex Pistols. Drummers such as Bill Stevenson paved the way for many of today’s top punk drummers.

Contemporary bands like Green Day and Blink 182 keep punk alive today. Green Day’s drummer, Tre’ Cool and Blink 182’s drummer, Travis Barker are highly regarded in the world of drumming. Punk music has become more popular than ever. In fact, the Broadway musical, American Idiot, is an adaptation of Green Day’s album, American Idiot.

Although I’m in no way an expert on punk drumming, I have spent a good amount of time teaching private lessons to punk drummers in New York. Some argue that the style is very simple and not worthy of mentioning. In terms of complexity, most punk beats are simple. Regardless, you need to understand the feel of these beats to play them well. Like any style of music, I suggested you do a good amount of listening. The previous paragraph provides an outline for finding good discography of material to listen to.

The Drumming System (affiliate link) does a very thorough job of teaching punk beats. It teaches beginner, intermediate, and advanced beats.

  1. Beginner beats include quarter notes, eighth notes and some open hi hat.
  2. Intermediate beats include sixteenth notes, toms, and fancier open hi hat patterns.
  3. Advanced beats get faster and a little more syncopated.
  4. Punk fills can be very challenging. The fills are usually very busy and comprised of sixteenth notes, sixteenth note triplets, and open hi hat. An effective way to practice them is to do a beat for one bar and then a fill.
  5. The Drumming System (affiliate link) also has play along songs (music minus drums) for you to practice with.

One of the challenges that I have regularly encountered with teaching many aspiring punk drummers is lack of technique. I’ve witnessed many drummers WORKING TOO HARD to try to play as fast as they can. Speed is very important in punk drumming! It’s also important to prevent yourself from getting an injury. The Drumming System (affiliate link) has an incredible amount of material on developing good technique and speed.

The Best Quiet Practice Drum Set

Drummers don’t have it easy. Practicing and keeping the volume low is a unique challenge every drummer will face at one point or another. Although many options are available for keeping the volume level low, I am still on the quest for the perfect “quiet drum set“.

Initially, I tried using drum mutes and cymbal mutes on a standard drum set. They felt unnatural and had no rebound.  I felt that it made me work harder and I would end up playing very tensely. Drum mutes and cymbal mutes have improved in recent years. If you want to make your acoustic drums quiet, these are be your best choice. I highly recommend Vic Firth Drum & Cymbal Mutes (affiliate link).

Just a side note: One of my drum teachers (who shall remain nameless) actually put briefs (underwear) over the cymbals to mute them. As entertaining as it was, it kinda worked.

A few years ago, I discovered mesh drumheads, which are extremely quiet drum heads. They were similar to the heads used on electronic drums. I liked them because you could actually hear the tones of the different drums. Although they were great for keeping the volume low, I easily broke though the heads on a regular basis.

I currently practice at home on a Gibraltar GPo8 Powerrack Pad Outfit (affiliate link). It takes up a small amount of space. I had to purchase a separate bass drum pedal and drum throne. I also added a hi-hat cymbal stand, hi-hat cymbals, and a hi-hat mute to use with the Gibraltar GPo8 Powerrack Pad Outfit (affiliate link). This has given me quiet practice setup that emulates an actual acoustic drum set.

Practicing on the Gibraltar GPo8 Powerrack Pad Outfit (affiliate link) combined with using my acoustic drums has actually helped me to make some significant improvements in my drumming. The drum pad set forces me to focus on precision and to really visualize the sounds that I want to come out of the instrument. When I practice on my acoustic drum set, I get to refine the sounds and feels that I have worked on at home.

Another choice is an electronic drum set. Electronic drum sets allow you practice quietly, but get real drum sounds. In fact, electronic drums made by Roland and Yamaha sound like acoustic drums. I am partial to Roland, because they feel more like acoustic drums in comparison to Yamaha.

Keep in mind that most electronic drum sets don’t come with a drum throne or bass drum pedal. The best part of having a drum set like this is that you can plug in your headphones and play all night long without disturbing any of your neighbors. There’s even a place to plug an iPod in so you can jam with your favorite music.

If you want the best electronic drum set available,invest in the
Roland TD20SX V-Pro Electronic Drum Set
(affiliate link).