Back in college, I went abroad to beautiful Ireland to study there. And I really loved it – except for the fact that I couldn’t take my drum set with me. Yet, there was no way I wouldn’t practice for a year. So I started to look for ways to practice drumming without drums. And not only did I find them – I’m still using them and forsaking my drum set for a few days every once in a while. For practicing drums away from my kit has made me a far better drummer. And it can do the same for you.
Not to mention that – the way I show you – you don’t have to pay for any gear and can become a drummer today…
Why Practicing Without A Drum Kit Works
So why should such a crazy thing as practicing drums without a drum set work? Isn’t that a contradiction in itself?
It isn’t. Because the goal of your practice is not (or shouldn’t be) to become more and more attached to your drum set. Your goal should be to build up exactly 2 things:
- Muscle memory (aka coordination) so you can move all 4 limbs into different directions with different speed and different intensity without making your brain form a knot
- Timing so you can perform those movements at the right moment
And you might already see it: neither building muscle memory nor timing requires a drum set. Your brain and your arms don’t care if they hit 2 real cymbals when moving or not. If you repeat the movement enough times, your brain will store the movement either way.
And you can proove this to yourself. Try it out for a week and notice if you’re thinking less about the partiular movements you’ve made. I bet you will!
5 Ways To Practice Drumming Without Drums
So let’s just assume for a minute that this stuff works. Then there’s is still not the one-size-fits-all method. There are various ways to substitue a drum set and they will cater to different purposes. I’m giving you the 5 ways that I’ve found to be most effective during my stay in Ireland and that I have refined since.
1. Pillow Practice for Your Hands
This is where I started back in the day. I took a good ol’ pillow and a pair of sticks and practiced my rudiments as I would on my electronic drum set or my practice pad at home.
Sticks are important, because they enable you to replicate the exact finger and hand motions that you would perform when playing a drum set too. So this kind of practicing is 100% transferable.
And it will actually give you an edge over drummers not leaving their drum set every once in a while. For a pillow is far softer than a drum head and therefore has much less rebound. That means, it won’t throw the stick back to you, so your muscles have to do all the heavy lifting. This will be difficult in the beginning, but that’s why it’s called practicing. You’ll adapt and get better in no time. And once you return to your drum set with considerably more rebound, you’ll be noticeably faster.
A good starting point for pillow practice are the exercises Hyorki Nieblas shows here:
2. Air Drumming for Your Arms
I supposed most of us have had their secret air drumming moments before ever seriously thinking about learning the drums for real. And air drumming is more than foolish imaginative play. For as I said, your arms and brain don’t care if there’s a real drum set to hit. They only care about the movement.
So here you don’t even need sticks (although they don’t hurt), because it’s not about incorporating rebound or training your finger and hand muscles. Rather, air drumming helps develop the muscle memory and coordination in your arms. So simply take on any groove or piece of sheet music, visualize where your individual drum set parts are situated, and go smash that imaginative kit.
And the crucial point about air drumming is this: If you want to hit, say, the crash cymbal repeatedly, your arm should move to and arrive at approximately the same point in the air as if there really was a cymbal. Otherwise there will no repetitive movement for your brain to internalize.
If visualizing alone is not enough for you, you can make your imagined drum set real in all kinds of ways. This guy painted it onto his wall – and his air drumming is very, very good:
And once you want to step up your game, you can go for the world’s first air drumming kit. But again, I said you don’t need to buy anything and I stand by it. This is optional.
3. “Ground Drumming” for Your Legs & Feet
I totally made “ground drumming” up. But I did, because I want you to distinguish it from air drumming. Air drumming is for the big muscles in your arms while this type of kit-less practice is focused on the smaller muscles in your feet and (partly) your shin and thigh. If you think of the ground like a pillow, this type is actually more like pillow practice…
…and just like that it will give you a huge edge when you get (back) onto a drum set with a proper pedal and rebound. The ground won’t offer much rebound, so it’s quite likely that you’ll feel the muscles in your ankle and thigh after only a few minutes of practice. This is a sign of progress and goes by. And will make you much faster on a real drum set.
Ground drumming is suitable for practicing both heel-down and heel-up techniques. Ryan Alexander Bloom shows you how:
4. Hum or Clap for Your Timing
Contrary to the other 3 methods of drum-less practice, this one does not develop muscle memory. It’s only for timing – which can be beneficial if you’re not good at keeping the time yet.
And I deliberatly chose humming or clapping over singing, beatboxing and more things that others suggested, because humming and clapping are fairly non-complex tasks. So they enable you to take the muscle memory and coordination / intonation part out of the equation and focus only on timing.
And before you think clapping must be boring: make no mistake. My first teacher had me clap rudiments for 6 months before I ever got to see a snare drum (not to speak of a full kit). Okay: that was boring, but in hindsight it made my timing super exact. Yet, clapping can and does get pretty awesome if you take it as far as this:
What About You?
Have you tried any of those methods and care to share your experience? Or do you have a question or don’t see the point of my explanations? I’d love to hear any of that in the comments. I’ll answer 100% of the time!
And if you’re ready to try out these methods, but don’t what to actually practice – sign up here and I’ll show you how you can be a much better drummer in 3 weeks from now.