Every drummer has a totally unique playing style behind the drum set. You can tailor your drumming and drum set in so many ways. There are infinite ways to combine rhythms and parts of the drum to get the sound and style that you want.
No two drummers out there are the same. There are so many individual and isolated bodily movements involved with playing the drums that make it a very different experience from learning to play the piano or guitar.
This is what makes drumming so fun! Having the ability to customize your drum set and develop your own distinctive musical style behind the drum set makes it so rewarding and enjoyable.
While there is plenty of room for individuality on the drums, it’s important to understand there are common bad drumming habits that can stand in the way of your progress as a drummer.
These bad drumming habits are often developed early on, and many drummers are actually unaware that they are guilty of them. The good news, however, is that they are pretty easy to fix, and the first step to breaking out of these habits is to simply recognize them.
In this article, I’ll be sharing with you 5 common bad drumming habits that you should be aware of in your playing, and I’ll show you how you can overcome them with practical tips.
1. Playing With the Wrong Drum Sticks
Drummers often underestimate the importance of playing with the right drum sticks. Drum sticks act as an extension of a drummer’s arms and they should offer the perfect balance, weight, and playing feel.
The size and weight of a drum stick has a big impact on how a drummer plays in terms of comfort and feel. And not only this, but also in terms of sound. Drum sticks that are too light will lack power, and sticks that are too heavy will sacrifice a lot of speed.
I would suggest using either 5A or 7A size drum sticks for children, and either 5A or 5B for adults. If you like to play loud music, like rock, then you’ll want a heavier feeling drum stick. In comparison, softer styles of music, like jazz, will require a lighter, thinner stick.
There are hundreds of different drum stick sizes out there, and be sure to choose from the top manufacturers, including Vic Firth, Vater, or Pro Mark just to name a few. Stick to these brands, they are not that expensive and they won’t break as often as cheap sticks. Be sure to experiment with different sizes, including artist signature models, to find the perfect sticks for you.
2. Poor Posture and Slouching
Drumming relies on fluidity and ease of movement across the drum set. Poor posture is a particularly bad habit that lots of drummers simply neglect. Correct drumming posture is crucial for helping you to play at your best while also preventing any risk of injury from playing drums.
Begin by setting your drum throne at the optimal height, and most drummers tend to sit too low. So be sure to raise your drum throne height to keep your hip joints slightly above your knees, with your thighs sloping downwards.
Ensure you sit up straight so that your lower back is kept upright and keeps your spine in a healthy shape. Slouching will negatively impact your playing and will also cause real discomfort.
You don’t want to have to extend your arms and legs further than necessary to reach parts of your drum set. Set up your hi-hat stand and bass drum pedal where your feet rest naturally, and position your snare drum directly in between your legs.
Having good posture will offer more freedom and control while playing. Your arms, hands, and feet will be more responsive and agile when you are sat in the optimal position.
3. Lack of Attention to Playing Dynamics
Playing with uneven dynamics reveals a lack of control and precision. In other words, your playing sounds sloppy! I’m not suggesting you have to be a robot or a drum machine, but a drummer must play with consistency.
The drummer most often plays a supportive role in a band and lays the foundation for the music. The drummer helps to keep everyone in time and accompanies the music.
When I talk about dynamics, I refer to how loudly or softly a drummer plays the drums. Depending on what style of music a drummer is playing, and the type of scenario, a drummer needs to match his or her playing to complement the music. The drumming required for acoustic folk is going to be very different to stadium rock!
A drummer must also consider how hard or soft they are playing with each individual limb to build consistency on the drums. It’s not good to produce powerful bass drum strokes with your leg but really soft or inconsistent snare drum hits.
Make a conscious effort to match your hands and feet for even playing dynamics while you play. Try this straightforward 16th note exercise that uses both hands on the snare drum and your right foot on the bass drum. Try to match the playing, so it sounds really smooth and even in terms of rhythm and dynamics.
4. Rushing and Slowing Tempo
While we are on the topic of the importance of drumming with consistency, too many drummers are guilty of rushing or slowing down the tempo! Timekeeping is quite possibly the most essential requirement for a drummer, and this skill needs to be developed over time by practicing with a metronome.
There is no shortcut for building a strong sense of timekeeping and rhythm. It takes a lot of practice. Practicing with a metronome is simply the best thing you can do to speed up your progress. A metronome is great for both rudimental exercises and drum grooves.
Counting the beat while you play is also a great way to help instill an understanding of time and meter. It will also help you feel more confident with tricky subdivisions within a beat where lots might be going on.
It can be challenging to maintain a consistent tempo, but rushing or slowing down is one of the bad drumming habits that needs to be fixed. All drummers must work on their timekeeping in order to be great.
How do you tell a good drummer from a bad drummer? A bad drummer serves themselves, while a good drummer serves the music! It takes a certain amount of maturity to understand this, but the proof is out there.
The world’s best-paid session drummers such as Steve Gadd and Ash Soan are renowned for their ability to play simple beats with impeccable technique and with a flawless groove. Sure, they can play exceptionally fast and difficult things too. But this isn’t what gets them the gigs! They are incredibly sought after for playing simple grooves, but very well.
No matter what stage you are at as a drummer, be sure to consider whether your playing is appropriate for the music, and most importantly, be aware of overplaying.
Tasteful and musical playing is what really sets apart a professional or experienced drummer from an amateur drummer. Give the music space to breathe, and remember that less is more when playing with a band or a singer.
Remember, the drummer is not the frontman; the drummer’s job is to hold the music together, so make sure that you're avoiding these bad drumming habits!
Gideon Waxman is a London based drummer and music educator who holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Westminster. You can read more of his advice over at his popular online music resources Drum Helper and Strong Sounds.