Did you learn to play drums by ear?

Stalky55

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I learnt originally by miming to records on a kit made from tins and hat boxes. Trouble was, having never seen a drum kit in real life ( it was 1963 and I was eight) when I eventually got my first kit, aged 13, I was shocked to find I needed my feet too!!!
I was heavily inspired by Messrs Kirke and Bonham in the early days of Free and Zeppelin and to this day I'm still a "less is more" addict at the tender age of 66.
Managed to become pro for a few good years in the 80s and as a spin off did a lot of lighting tech and back line roadie work with several Motown acts.
Managed over the years to self teach guitar and bass too.
Great times great memories and not a single lesson.
 

David M Scott

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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.
Please say your good sense of timing wasn't "A one anna two" !
 

Jimipop

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Yep, played along with The Cars and Journey albums back in the 80s...over and over. Still learn songs by ear.
 

Joe61

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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.
Agree. Once the horse is out of the barn, it is hard to get him back in.
 

6topher

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Never had a lesson or read a rudiment book.

A music nerd at birth I split time between my dad's buddy holly records, my mom's neil sedaka records, my rock brothers sabbath records & my other brothers top 40 (1970's) 45's as soon as I could operate a turntable.

Never really wanted to play drums neccasarily, just loved music. Jammed the hell out of a brown air organ in my room for hours, made up songs in my head, bought an acoustic guitar with Xmas $ that I ended up beating on with my hands as often as strumming. By middle school I was selected for special acapella choirs.

Anyway, by the time some kids were starting garage bands at like 13 or 14 I was hanging out to sing, but it was like 3 guitars, 1 amp & a boom box in someone's garage, so I started beating on paint cans & upside down trash cans at these 'sessions'. Then some kid left a snare drum in the garage & I took that home & beat on it in my room incessantly for awhile. Then another kid got 3 drums, no cymbals or hardware, so I played a bass drum on it's side, a floor tom & a snare. We were punk kids and it was mostly originals so to us it all sounded perfect & I had natural time.

Finally got a really drumset (cb700!), Started another band with the better players around, the bass players dad had a pa & played my 1st gig at a high school party before I could drive as a singing drummer. We played clash, ramones, violet femmes covers etc & a handful of originals I wrote as I was learning power chords & barre chords from one of guys I played with as I was learning drums.

Probably more info than anyone wanted to know here. I guess I was a natural, not in the sense of being a technical prodigy by any means. I just naturally knew how music worked.

I'm not a great technical player in any way shape or form, but I never desired those skills. I get hired because I know how songs work, I have an innate understanding of dynamics & arrangements, I don't step on anyone else's parts, I care more about good artistic decisions than impressive stick work.. and I'm a good hang, lol. It matters kids.

Sometimes I wish I knew how to read charts so I could play in a big band & sometimes I wish I was better at jazz , but I'm mostly a rock, blues & roots music player anyway.

At 52 I've toured the US many times & Europe once (so far, covid cancelled last summer's EU tour) as a drummer. I wrote, played & recorded everything on a 6 song EP I out out a couple years back.

I'm pretty happy & content with my skill set, I'm always trying to get better & have a annoying habit of playing at the edge of my ability. My band leader says it like watching a skateboarder attempting a tough trick & it's gets wobbly in the middle sometimes, but I usually land it & then I end up internalizing it.

I work in a drum shop when I'm not touring & I get to see so many great drummers with so many ways to approach the art. Some are great craftsman, some are great feel players.

Some are astounding 22 year old music school jazz kids. All the bonham & peart guys, hipster punk dudes, old cats still playing big band at nursing homes & tearing it up. trad jazz guys, super choptastic church drummers ( they tune their snares so friggin' tight I replace bent & broken lugs all the time), Really good cover band drummers... It's all cool to me & I try to learn something, at least about approach, from all of them.
 

PhilAycockOfficial

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I'm Autistic I have aspergersyndrome. My parents knew at a very young age I wanted to play drums. I got my first kit at 10 and I started listening to all my dads cds of Kiss,Reo Speedwagon,Motley Crue,Van Halen,Nirvana and so many more great bands

I'd listen to a song I liked probably two or three times then sit down at the drum kit an through trial and error I'd figure out the parts of the song.

The first time I played Kiss Rock an Roll All Nite I left my parents speechless an shocked that I learned to play just by hearing the song.

23 years later I take music more seriously and I take a few on line lessons to keep up on my knowledge. I guess I can say I was blessed with a wonderful gift from our lord above and that I'm very thankful for.
 

Pickinator

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(Fully self-taught)

I started playing on a snare drum and hi hat as a 3rd grader, got my first 5-piece set as a 4th grader, then went to a big double bass drum kit in 10th grade. I am 61 years old and still like 2 Bass drums.
 

IVER

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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
I am self-taught, never took a lesson. My dad always had music on, and as a toddler I would play along, beating on anything. My parents got me a drum set when I was 7, though I didn't play it that much and they got rid of it, but I would continue to play along with pop songs using two pieces of wood (not even drumsticks) on chairs. Taught myself guitar at 13, then pieced together a drum set the next year and learned rudiments from books. Started in bands in my teens and was playing pro at 18, performing every music style (including jazz, my main love) throughout my 20s.
I did teach myself to read, but, alas, was not a good sight reader. But my ear could memorize complex arrangements, often with just one rehearsal.
If I had to do it again, I would take lessons to learn to read properly, but all that time listening to and playing along with music of every genre gave me good meter and a reputation as a good "feel" musician.
 

michaelocalypse

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The school I went to had a band, so when I told my mom I wanted to play, she signed me up for the band. To join the band we had to take lessons for a few weeks to prove we weren't dead weight. The band director briefly showed me what sheet music was, and described it all in a couple minutes. I had no experience with it before that. Didn't even know that written music existed. Then he got a couple pads, put some music down, pointed at a spot on the page, played something and then told me to play it. All I did was mimic what I saw/heard him do.

He let me into the band after a few weeks. We still had to do individual lessons, and I got to the point where he'd put sheet music in front of me and I'd play it along with him. I had learned enough notation to figure out there would be a roll coming up, if he was counting out loud, but I mostly just watched his hands out of the corner of my eye and reacted to what he was doing, copying it.

After a couple months he finally figured out that I wasn't reading all these super difficult songs that he was digging in the archives for. I didn't have to take lessons after that, and he moved me up to being next two the best three drummers who could read so I could copy them. He told my parents I was great, they bought me a drum set for my birthday, got me a set lessons teacher (who never figured out I couldn't read, even when I insisted I couldn't) and I went to a new school where that teacher knew I couldn't read, but knew I could play it back after hearing a recording. Most of the drummers at that school couldn't read. That teacher worked out a deal where we didn't have to learn as long as we opened the folders and pretended we were reading.
 

David M Scott

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Agree. Once the horse is out of the barn, it is hard to get him back in.
When I was invited to play with a Big Band in the 90s I was in my 50s and had never played with drum charts. I quickly understood the notes on the staff lines and those above for cymbals, hat etc but I had to study it so hard that I would get a bar or more behind. Luckily, I grew up with that music and so I got by winging it when I lost my place. Do I wish I had learned to read music ? Yes very much so but learning by ear / listening to music certainly hasn't hurt my playing. I feel the same about rudiments. I learned by watching and listening.
Do I do a paradiddle, flam, drag, double stroke correctly ...most definitely not. I did however learn to swing, do left hand fills on the snare and cross hand to toms, 2/4 on the hat and comp with the bass drum. When Rock came along I was able to grasp its fundamentals. I play all common time signatures plus my version of 3/4, (there are three ways to play 3/4 waltzes in a dance band) 5/4, 6/8 come 12/8 and 7/4 used in certain old time pattern dances. To date I haven't had any complaints from the other musicians and I play regularly with both good amateurs and ex Pros (we're
all retired or close to it)
I mentioned before that a fellow drummer told me he couldn't play a waltz or other dance tempo without a chart as he'd been trained by a school music teacher that lived by charts. Sure glad I spent countless weekends on the dance band stand.
just sayin
 

itsjjp

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Yes, for the most part. I joined school band in 5th or 6th grade. Percussion, but no kit play until 7th or 8th grade. I'll never forget losing a stick at my first school band concert on a full kit. It was freaking hilarious, I must have thrown it 30' or more. Eventually a fellow percussionist handed me another stick, after she finished laughing a bit. Anyway, I used to stay up and watch Johnny Carson to see the band and musical guests. My dad played when he was a kid, and he showed me the basic cross armed hi hat play on our family room chair, an ottoman and a magazine rack, using my sticks, but no kit yet. I literally took to it like a fish in water when I got my first kit at age 12. I've been playing ever since, nearly 40 years now. I jammed a bit with my best friend's cousin who was into metal. He had a chrome wrapped Slingerland double bass kit with massive power toms and 16-18 floors. He never played in school, so I showed him technique on doubles and such, and he taught me how to do triplets and quads John Bonham style, among other things. We got along famously and appreciated each other's interests and abilities. Other than that, I played along with the radio, records and tapes. That was all just listening and figuring out what guys were playing. Wish I had the free video resources we have now, but then maybe I wouldn't be as good a listener
 

fusseltier

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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.
I can read music, started in the school orchestra playing clarinet and sax, and later acoustic guitar, but drumming came naturally. when i went to the old big band -jazz great that lived an hour away that had a drum shop, i wanted to get lessonms and to read music for drums, but he actually told me that it really wasn't' necessary to read music for most drumming, and and was better to play by your feelings that came naturally to the songs. in over 45 years, i haven't needed to read music for drums even though i can, and i've been in plenty of bands and played out for years.
but to each their own, if you want to read music for drums, more power to you,, actually, the only time i needed to was in the high school marching band, but never on the drumset in the band.
 

backtodrum

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I can read music, started in the school orchestra playing clarinet and sax, and later acoustic guitar, but drumming came naturally. when i went to the old big band -jazz great that lived an hour away that had a drum shop, i wanted to get lessonms and to read music for drums, but he actually told me that it really wasn't' necessary to read music for most drumming, and and was better to play by your feelings that came naturally to the songs. in over 45 years, i haven't needed to read music for drums even though i can, and i've been in plenty of bands and played out for years.
but to each their own, if you want to read music for drums, more power to you,, actually, the only time i needed to was in the high school marching band, but never on the drumset in the band.
I haven't had any call to read either in all the years. However I have been involved with pit orchestras for musical productions over the years and it would be so nice to read well and sit down and play rather than spend hours making notes and memorizing parts and breaks, beginning and endings to musical production numbers, but mainly it would be nice just from a musical knowledge stand point. I don't suspect I will ever bother to learn because of the effort involved at my age and winding down, the return on time investment is not worth it to me now.

Its funny I made the first statement because there is a drummer around here who works for a collage and a music learning center giving lessons etc. Its funny because in a conversation over a lunch with a bunch of other musicians I had to hear him go on and on about how much training he has etc, etc. and all the productions he has played for etc. During the lunch I'm thinking this guy really knows his stuff, and I don't kind of thing. I had occasion to hear him play in the last number of days. Lol, I can't believe I was actually intimidated by him. I came a way with a renewed confidence in myself...
 

Myetkt

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Reading most of these comments opens my eyes to how lucky I was and how much my mother did for me. I took lessons from Chuck Flores from the age of 6 through high school. Mom and dad were divorced when I was a baby. I was a hyper little boy so I’m sure she was looking for anything to work off some of that energy. Chuck gave me all the tools I needed, I can read and presently play with a jazz combo and Big Band. While Chuck gave me the tools my high school teacher Sid Lasaine (Van Nuys HS) taught me how to use those tools. Learning about how to be a good musician and to listen was equally as important. Thanks Mom, Thanks Sid! I really was lucky.
 

cruddola

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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
I remember another neighborhood kid telling of his previous music teacher (in another state) saying the drum set wasn't a real instrument and only a deviant would consider beating on such prehistoric noise-makers.
 

cruddola

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I learnt originally by miming to records on a kit made from tins and hat boxes. Trouble was, having never seen a drum kit in real life ( it was 1963 and I was eight) when I eventually got my first kit, aged 13, I was shocked to find I needed my feet too!!!
I was heavily inspired by Messrs Kirke and Bonham in the early days of Free and Zeppelin and to this day I'm still a "less is more" addict at the tender age of 66.
Managed to become pro for a few good years in the 80s and as a spin off did a lot of lighting tech and back line roadie work with several Motown acts.
Managed over the years to self teach guitar and bass too.
Great times great memories and not a single lesson.
Your post was a friggin Godsend, dude!! I was literally close to the same boat. I had trashcans and beat my hands on the family '57 wagon. Fingers were the sticks and palm the bass drum. In '61 I saw James Brown when my mom ditched work to see them. Had to be seven to go to school then. I was six and remember it like yesterday. My mom's sister worked at the venue as the assistant stage manager. I was hooked watching from backstage. Caught tons of acts. Rare Earth and Mitch Ryder were my favorites as they made at least six visits a year followed by James Brown, Little Richard and Lydia Pense & Cold Blood. As a kid I cleaned a million bricks and by eight I bought a brand new Slingerland Radio King set. Just the drums. It was stamped ARR 1963. I bought it a month after it was made on May 19th. Came with a Ludwig Acro snare. They were out of Slingerland snares. Gold sparkle in 13, 14, 16 and 20 bass drum. 388 bucks. That's all they had. Still have them in storage today. They need a rehab. In time I bought the cymbals and hardware piece by piece working the stinking bricks. Never had drum lessons, but learned to read from my sisters and in junior high school. My ear was my teacher. By the 7th grade I learned to read drum charts playing with a Latin Jazz and dance orchestra with my brothers and sisters. Cloud Nine was a 29-34 member orchestra that was the opening band for every event. Playing with bonafide musicians old enough to be our great grandfathers and grandmothers. These guys had made their bones with the likes of Tony Bennett, Jackie Gleason, Gary Moore, Mel Torme, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey to name a few. Cloud Nine opened for Aretha Franklin to Vince Furnier and the Spiders (Alice Cooper) , Supremes, Stones, Neil Diamond, etc. I did a little over a decade making good money with Cloud Nine. Having access to all those heavy acts as a kid was mighty sacred for me. The concert game is nothing without the riggers and roadies. I salute every one of them! After serving for Uncle I got to do over a dozen tours in Europe playing with eleven different original material bands. I was based out of the Tidewater area of Virginia in the '80s. Made some killer dough too. The Northern Irish are my favorite audiences. Played Croke stadium in Dublin twice. What a drug! People as far as the horizon. My rebellious sister was my roadie on every foreign tour, US and Canada and Mexico. She got me fired after opening for Molly Hatchet at Hampton Coliseum. She was dude-bait. Played Albert twice, Carnegie three times, Greek twice, Kennedy once, CBGB once was enough. What a dump and lousy pay. Like you, I'm 66, and still banging away darn near 6 decades of pounding the skins! June 30th will be my first year completed in retirement. Work sucks! Now it's wake up, play the drums. Breakfast and play the drums. Lunch, surf the net for an hour, play the drums. Dinner, play the drums. Go to sleep. Repeat.
 
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Good question, but for me definitely not! I honestly had no natural ability towds music and only chose the drums becuase I thought that they might be easier to learn. I got lessees which headed me in the right direction and even though I was far from a good student, I learned just enough about the fundamentals and how to read that it gave me a good start. Now, I'm pretty good at leasing by ear, though these days that mostly means hearing musical structures and not specific drum parts as I'm mostly playing original music and making up my own parts. I've defintely learned how to listen though... What once was ingrained by learning is now much more intuitive. I've been messing around with bass and though I'm not very far along with that, I can pick things out by ear so I feel like I've become far more intuitive with music in general, and not just with drums and rhythm. Sometimes learning really is all about learning how to learn... if that makes any sense.
 

fusseltier

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I haven't had any call to read either in all the years. However I have been involved with pit orchestras for musical productions over the years and it would be so nice to read well and sit down and play rather than spend hours making notes and memorizing parts and breaks, beginning and endings to musical production numbers, but mainly it would be nice just from a musical knowledge stand point. I don't suspect I will ever bother to learn because of the effort involved at my age and winding down, the return on time investment is not worth it to me now.

Its funny I made the first statement because there is a drummer around here who works for a collage and a music learning center giving lessons etc. Its funny because in a conversation over a lunch with a bunch of other musicians I had to hear him go on and on about how much training he has etc, etc. and all the productions he has played for etc. During the lunch I'm thinking this guy really knows his stuff, and I don't kind of thing. I had occasion to hear him play in the last number of days. Lol, I can't believe I was actually intimidated by him. I came a way with a renewed confidence in myself...
people that braggadocious usually can't play half of the level they try to make you think they can play. guys like us usually can blow them away just from our love of playing and not being a braggart.
 


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