Did you learn to play drums by ear?

multijd

DFO Veteran
Platinum Supporting Member
Joined
Dec 1, 2013
Messages
2,501
Reaction score
1,865
Location
Buffalo, NY
By ear and through instruction (reading) pretty much simultaneously.
 

Deafmoon

DFO Veteran
Joined
Nov 26, 2014
Messages
1,611
Reaction score
1,597
Freedom/ Discipline / Freedom - before you ever learn one thing by ear or teacher... you gotta get bit by the Drums bug. Whether it was Ringo, Krupa, Rich,Watts, Cobham, Kramer, Lars or Neil; something got you interested. After that, you should pursue it on you own, or by ear, til you are ready to take lessons seriously. And by seriously I mean hours everyday on your lesson before anything else. Before soloing, playing to records, or twirling your sticks. That takes Discipline. Once you have that covered when you go back to listening you know exactly what is going on and can transcribe it, replicate it and play it. That’s how I see the path.
 

Cann_Man28

Member
Joined
Oct 15, 2020
Messages
17
Reaction score
23
I was self-taught/learned by ear. I definitely feel that I missed out on really drilling the rudiments when I was still an impressionable youth. Many great drummers, especially great jazz drummers, started with just the snare. I think many of us need a mentor to really teach us to hear what even singles, doubles, paradiddles sound like--at least I did. Beyond that, the 5 stroke roll, 6 stroke roll, drag, etc. are the building blocks of so much drumming vocabulary and I am not sure if we can effectively learn those "by ear" only. Knowing them helps us play by ear much better though.

I am 30 and 3 years ago I had a teacher, who studied with Kenny Washington, very nicely tell me if my single strokes don't sound strong on a practice pad, they don't sound strong anywhere. And he proceeded to play very nice consistent single strokes, loud, medium, and soft (1/2" off the pad soft). That day changed how I practice forever. Also, I had a piano teacher implore me to practice fast rarely, and slow often. He asserted that playing fast too often makes you sloppy over time (apparently this taken as truth among some classical pianists). I have come to believe that practicing the basics at slow tempos is the key to developing a strong sound with layers of dynamics and great timing.
 

NickSchles

Active Member
Joined
Mar 19, 2021
Messages
43
Reaction score
65
Location
London, United Kingdom
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.
That's cool, man! Lessons most definitely help us avoid pitfalls along the journey. I wonder what your process was like? Did the article I wrote resonate with your mental process? :)
 

TheBeachBoy

Ringo Fire
Joined
Aug 5, 2005
Messages
8,395
Reaction score
1,011
Location
Phoenix, AZ
I would listen to the radio and try to play along. Took a percussion class in junior college and between that class and music theory classes I could kind of read music. I haven't really had a need for it since then so I don't remember much. I know enough theory to write music but can't sight read it.
 

richiegarcia4

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 11, 2018
Messages
243
Reaction score
266
Location
Oakland, CA
I grew up playing punk rock. Nobody I played with had lessons or could read music.
I never intentionally practiced anything. I would mess around with beats and fill ideas when I had the chance, but I didn't play along to music or a metronome. I just played with people alot and tried to give the music what it called for.
I started taking lessons a few years back to learn jazz. All my friends thought it was hilarious, since I've been playing drums my whole life, but, honestly, I had no chance w/o a teacher. Self-taught jazz drummers mystify me.
 

richiegarcia4

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 11, 2018
Messages
243
Reaction score
266
Location
Oakland, CA
Honestly, I wish I had read something like that article when I started. I had no idea what I was doing.
 

Ludwigboy

Very well Known Member
Silver Supporting Member
Joined
Sep 20, 2018
Messages
684
Reaction score
421
Location
Canada
I started with 2 years of lessons at 13-14 years old and the rest was by ear ; then a 35 year hiatus......... then back to playing by ear. I find myself always listening to the drum parts in any song I listen to....must be a drummer's "occupational hazard"...
 
Last edited:

Fess

Active Member
Joined
Sep 3, 2015
Messages
34
Reaction score
74
Location
Virginia
Somehow I got a red plastic snare drum in the early 60’s when I was about 12. I added a pot cover and learned to play basic rock beats listening to Ventures records. You could say Mel Taylor was my teacher. I took about 3 formal lessons in my 40’s but did not have the time or patience to practice reading and rudiments.
Im 70 now and play in 2 bands. I’m an ok blues and rock drummer but I do regret not having stuck with the lessons.
 

Monday317

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 2, 2011
Messages
129
Reaction score
89
Location
Western PA
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
I started in the local YMCA Drum & Bugle Corps in the mid-60's hauling around and ancient Ludwig field drum in Blue Sparkle and studying Haskell W. Harr. Yuck. Fast forward to the early 2000a nd I decided to try a student sanre, got a copy of Stick Control and fell in head first. Bought a kit and worked at playing to the Beatles, Scott Joplin--just about everything I felt I wanted to play. Today, I can bash away fairly well, but rarely have time to play out, except for being the house drummer for a local dive's OPen Mike Night. Kinda fun, mostly.
 

Rivet Gun

Active Member
Joined
Feb 11, 2015
Messages
36
Reaction score
46
Location
Northern Midwest
I played for about 5 years by myself, then I decided that I needed to play the snare better and learn rudiments. I found a teacher and told him I wanted to play open hand, he agreed, then when lessons started he insisted I play traditional like him unlike everything he agreed to, so I quit.
Fast forward abut 20 years and I tried the same with another teacher, he pulled exactly the same crap, agreeing to one thing and trying to make me change my grip.

John Ruka and Dave Hughett are giant assholes.

 
Last edited:

dyland

Well-Known Member
Joined
Oct 16, 2019
Messages
229
Reaction score
371
Location
MA
I was a guitarist in middle school when two of my friends asked me to come over and jam after school. When I got there they insisted I play drums, even though I didn't know how to play. The other guitarist sat me down on the kit and showed me how to play a simple back beat. Once I got it he was like, "Okay, just don't stop!" and the two of them played a song around me. That was it, I was in the band and I was a drummer, all of a sudden. We did that literally every day after school until the band broke up freshman year.

I didn't learn to read until about 3 years later. I had joined jazz ensemble and found out that the school musical that spring was going to be Grease. I asked my band director if I could play in the pit band and he handed me a book of charts. I flipped through it, dumbfounded, wondering what all these Xs and note heads were supposed to mean. I brought the book to my drum teacher and was like, "Dude, help." And he did. To this day that Grease production is one of my fondest musical memories. It was the first time I felt like a "real" musician.
 

Dumpy

DFO Veteran
Joined
Aug 12, 2020
Messages
2,313
Reaction score
2,134
Location
Wood River, IL
I took lessons and jammed to recordings. Half of the charts transcribed were WRONG WRONG WRONG!
 

musiqman

DFO Veteran
Joined
Feb 8, 2016
Messages
1,926
Reaction score
1,360
Location
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Learned by playing along with cassettes when I was 7.

Took lessons later till about age 16. After that, it was all self-taught the rest of my musical vocabulary too.

This because I was too stubborn, and to ADHD.
 

GregR

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 22, 2005
Messages
179
Reaction score
69
Location
Toronto
I took exactly one lesson when I was starting out as a kid. I did take lessons for a couple of years in my 40's when i got back into drumming after about a 20 year lay off
 

cruddola

Very well Known Member
Gold Supporting Member
Joined
Apr 15, 2016
Messages
850
Reaction score
805
Location
usa
I was fortunate. I used to bang away on trashcans and anything that made a good sound. My first drum set was the family's '57 Chevy. I was two, I'm told. I'd wait outside tethered to the gas meter until my father came home on my 1957 Chevy wagon drum set. Then I'd get tethered to the door handle after it was parked and cooled enough. No stinking sitter needed either. Give me anything and I can laydown the best! I even drum on my brother's cat. She doesn't want to be petted, she wants 5/4 time on her ribs! That '57 is where my ears taught me the most. There was always music playing 24/7 in the house. Night or day. I sleep to this day with music on. Didn't need a stinking drum set. The '57 was it. It wasn't in the financial cards until years later cleaning bricks for reuse. All us kids did so. My sisters were the fastest. We must have scraped a million pallets of those bastards for my brick-mason dad and his brothers. They used to bring home truckloads of them from demolition sites on their way home from work in my uncle's flatbed. Music played loudly then while working those stinking bricks. Less talk, more work. We'd scrape to the music's rhythms. My dad built my fireplace with those 'Beat Bricks' too. I hate bricks to this day. I even carry conversations while on the djembe, table or my chest. Easy as breathing. My sisters Lucy and Marty do the same on the piano. They have facing pianos and converse that way in their living room. Just one of those cost more than my house! They're virtuosos, I'm a bum. All ear until my school started music education for 4th grade and above after school hours. Then I hit a roadblock. By the 7th grade I was mostly limited to only what I had heard. 7th grade taught theory and pitch on the piano. And I had the precious knowledge of my sisters. I traded doing their chores for their teaching on the church piano. Tending to the 100-plus chickens, turkeys and ducks twice a week was friggin bargain! Until then I was only a cover drummer. I began not like covers. Everybody did them, even today. I especially don't like 'Wipe Out'. I can play it, accents and all, with the index finger and middle finger of either hand while discussing the merits of intraocular neovascularization as it relates to cerebral hemorrhages. I don't like covers even today. I won't watch covers on YouTube either. Originality rules in my book. To others, covers are everything. And I can understand why. To me a cover is nothing more than an attempt to repaint the Mona Lisa. Not my game. Every band I've ever played with professionally has been nothing but original materialled. All was written too. That's when in 7th grade becoming fluent in music theory would allow me to create my own! And it did! Made all the difference. For some unknown reason it took me a mighty long time to get 7/8 time down to where it became as easy as releasing flatus while sitting on the dunny! Learning to basically read and write exponentially widened the gate to my creativity. My advice of six decades of drumming, don't think about it. Do it and freedom will bang further. Do it and you'll have infinitely more colors to choose from in painting your musical canvas! Drum on!
 
Last edited:

David M Scott

Well-Known Member
Silver Supporting Member
Joined
Apr 5, 2020
Messages
452
Reaction score
373
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
Like you I started on my own by ear. I bought a snare drum at 14 in 1954 and used an ancient rattling music stand as a hi hat. I did get some pointers from a local drummer and went from there. He insisted I learn to play brushes as well. I was intrigued by Jazz so bought some early Be Bop and other modern Jazz and tried to learn those licks from records. I had grown up listening to Big Band and so was very familiar with all those numbers. That served me well when I played with the Big Band as I didn't read music that well or fast but because i'd heard those numbers hundreds of times I got through no problem. And through all these years i've played every type of music: Old Time with fiddlers, Swing - Big Band and my own Dance, Cocktail Combos, Country and Soft Rock. While I wish i'd had more lessons I also think that I haven't been hurt by learning on my own. I was at a Blues Jam with very competent musicians and sat at a table with another drummer. He wanted to look at my stick bag and when he saw the brushes he said that he just couldn't play them and as a strictly Rock drummer he'd really never tried.. he was 56.. I also know another person in their mid 60's who stated he wouldn't know how to play a Waltz without a chart. I now play with some very good Jazz and Blues folks, some ex Pros and have no problems. A couple of times when our regular Bass man couldn't make it we invited a couple of fellows in their mid 60s and while they were technically good they had really only played Rock and just couldn't grasp Jazz or even old style Blues. So, if being self taught left me unable to play with people who live with written drum tracks then I guess i've missed something. But i'll be
81 in June and still played gigs and hosted regular Blues and Jazz jams till Covid and managed not to embarass myself too badly.
cheers
 

JDA

DFO Star
Silver Supporting Member
Joined
Aug 7, 2005
Messages
24,532
Reaction score
13,492
Location
Jeannette, Pa.
Drum Lessons on drum set were rare back in the day

Snare drum yes all day long.
Drum Set was considered too wide a field wasn't even considered that there'd be "lessons" or Instruction


Drum set was (?) assumed to be one's own individual Imagination IMAGINE THAT
 
Last edited:


Top