How to study the drums... without a drum set

Drumming without a drum set

I will show you in this article, how you can improve your drumming and keep on practicing… without a drum set.

Let’s be honest, our beloved instrument rocks but it does come with some downsides.

Maybe you live in a small apartment and since it is quite big and heavy, it won’t be easy to fit one in your living room. 

Or maybe you just can’t afford it right now. It is expensive, and it is not rare to be ready to jump-start our practice way before our wallet does. Don’t worry, you are not alone.

It is also possible that you just temporarily don’t have access to a drum kit and you’re worried that you might slow your progress or even worse: lose some of your hard-gained skills.

Don’t worry though, there are solutions to improve, at least, some aspects of your drumming without even owning a drum set. And I’m going to tell you which one so you can use it right now.

1. Practicing power and precision with a pillow

Pillow Drumming

Even if you don’t own a drum kit, there’s a high chance that you do own a pillow. In fact, I hope for you that you do, and not just for drum practice…

The biggest downside of a pillow is that it doesn’t allow your sticks to rebound. And you know what? This is exactly why we are going to use it.

Because even if there won’t be much musicality to it (except if you own one of the amazing devices we discovered at NAMM) since you don’t have the rebound to help you, you must use pure force and wrist mobility to hit it with your drumsticks.

Just see yourself as a boxer with a punching bag. The bag is heavy and doesn’t move so much. This allows the boxer to improve the strength of his punches and kicks and also to work the gesture.

That’s exactly what you are going to do with your pillow

You can even try to “play” faster to enhance mobility and strength in your wrists and apply it directly on a true drum kit when you have access to one.

2. Flexibility and coordination with a practice pad

Practice Pad

OK, this one is a bit obvious. But if you own a practice pad it doesn’t mean you can’t use your pillow. Actually, both are complementary.

If the pillow is your punching bag as a boxer, see the practice pad as your boxing pear (OK that’s enough boxing analogy here).

With a practice pad, you get the full rebound and you can use it to work your rudiments. Like the paradiddle for example.

Work with a click and try to go from a really slow tempo to a much higher bpm step by step.

Trust me, you will be really happy that you did when you get back on your drum kit.

Sebastien Polisset uses this technique to perfectly mimic electronic samples on an acoustic drum set.

Don’t forget the footwork. Try to play the kick on every beat and the hi-hat on 2 & 4 for example.

If you don’t own a practice pad, you can get the same one that I use here.

3. Train your ears

Girl listening to music through headphones

Have you had people tell you that “Drumming is not all about technique”? Well, now you do. Because drumming is not all about technique.

It is also about musicality and the cohesion with the other instruments when there are some.

And a good way to practice that… is to listen. Listen to the music you like. Or just listen to a drummer that you like. And write it down.

Yes, you read that right.

I know it seems very scholar but trust me, this is a very effective and powerful exercise. Try to write down the drum section of the track. Identify the different fills, the patterns, and the musical phrases.

Chances are, you will completely rediscover some of your favorite tracks.

You will also improve your mental library of grooves and fills that you can then use on your own, or just make your own version of them and write down your own parts without a drum kit!

4. Use the ground

Feet on the ground

Yes. The ground. The one you stand on.

Try to practice some rudiments with your feet while standing on a chair for example. You can combine this with a pillow, a practice pad, or even some air drumming with a good track in your ears (who needs singing in the shower when you can drum on your couch anyway?)

Just make sure that you don’t disturb some neighbors below if you live in a building because you can easily get caught up in the dynamic. Yes, this comes from personal experience. Sorry Mrs. Belmart.

You can use a carpet or some kind of yoga mat to limit the vibrations if you are in this situation.

5. Get creative

Bucket drummer street artist

Honestly, if you want to work muscle memory and coordination, just about anything could mimic a drum kit.

Think about this bucket drummer you saw on the streets the other day. Or some of the old pans of aunt Martine in your kitchen.

Arrange it so you can have the basics and work your coordination this way. Who knows, it could even give you some amazing ideas on how to organize your real drum set

And of course, you will need some really good drumsticks. And I believe we are a really good option if not the best, at Vikory.

PV NOVA x Vikory drumsticks

Our drumsticks are denser than their counterpart and more resistant. They provide you with great feedback while playing and great sensations while it limits the vibrations and their impact on your wrists and your gear.

Also, most drummers think they look really badass and I tend to agree with them. :)

You can get yourself a pair here if you're interested.

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