Drumming Theory Basics

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For a long time now, I have been learning about the online world. Learning the drumming theory basics to deepen my own understanding of them, building websites and blogs and so on. And over that time, I have heard many internet marketers say these words. “Theory is nothing, it’s results you want”. Do you see the non-sequitur in that statement? Of course, a non-sequitur is any statement that doesn’t follow the foundation. The foundation of what went before.

So how is the line “Theory is nothing, it’s results you want,” a non-sequitur? Because after downgrading the theory, (that anyone can have) they go on to teach a theory. The theory of how to get the results they speak of. The results that only they have. This is of course a marketing manipulation to get you to buy their product rather than someone else.

They use it to sell you the results that they have. But because they do this, they are required by law to disclose the fact that. Their results are not typical or even possible. Because it is all the theory behind the internet marketers’ results. That then gave rise to those results they are trying to sell you.

In short, the results wouldn’t exist had it not been for the theory. And it’s the same in any area. I mean, try telling Albert Einstein that theory is nothing.

A theory is like a small grain of gold. When put alongside other grains of gold, form a nugget. A small nugget yes, but a nugget of gold still. And the nuggets grow as do the results you get through the use of those nuggets.

So, the theory is real gold. The theory is almost everything in all areas, including drumming. But what are we talking about exactly when we talk of drumming theory?

What Are Drumming Theory Basics and Why Is It Important To Learn?

Of course, theory can be applied in any area of drumming, drums, cymbals history of drumming, and so on. But here we are talking about the drumming itself. The playing of the drums if you will.

All the theories form nuggets of information in the form of programs of muscle memories. That makes the difference between an average player and a good player. A good player and a great player.

In its most basic form, drumming theory basics is the study of fundamental concepts. Of rhythm, meter, and tempo. Drumming theory is important because it helps drummers to have a greater understanding. Understanding of how to interact with other musicians. And how to create interesting drum parts. After mastering the theory of course. And to the degree that the theory gets mastered.

Drumming theory also helps drummers. As well as other musicians develop a better sense of timing and groove. Without a solid understanding of these concepts. It would be difficult for drummers to play in time with the rest of the band. And to create parts that fit within the framework of a song.

While some drummers might be able to play by ear. Learning theory can help them become more well-rounded musicians. Besides, understanding theory also makes it easier to communicate with other musicians. For example, if a drummer knows that a particular groove is in 4/4 time. They can tell the bass player or guitarist what they need to do to match that groove. In short, learning drumming theory basic can help drummers become better communicators. And better musicians. Something drummers are often accused of not being!

So drumming theory, as well as being the foundation of the drummers’ abilities. Is also a tool for communication with other musicians.

The Three Basic Elements of Music

As well as other musicians being able to speak the language of drums, through the basics of drumming theory behind drumming. It can also be helpful for the drummer to speak a wider language or theory of music. With that in mind, let’s take a wider look at music theory basic concepts.

You may also want to check out the Drum Coach Basic Drumming Vocabulary article.

Melody, harmony, and rhythm are the three basic elements of music.

  1. Melody is a sequence of pitches that create a tune.
  2. Harmony is created when two or more notes are played together. And that usually harmonizes with the main tune.
  3. Rhythm is the movement of the music in time. Taking into account the melody and the harmonies.

These three elements are all interrelated; a change in one will affect the others. For example, a change in the melody will usually result in a change in harmony. Rhythm can also be used to create different effects. A fast rhythm can create a feeling of excitement, while a slow rhythm can create a feeling of relaxation. By understanding and manipulating these three elements. Musicians are able to create any number of different musical feelings and styles.

So as drummers we play rhythms within the main tune, made of melody and/or harmonies. The tune is thus the playground of the drummer who adds rhythm to the mix to produce a specific end. Music.

The Four Main Types of Rhythm – Simple, Compound, Additive, and Polyrhythmic

Rhythm is the pulse or the heartbeat of music. It’s the steady pulse that drives a song forward and gives it energy and life. There are four main types of rhythm: simple, compound, additive, and polyrhythmic.

  1. Simple rhythms are made up of one beat.
  2. Compound rhythms are made up of two or more beats.
  3. Additive rhythms are built by adding new beats to an existing pattern, while…
  4. Polyrhythmic rhythms involve two or more conflicting rhythms played at the same time.

Each type of rhythm has its own unique feel and can be used to create different effects in a piece of music. As a drummer, it’s important to know how to play all four types of rhythm. At least to some degree. So that you can add variety and interest to your playing and the outcome of the music. With practice, you’ll be able to use rhythms to add feeling and emotion to your drumming.

How Can You Use Drumming Theory to Improve Your Playing Skills and Musicality?

As a percussionist. Understanding drumming theory can help you play with greater technical accuracy. As well as added musicality. Studying theory, you’ll develop a better understanding of rhythm, melody, and harmony. As suggested, this knowledge will enable you to communicate with other musicians. And to make more informed choices when improvising or composing your own music. Understanding theory will help you to better understand the music you are playing. As a result, you will be able to improve your technique. And also express yourself in a more creative way and with less effort.

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced drummer. Learning more about drumming theory can help you to take your playing to the next level. This can seem a little like overkill but how many times have you taken step 2 of a process? And then discovered that step 1 was easy? Much easier than it appeared when you were practicing level 1. But as you were within the first step, it seemed much more difficult than it actually was. It’s the same with drumming theory. The more you know the more easily you can make use of the theory. Like the better, you know the alphabet, the more you are able to speak the words using the alphabet.

This is why “knowledge is power”. because the more theory you know, the better you can apply it. The better able you are to apply it, the better you are able to act.

Power: “the ability or capacity to do something or act in a particular way”.

Thus a theory is power.

Music theory, especially rhythmic theory can help your drumming more than a little.

Tips for Practicing Drumming Theory On Your Own

Drumming theory can seem daunting at first. But there are a few simple tips that can help make it more manageable. First, it’s important to break the concepts down into smaller pieces. For example, rather than trying to memorize all the drums as they appear on the staff at once. Focus on learning one drum at a time.

Once you have a solid understanding of the individual drums and cymbals. You can begin to put them together into beats and rhythms. It’s also helpful to practice sight-reading exercises. By reading music notation. You’ll develop a better understanding of how the various notes fit together. Below is an image of where each drum appears on the staff (5 lines and 4 spaces of music).

In the above image the notes marked on the staff (the 5 horizontal lines) are symbolic of:

  • Hi-Hat (right hand)
  • Hi-Hat (played with the left foot)
  • Ride Cymbal (played with right hand)
  • Snare Drum (played with the left hand (in most cases drum beats))
  • Bass Drum (played with the right foot – unless you’re left-footed)
  • Tom Tom (high)
  • Tom Tom (medium)
  • Tom Tom (low)

As you can see in the image, the hi-hat cymbals appear on the same line as the ride cymbal. The open hi-hat would have a small circle above it. To show that the hi-hat note is played whilst the left foot is loose on the hi-hat. The second space down is reserved for the snare drum. And the three final notes are indicative of the small, medium, and large tom-toms.

You will notice that the bass drum is indicated in the lowest space between the two lowest lines. But I have also seen it written on the bottom line as well as underneath the bottom line. The same thing applies to the hi-hat when played with the left foot.

The hi-hat when played with the left foot alone is usually marked by a cross (with no line/tail). On one of the same lines as the bass drum. But usually, one line or space below the bass drum. This depends on the complexity of the drumming.

The notes on a piano are rather different than indicated here on the drums. The drums use more symbolic images to represent individual drums. Whereas the piano and other instruments use actual notes to play actual tones. On a piano, the notes on the lines from bottom to top are E, G, B, D, F. (Every Good Boy Deserves Favor). The spaces from the bottom are F, A, C, E.

Finally, when it comes to reading drum music, don’t be afraid to experiment. There’s no correct way to play the drums. So feel free to mix and match different rhythms and sounds between the limbs to find what works best for you. You’ll surprise yourself with how quickly your drumming theory grows. Along with improved skills as you learn, practice, and develop.

Of course, drumming theory requires reading and learning, and then drumming requires practice. But if you get yourself a good music theory book. You can learn the basics of music theory and then get yourself a collection of drumming books. So you can sit and read the music/drum notes and get used to what rhythms look and sound like. As you sing them to yourself in your head.

I have written a 12-part drumming course that takes you through the whole music theory. As you learn to play the drums by reading the music notes. That way you get used to seeing how rhythms are written, how they look, and then how they sound. Through listening to the demonstration audio demos. I will only mention it here as a future possibility to help you learn drumming theory. Of course, there isn’t enough space here to go through the whole drumming theory. But the basics are covered here. So keep an eye out for my next 12 books.

I actually published books 1,2,3,4,5,7, and 8. And am now in the process at the time of writing of completely overhauling them. And publishing all 12 as a collection called Drumming Foundations. Currently, the ones published now are the older less complete versions. Within the Time Space And drums Series.

Let’s move on to drumming notation values.

Drumming Notation

There are a variety of ways to write out percussion parts, depending on the level of detail required. And the preference of the composer or arranger. The most basic form of notation is a single line with note heads, indicating the duration of each sound. This can be enough for simple rhythms, but more complex parts may need a system known as grid notation. But, this is usually used in electronic music.

In grid notation, the piece is divided into measures. With each row representing a different drum or percussion instrument. The notes are then written in columns. Indicating which instrument should play which note. This type of notation can be very helpful in communicating complex rhythms. But it can also be quite challenging to read.

As a result, many percussionists prefer to use a combination of both methods. Writing out simpler parts in standard notation. And more complex parts in grid notation. But this isn’t always the case. Some drummers are so advanced at reading drum parts that they don’t need a grid diagram.

But as drummers, we will stick to the normal 5-line staff style notation as before mentioned. As for the notes themselves, in a bar of 4/4 music, there are 4 x quarter notes in a bar. The 4/4 stands for “the number of notes in a bar” and the second 4 stands for “the type of note”. These are quarter notes because there are 4 in a bar. If the time signature was 8/8 then there would be 8 x eighth notes in a bar.

Take a look at the diagram below. On the left side, you will see 4 x quarter notes. Then below those, you see 8 x eight notes, and below those, you see 16 x sixteenth notes. And as indicated on the right, you have the equivalent rest values.

When you are starting out these are all the notes you need to know. But below the sixteenth notes, you would get thirty-second notes. Drumming music is made of variations and combinations of the above notes and rests. Arranged in a rhythmic pattern or beat within the five lines of the musical staff. Which we should now understand to represent different drums and cymbals.

That is basically what drum music is made of. The ingredients if you will. It does get slightly more complex but this will serve as a good foundation in drumming theory.

Drumming Vocabulary

Drumming is a form of communication that dates back thousands of years. Though its origins are unknown, drumming has been used by cultures all over the world. To express a wide range of emotions, from joy and celebration to sorrow and mourning. Today, drumming is enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds. And it has even been shown to have health benefits.

Whether you’re a seasoned drummer or getting started. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the various terms. Common drumming terms are used to describe different drumming techniques. Here are some key terms to know:

Beat: The basic unit of rhythm. Typically consisting of at least 8 notes across various coordinated limbs. (drums and/or cymbals). usually filling a single bar of drum music. A basic rock or jazz beat for example.

Tempo: The speed at which a piece of music is played. Commonly measured in beats per minute (BPM).

Time signature: A symbol that indicates how many beats are in a measure and what type of notes they are. Previously described in the Drumming Notation section as 4/4 for example. Other time signatures include 3/4, 2/4, 5/4, 5/8, and so on.

Measure: A unit of time containing a certain number of beats. A measure is a single bar but can also indicate 2, 4, or 8 bars for example. Although a more correct way of describing 2 or more bars is Sections, verses, choruses, or middle eight. (an 8-bar section in the middle of a song or piece of music).

Note value: The length of time each type of note is held. For example, a whole note is held for four beats, while a quarter note is held for one beat. See the notation diagram earlier in this article for the most common note values.

Dynamics: The volume at which a piece of music is played. For example, “forte” indicates a loud section, while “piano” indicates a soft section. But, these words describe a specific section volume change from loud to quiet. Or very quiet for example. Dynamics in drumming usually refer to varying volume levels. Accents and ghost notes within a measure (a bar or beat). See How To Play Dynamics On Drums for more in-depth information.

Phrase: A group of notes played together in a sequenced pattern. Phrases can be divided into smaller units called motives or motifs.

Theories End

Drumming is essentially a language. It’s a language of rhythm and of course music. The more you know about the theory within the language. The better you will be able to speak and communicate with that language. So don’t limit your theory studies. We have hardly scratched the surface in this post but t does give you a starting point.

so what theories are you interested in? What theories interest you most about drumming? Let us know in the comments and maybe I or someone else will add some content. To help fulfill your mind’s appetite to learn music and drumming theory.

the Drum Coach


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