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How Much Time Does it Take to Learn the Drums?

By Yann, published on 03/07/2018 We Love Prof - IN > Music > Drums > How Long Does it Take to Learn to Play the Drums?

If I could save time in a bottle, the first thing that I’d like to do… – Jim Croce, Time in a Bottle

Don’t we all wish we could save time for the things we want to do, to prolong the moments spent with those we love, and merely gloss over school, work, doctor’s appointments and traffic jams?

A sort of fast-forward over the mundane parts of life so that we can savour the delicious aspects of our existence?

Unfortunately, time, like money, has its own priorities, spending itself relentlessly and inexorably, in measured increments, with no regard at all for our desires.

Such as the desire to make music by learning how to play the drums!

Knowing that time is limited, pressing and in ever-diminishing quantity – in more ways than one, it is quite natural to wonder how long it would take to learn any skill.

Let us now look at other facets that govern the time needed to learn the drums through and through.

Perhaps practising the drums makes time feel like it drags by! Time spent on unpleasant tasks seems to drag on forever! Source: Pixabay Credit: Xavi Andrew

Wibbly-Wobbly Time

People assume that time is a strict linear progression, from cause to effect… Doctor Who

If the principle of cause and effect were inaccurate – as our good Doctor posits, you may suppose that, no matter how much time you practice drum rudiments, paradiddles and grooves, you might never improve.

That means that, if the laws of cause and effect are valid – you practice and you get more proficient, then the only other variables in that equation are time and you.

Have you ever anticipated an event with dread? An exam, a dentist appointment… perhaps losing your job or having to relocate?

You nevertheless wracked your brain to study and you went to have your teeth worked on, didn’t you?

But, was that period of study pleasurable? Did you search for the light of understanding, to grasp fundamentals of whatever subject you were to test in?

Or did the time you spent hitting the books drag on, with only the most minute nuggets of information filtering through your disdain for the topic?

There seems indeed to be something so true about that quote from Doctor Who…

As time sadistically speeds up the closer your dentist appointment gets!

What if your parents wanted you to take drum lessons but you had no desire to bang on the drums? What if, by some odd chance, you were absolutely arrhythmic?

That would make each drum lesson feel like it lasts an eternity!

Conversely, if all you want to do is bang on the drum all day, as Todd Rundgren does, everyday concerns like meetings and sales calls might feel like aeons passing before you can once again pick up your drumsticks.

It is a very human trait to quantify everything through measurement.

That, in turn, ties in neatly with trait theory, which postulates that, if we are likely to do something, it is most probably because we are predisposed to doing so.

And here were are again, back at cause and effect!

So: do you like to play the drums because an affinity for music is an innate quality you possess?

Or do you measure each drum beat against the clock instead of your metronome, because you would rather be anywhere, even the dentist’s chair, than behind a drum set?

And what does all of this have to do with the time it takes to learn the drums?

Why, everything! Read on…

Holding your drumsticks incorrectly may prolong the time it takes to learn the drums How you hold your drumsticks can have an effect on how long it takes to learn how to play drums Source: Pixabay Credit: Tookapic

The Ten Thousand Hour Rule

In the book Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, we are confronted with the postulate that, in order to master any task, one must devote 10,000 hours to practising the correct way.

Readers and reviewers of that tome especially appreciated the perspective presented in that study: that individual potential is often overlooked in the quest for competence.

In plain speak: the basic theory is that, if you apply yourself to any task, hobby or occupation for that specific amount of time… you will not necessarily master it.

What it really comes down to is whether you have an aptitude for the learning you’ve set yourself to.

Let us say you do have an aptitude for drumming and want to learn how to do it well: most likely, you will succeed in your goal, provided you work at it correctlymore on that in a moment.

Still: doesn’t the idea of devoting ten thousand hours to the pursuit of excellence in drum playing seem a bit daunting?

Especially if you have other commitments, such as work, school, family and friends, and other hobbies?

And what does that phrase ‘practice correctly’ mean?

There are a few ways to practice the drums incorrectly:

  • playing without warming up: you should exercise your hands, wrists and grip before you hit the first drum stroke

  • not using a metronome: without a timekeeping device, you may drop the tempo once you get tired – a critical error!

  • not using a practice pad: you should spend the same amount of time with the drum pad as you do on the drum kit

  • not sticking to a regular practice schedule – remember: you are not just learning to paradiddle, you are also conditioning your arms and hands!

  • holding the sticks improperly: this can make playing sixteenth notes more difficult, and possibly cause injury!

  • keeping poor posture

  • favouring your weak hand by using mostly your dominant hand

  • setting your sights too high; ignoring fundamentals

Any of these variables can render any time you spend to learn to play the drums ineffective, which will prolong the time it will take you to master drum patterns and drum notation.

First, because you will have to unlearn all of those bad habits, and then learn effective drumming skills.

Another pertinent factor of the time it takes to learn drums is who you learn from.

There are plenty of online materials for you to learn the drums, and you could also invest in books to learn how to play the drums, but learning in a vacuum is seldom a good idea.

At the very least, you should sign up for beginner drum lessons, if only to get a grasp on the fundamentals of drumming and someone to show you the more intricate drum grooves.

What is Your Intent?

Do you plan on building your life around drumming? Do you see yourself playing in a rock band, touring the world?

Are you hoping to compete internationally by displaying your skill within a corps and win prizes?

Would you like to audition for the Highland Drum Corps?

Each of these requires different skills and aptitudes. For the rock or jazz drummer, a solid technique on a full drum set is required.

As a member of a marching band, you only have to beat a bass drum or a snare drum, but must be able to walk in complicated patterns while keeping the beat.

Whether you intend to play drums as an avocation or if playing drums is your life: your intent weighs significantly on the time it will take you to learn how to play drums.

Would you like to audition for the Highland Drum Corps? Playing the drum in a corps requires an entirely different skills set than playing the drums in a band Source: Pixabay Credit: Skeeze

Laying Down the Drum Beats

Anyone’s ability to learn to play drums comes down to three factors, of which time is the least significant.

Of primary importance is your dedication to learning drums.

If you do not have the coordination, heart, patience, and desire to learn syncopation or how to read drum sheet music, it will take you an eternity to master percussion instruments, even with drumming lessons twice a week.

The next vital factor is how you learn.

Will you seek out a drum teacher? Or will you opt for online drum lessons; ones where you take instruction but don’t get instant feedback or correction?

At least at the outset of your learning the drums, you should have a music teacher who will instruct you on all of the safety facets of drumming as well as teach you how to set up your kit and maintain it properly.

Metallica’s Lars Ulrich has been labelled a bad drummer because he does not practice and seems generally negligent about his kit.

In fact, he does not like practising drum fills and beats alone. He reasons that his instrument supports the band, therefore should not be played without the band. Logical!

Whether you are a fan of his or not, please do not emulate that attitude.

For every hour spent in drum lessons, you should spend two practising on your drum pad.

With dedication, aptitude and work, you will be able to learn the drums fairly quickly – say, 10 to 12 months to become proficient, and about 18 months to 2 years to get really good.

And you won’t need to save time in any bottle!

How ironic that the song opening this article features no drums at all…

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