Did you learn to play drums by ear?

repete

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I would say mostly yes. I started out like most kids, on a practice pad, learning to read out of a book. Sticking to 1/4, 1/8 and 16th note exercises. In the mean time
my brother had formed a band with some friends. They were 14-15 while I was 12 and they would practice at our house. I would watch the drummer and soon I was picking up
what he was doing on my pad, basically playing beats and I would play the pad along with the band. From there I started progressing on my own and would play on the drummers kit that was left at our house. I would set up the record player on the floor with headphones and play to the records of the songs they were doing in the band - So while I did learn the basics at lessons I was playing more than I was being taught at the time which I picked up on my own.
 

Tornado

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I guess I've never thought of "playing by ear" as something that really applied to drums. That's something I think of with pitched instruments like piano or guitar or saxophone. Even if you took lessons, I doubt any teacher ever started a basic rock beat with a book. The teacher says, "watch this, do this" first. Then, of course, there's the written exercises to work on while the teacher isn't there. So I don't know if there's drummers who don't learn things by ear. But the idea of a drummer listening to a beat and playing it back just doesn't seem in the same ballpark as someone listening to a melody and playing it back on something like the piano.
 

JDA

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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..
so you're saying you started on Set; not taking snare drum lessons 1st (sometimes without owning a drum)
 

Davo

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Took accordion lessons for a couple years starting at age 11 . So I had sheet music reading experience and a good sense of timing . Was at a 12 year level on the accordion in 2 years . At 14 , I sat on my neighbors drums and played everything he could first time out and he'd been at it for a few years already . Not wanting to be Myron Florin on the Lawrence Welk show at 14 , I bought my first Drumset which I still own . The old man was pissed and the rest is history.
 

bassanddrum84

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Started when I was 2 before that my parents claim I was banging on buckets and pans. Learned by ear. Learned rudiments about ten years old. When I turned 22 learned to read music and chart it out.
 

pwc1141

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Totally self taught. Never had any lessons but picked up a few tricks from drummer buddies over the years. My progression was from early pop and rock through dixieland jazz to be-bop and Latin. Found that I could switch between genres easily having gone through that learning curve from easy to harder. Having said all that, I wish I had had some formal lessons and learned how to read charts but at my advanced age that won't happen now.
 

RIDDIM

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Haskell Harr books 1 and 2 I was able to go through by myself at age 12-13. I taught myself to play kit by emulating what I hear on the radio or saw others do. Once I got into college I was able to take formal lessons, which got me into Cirone and Podemski. I had a few lessons with John Riley when he was a sophomore at NTSU; he gave me about 20 years worth of work that I still draw on. There were a few others after that. But it's mostly been a lot of listening and nowadays, YT time.
 

dcrigger

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As Matched Gripper suggests -
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.
Absolutely.

Personally I'm much more self-taught than formally trained, but.....

I didn't start out that way. After graduating from years of banging on Mom's pots and pans - my first real step at drumming was beginning weekly lessons at the "Allied Arts School of Music and Dance". Less a school, than a strip mall ballet studio with a couple of "soundproof" booths where piano, drums and other instruments were taught privately. With one of those slanted wood and rubber practice pads, a pair of 5A sticks and a copy of Haskell Harr Book I, my teacher led me though basic reading, rudiments, Harr books 1 & 2, the fundamentals of drum set playing - the Chapin book, plus Stick Control, Synchopation, etc.... plus some various handwritten things one 1/2 hour lesson at a time.

This went on for a couple of years (maybe 3) - after which I formally studied very little - but that foundation allowed self instruction to lead me just about anywhere I wanted to go.

So to answer the original question in a word, I'd have to say... no. Because everything I've ever figured out how to do, everything I taught myself to play was all built on that basic foundation of knowledge.
 

RIDDIM

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Totally self taught. Never had any lessons but picked up a few tricks from drummer buddies over the years. My progression was from early pop and rock through dixieland jazz to be-bop and Latin. Found that I could switch between genres easily having gone through that learning curve from easy to harder. Having said all that, I wish I had had some formal lessons and learned how to read charts but at my advanced age that won't happen now.
- You could probably book some lessons with folks you respect on line, these days. Heck, look up Lester Esteban. He's a great musician, teacher and person. He'll set you straight.
 

pwc1141

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- You could probably book some lessons with folks you respect on line, these days. Heck, look up Lester Esteban. He's a great musician, teacher and person. He'll set you straight.
Lester is a good buddy of mine for a couple of decades now and we chat often on-line and get together every time I go to the big city. He is everything you say .....and more.
 

Old Drummer

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My learning was a curious hybrid.

I'd guess that as a kid I aspired to play a drum set, and one of my earliest "drumming" memories is setting up empty coffee cans for drums and using pencils for sticks.

However, when the opportunity finally came to learn real drums for the school band and I persuaded my parents to spring for drum lessons, those lessons were exclusively snare drum lessons (or really a practice pad with 2B sticks). Sure, school band also included a bass drum hit with a mallet, a triangle, timpani, and orchestra crash cymbals, but there was no drum set. Playing the snare drum in the school band was the top spot in the percussion section. And my lessons never included anything except snare drum stuff. The progression in those lessons was to mastering snare drum solos of increasing difficulty, never anything else.

The strange thing is that my drum teacher was a jazz drummer, and we all knew it. Yet, it was as if there was an unwritten rule that he was forbidden to teach how to play a drum set. That was faintly wrong, maybe even sinful, and certainly not anything parents would be willing to spend lesson money on. The only legitimate teaching and learning was the snare drum, although it was also OK to play some other percussion instruments common in orchestras.

Somehow, though, we all learned to play a drum set. (By "we all," I mean all my drum teacher's students.) We were never taught, it was never explicitly encouraged, but it was implicitly understood. Correspondingly, it seemed implicitly understood that we would learn the drum set by ear. Actually, the romantic belief that jazz can't be taught or learned might have been operating, which then extended to rock. It was as if you're not supposed to be formally taught how to play a drum set but are supposed to pick it up on your own. Only the snare drum was allowably taught.

So I learned how to read music and play snare drum solos via formal lessons, but I learned the drum set on my own, by ear I guess.
 

Seb77

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I learned the drum set on my own, by ear I guess.
I think this last sentence is interesting. How we actually learn is not easy to describe. You mention "romantic", I think "by ear" can be seen as a romantic phrase as well, only looking at part of what actually happens.

I think with drumset a lot of coordination (leading to the illusion of independent limbs) is rather cognitive, even if you teach yourself. You "figure things out" in order to open the hi-hat on 4&, bass drum hits in-between hi-hat eight notes etc., what we teach these days (fortunately those days you describe are over).
But there is the other side as well: during my jazz studies I came across a few horn players, pianists etc. who could play a little drums self-taught. All of them employed very little polyrhythm/independence, but rather often used "righ hand lead" "dependent", linear style, think Roy Haynes's style, later Bob Moses and others. It's a style that was once considered modern and progressive, but appears to be the more natural one if you arrive at drums from a melody instrument. Very little "Chapin book" going on. This might be closest to actual "playing by ear", but it only seems to work for that style. (I imagine Chick Corea taught Steve Gadd a similar approach).
 

T-Dub

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Like many others here, self-taught. At first, it took strong memorization skills.... no youtube or cd's or even records - had to pick things up by hearing a song on the radio and listening intently whenever the song came back on. Heck I even learned to play complete songs without a drum set, so when the drums were acquired I only had to transfer the mental skill into physical execution. Later on the most beneficial learning came from playing along to the radio.... whatever came on, I tried to play it. This was exceptionally helpful, because it stretched me to play things that were outside my comfort zone and musical interest; plus, as we all know, many songs appear to simple at first blush, yet are not at all easy to replicate due to feel, nuance, technique etc.

I suspect most of us on the forum are more experienced players now, yet for anyone in the early stages, I would strongly recommend that at least part of their practice routine include playing along with stuff that doesn't come naturally or is outside your natural wheelhouse.... it's good to stretch!
 

RIDDIM

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Lester is a good buddy of mine for a couple of decades now and we chat often on-line and get together every time I go to the big city. He is everything you say .....and more.
- I know.
 

Vistalite Black

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Thanks to the ability to call up just about any song on Youtube to watch somebody (often the original player) show off his or her stick work, learning to play by ear is as useful a skill as learning to use a dowsing rod to find water.
 

JDA

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back at in the later 60s learning snare drum (lessons) was it (standard standard procedure) .............Set... you went on your own (or nobody asked..or very few were given, generally just wasn't 'a thing' except in university maybe)

This thread is overlapping with the same answers as in this thread

 

NickSchles

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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.
Indeed, lessons are a great way to bypass a lot of the mistakes we make when learning on our own, particularly when we're not experienced enough.

Also, don't feel like you're being looked down on! :) One should always compare apples to apples (not calling you an apple, by the way). I try to compare myself to where I was 6 months or a year ago rather than the chump next door! :)
 


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