Did you learn to play drums by ear?

NickSchles

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I actually started my drumming journey on my own, without any guidance. I started playing along to songs on my own... I learned by listening to music, and watching people play on TV or live, and just experimenting. Lessons and structured learning, oddly enough, came much later. That said, my first instrument isn't even the drums; it's the guitar, and I taught myself how to play too, never having any lessons. I guess, what it boils down to is that I have an ear for this type of thing, as I can pick up instruments fairly quickly. Not a brag (or humble brag), but it is what it is.

So, some years ago I wrote an article for Drummer Magazine (a UK publication that folded some years ago) trying to distill my mental process of learning by ear for people (and drummers) who were curious about it.

Now, the article was a feature piece in the magazine, which is cool, but because it was printed, there was no two-way conversation about it. So I'm curious as to what your process is in learning by ear. I'd love to hear people's experience with this.

If you're curious / interested in reading the article, I published it on my blog here some years ago. Check it out here:
https://nickschlesinger.com/playing-drums-by-ear
 

fusseltier

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I learned by ear, and after a couple years I actually went to an old big band - jazz drummer that happened to have a drum shop within an hour from me.
I went a couple of times, he told me what I needed to improve, and that was it.
 

backtodrum

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I learned by ear and hours upon hours of wood shedding. I think sometimes I wish I had learned to read music and was more versed in music terminology, rudiment study, and theory and such. I would have liked to have learned to count the correct way instead of the way I have taught myself out of necessity etc. I've done reasonably well on my own, but its been a challenge to play with really trained individuals because I feel sometimes they are talking down to me in somewhat of a snobbish way. I get the proverbial "what do you know you are just the drummer attitude" or the "You're not a real musician you are just a drummer" condescension. They always seem to like the way I play, its just they like to let it be known they are trained and I am not so I don't know what I'm talking about etc, even though most times I end up being right about whatever the issue is. I know I can always learn this stuff if I really wanted to bad enough, but anymore I'm on the backside of my life and drumming career, I'm getting older, and now it would be way more effort than its worth.
 
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jansara

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I actually started my drumming journey on my own, without any guidance. I started playing along to songs on my own... I learned by listening to music, and watching people play on TV or live, and just experimenting. Lessons and structured learning, oddly enough, came much later. That said, my first instrument isn't even the drums; it's the guitar, and I taught myself how to play too, never having any lessons. I guess, what it boils down to is that I have an ear for this type of thing, as I can pick up instruments fairly quickly. Not a brag (or humble brag), but it is what it is.
That's how I started. I was lucky to have a natural ear for music and was playing professionally full-time in my teens before I began formal music study. Everything made sense because I had real experiences with which to relate the theory. That was especially true after having had eight years or so playing professionally under my belt before I learned to read. The written rudimental figures were familiar, as I had discovered many of them by ear. At one point, when I had over 50 private students a week, mostly intermediate and advanced, I put as much emphasis as was possible on ear training with those who had a natural ability.

My one regret is never having taken formal piano lessons.
 

Matched Gripper

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I actually started my drumming journey on my own, without any guidance. I started playing along to songs on my own... I learned by listening to music, and watching people play on TV or live, and just experimenting. Lessons and structured learning, oddly enough, came much later. That said, my first instrument isn't even the drums; it's the guitar, and I taught myself how to play too, never having any lessons. I guess, what it boils down to is that I have an ear for this type of thing, as I can pick up instruments fairly quickly. Not a brag (or humble brag), but it is what it is.

So, some years ago I wrote an article for Drummer Magazine (a UK publication that folded some years ago) trying to distill my mental process of learning by ear for people (and drummers) who were curious about it.

Now, the article was a feature piece in the magazine, which is cool, but because it was printed, there was no two-way conversation about it. So I'm curious as to what your process is in learning by ear. I'd love to hear people's experience with this.

If you're curious / interested in reading the article, I published it on my blog here some years ago. Check it out here:
https://nickschlesinger.com/playing-drums-by-ear
Don't we all learn to play by ear, with or without formal training?
 

drums1225

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I learned 90% of what I know by ear, and most of my practice time was spent playing along with music, but I took lessons from day one.
 

bolweevil

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I learned from a combination of listening to albums (cassettes, that was my era), several casual lessons from my dad, and a handful of teachers over the years. The rest is books, youtube, and this place!
 

phdamage

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sure did - from playing along to old punk records.

i can read music, though am a bit rusty and clumsy with drum music. i played saxophone for 10 years. i took lessons after my first couple years for a little bit.
 

cornelius

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I was lucky to have a great teacher from the start - but most of what I learned was from listening and playing gigs.
 

Seb77

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Don't we all learn to play by ear, with or without formal training?
No. If you start by having lessons that focus on reading music, counting, snare drum etudes, coordination eexercises, you need to listen to yourself and your teacher while you're doing it, but you're not learning to play by ear. That's the way I started out. (Luckily I also got to play in a band soon after, where things were different).
With my students these days, I try to include imitation learning and improvisation early on, to include this element in the formal teaching context.
 

shuffle

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2 months of formal,just getting out there ie mileage.
Listen,listen,listen.
I play pocket, poke my head out there every once in a while but keep that feel!
 
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DanRH

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Yes, initially. I wore out records. This was in '65. I did take band class in the 7th though the 12th grade (marching, orchestra, jazz band, etc) so I learned how to read but left it after that. I'm a terrible sight reader. I did take some lessons in Jr. College. But for the most to this day, it's all ear.
 

Matched Gripper

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No. If you start by having lessons that focus on reading music, counting, snare drum etudes, coordination eexercises, you need to listen to yourself and your teacher while you're doing it, but you're not learning to play by ear. That's the way I started out. (Luckily I also got to play in a band soon after, where things were different).
With my students these days, I try to include imitation learning and improvisation early on, to include this element in the formal teaching context.
I think "what we've got here is failure to communicate." First, by "learn to play by ear," I think the OP meant being self taught. Didn't you just support my point in your post? Have you never practiced by playing along to recordings? Do your students not practice by playing along to recordings? Just because you had formal training from the start, or at any point, doesn't mean you haven't learned some (or even most), of what you play on the drum-set by ear. You don't develop your own voice on the drum-set from method books, reading texts and teachers. Those learning tools are hugely beneficial, but, I think all drummers learn to play, in large part by playing, listening to themselves, to other drummers, and other musicians.

My point is that we are all self taught, to one degree or another.
 
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BennyK

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I've visualized rhythm geometrically from the beginning . Transcribing this to my four limbs was architectural .

Once I mastered a beat or groove , I was curious to see how it looked written on a page .
 
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LRod1707

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I too learned by ear. I started at about 9 years old and would just try to play along to whatever I heard. Then I saw the "Tom Sawyer" video on MTV when MTV was new. I was blown away by Neil Peart. That was my intro into Rush and my motivation to really take drumming in another direction. Hours of practice every day!
A few years after I started, my folks got me a drum teacher. I already knew how to play but he taught me some techniques & how to read music. That lasted only about a year because I was more interested in playing on my own or with a band.
 

KevinD

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For me I would say both... I had snare lessons in 5th grade school, then a private teacher who was very good, his overall plan was to prepare his students to work, but it took me a while to grasp the big picture. So in the beginning most of the discoveries and even advancements I made were by trying to figure out and play to Monkees, Beatles and Big Band records. My folks had some "Greatest Hits from the Big Bands" type records which were really helpful and it helped me develp a lifeling appreciation for Big Band music. If I had something I could not work out I would have my teacher help me. Really though, it was a lot of listening. That and watching every variety show (Pre MTV days) that had a drummer on it.

I think for any instrument having "good ears" is probably the most important quality, so the listening and "learning by ear" approach was extremely beneficial.
 

yetanotherdrummer

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I took lessons and I was in school band from 6th grade through high school. I also took piano and guitar lessons, and I even taught beginner drum lessons to kids in my teens. So I can read music, know some music theory, etc.

But then I got out into the "real" world of gigging musicians, and it was all by ear. And most of the guys that I worked with couldn't even read music.
 


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