How To Play Drums Without Drums

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Most people believe that playing the drums requires a lot of expensive equipment. A top-of-the-range drum kit, fantastic cymbals, and all the trimmings that go into making up a great drum kit.

But, I am going to explain why none of that is true. Not only is it not true, but I will also try to prove that drums are the least important part of being a great drummer. And that you can learn to play drums without drums. Okay, so I may be setting myself up to fail in this task, but it’s worth pursuing to find out how close I am to being right. If even close to being.

Can drums be played without a drum set? All you need is something to hit, and a little bit of creativity. When it comes to finding something to hit, the sky is the limit. Kitchen pots and pans make great substitute drums. And can produce a surprisingly wide range of sounds. Old oatmeal containers can also be filled with different materials. To create unique percussion instruments. And if you’re feeling particularly resourceful. You can even fashion your own drums out of cardboard boxes or plastic buckets.

The important thing is to have fun and experiment with different sounds and surfaces. With a little imagination, you can turn any object into a drum.

Creative or Just Crazy

When I was about 10 years old, I went to a friend of mine’s home. I was staying over that night and I couldn’t believe what I was walking into. He had built a complete set of drums from cardboard boxes covered in Christmas lights. Proving that you can play drums without drums. It was quite unbelievable. What a sight! Of course, it didn’t last long but the point is, that you can always use your imagination to create something to hit. Rather something to play. So, it seems you can learn to play drums without drums.

But to be serious, let’s take a closer look at…

How To Play Drums Without Drums

When it comes to playing drums without drums, I am reminded of the martial art master Bruce lee. In an interview or one of his films, I forget which, he said “I call it the art of fighting without fighting”. And that quote is so prevalent here when it comes to playing drums without drums. In this analogy, the marital artist learns specific skills related to martial arts. And he then uses those skills in a specific way.

This also equates to another interview Bruce Lee did. In the interview, he said, “pour water into a cup, and the water becomes the cup”. In other words, the water takes on the shape of the cup.

Why is this, and why are these Bruce Lee quotes so important? Once you know how to play a basic drum beat, for instance, it becomes not about the drumming and playing the drum beat. Instead, it becomes… well, time for another quote. “It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it”

But what does that mean?

It means that once you learn any art, craft, or drum beat, it becomes more about how you play that drum beat. How you do what you do becomes the most important fact. And the three quotes I mentioned above are a convincing analogy of that fact.

Now here’s why this is so important…

…it simply means having learned a specific beat on the drum. More like, once you know the sticking and movements within a beat, it becomes more about “HOW” you use them. And how you play the beat in question! And this is all related to how you think, feel, and behave as you play the said drum beat.

Taken to another angle, when an athlete imagines himself to be on the winning podium. He is attempting to alter the outcome of the event he is about to take part in. The “how” is within the mind. This visualization and belief, are in the mind. The athlete believes he will be standing on the top podium spot and so acts with that in mind. He behaves with that in mind.

This is similar to where the quote “to be or not to be, that is the question” comes from.

The podium is his ultimate goal. His focus. and he must be who he needs to be to get there. This is the same reason why drumming goals are important. You have a better chance of getting where you want to be if you have an imagined outcome to your actions. And the appropriate behavior.

In other words,

The athlete has already learned to run, and must now focus on the result of his (or her) running. He must become the running (the cup – because he molds himself to the result he seeks. The podium).

Or, he has learned to fight, and now he has to practice the art of not fighting. He does this by focusing on the flow of what he is doing as well as the outcome he is seeking. In other words, he becomes the cup, the fighting, not the fighter. Or, the running and not the runner.

And as a potential drummer. Once you have come to understand that a simple beat is comprised of playing 4 hi-hat beats. In a consistent and flowing motion. Then add the bass drum (right foot) on beats 1 and 3, then add the left hand on the snare drum on beats 2 and 4. Once that is understood, it can then be imagined or visualized and then performed in the mind. Thereby becoming the drumming and not what is drummed, so to speak.

That third analogy may sound a little bit mixed up but if you imagine it as a three-step process like this:

  1. The drummer learns the parts within a beat.
  2. The drummer then practices and plays the parts.
  3. The drummer then becomes the parts. The drumming. Not what was drummed/played.

This is a very simple way of playing drums without drums. You play them in your imagination. But it goes a little further. Or a lot further depending on your perspective.

And I will explain…

…The simple techniques below are ways to practice drums without drums. But bear the above analogies in mind after you have absorbed these simple techniques. I’ll explain at the end don’t worry.

How To Be A Good Drummer And Play Drums Without Drums

One of the most important things a drummer can do is keep a steady beat. It’s not all about playing complex rhythm combinations, fills, and beats. This can be difficult to do without a drum set, but there are a few ways you can still practice. One way is to use a metronome and make playing in time your main focus. This is true with or without a drum kit. This will help you keep a consistent tempo while you play.

Another way to practice is to tap your foot along to the music. Which will help you feel the rhythm and internalize the beat. You may need to tap your feet with the heel up an inch or so from the ground.

Finally, it can be helpful to practice with a friend or family member who plays a real instrument. This will allow you to keep the beat while also interacting with another musician.

By practicing these simple techniques. You can become a better drummer even without a drum set.


Another way to practice is to try air drumming.

What Is Air Drumming

Air drumming is a common sight at many rock concerts and other live performances. But it isn’t only something that people do when they’re feeling the music. Have you ever seen a friend dancing along to a song and then burst into playing a drum fill in mid-air? all on their imagined drums? This is especially true with songs such as Phil Collins – In The Air Tonight. I’ve lost count of the non-drummers who thrash out the intro drum fill into mid-air. What’s surprising is that many of these would-be drummers actually get it right. Rhythmically speaking. or at least close to right. Simply because they are mimicking what their memory tells them the drum fill sounds like.

Air drumming can actually be used to improve your coordination and sense of rhythm. When you air drum, you’re effectively doing a physical dance. That requires split-second timing and coordination between your hands and feet. This can help to improve your coordination in other activities, such as playing a real drum set. Also, air drumming can help you to develop a better sense of rhythm.

By keeping time with the music and coordinating your movements. You can train your brain to better think about rhythm and meter. As a result, air drumming can be a great way to improve your drumming, timing, and musical skills.

Air Drumming In Practice

Have you ever found yourself tapping out a beat on your steering wheel or desk? If so, you’re not alone – air drumming is a surprisingly common phenomenon. In fact, research suggests that as many as 95% of people have engaged in this behavior at some point in their lives.

But why do we do it?

One theory is that air drums serve as a form of relief from boredom or stress. When we’re feeling restless or anxious, the repetitive motion of drumming can help to calm and focus us. Additionally, air drumming allows us to express our creative side. Many people report feeling a sense of joy or freedom when they engage in this activity. But as we have seen it also has practical benefits through learning muscle memory and such.

So next time you find yourself tapping out a beat, go ahead and let loose – you might be doing yourself some good!

And of course, if you are serious about learning and improving your drumming. Then you can be more methodical about this practice. Think more consciously about what you are doing when you begin to tap. Keep it simple and focus on playing good time and providing what the music needs to make it sound good. As you would on a real drum kit. This is usually the most simple beat possible. Try introducing a taping foot too, but obviously not whilst you are driving.

By taking conscious control of the unconscious urge to tap along to the music. It will result in benefitting your drumming when you get to play on a real drum kit. So, don’t doubt the importance of random tapping. And remember, when people start to complain about your tapping habit. Realize then that what you have been doing is working for you and you’re getting better.

Drumming On Cushions

Drumming doesn’t always need to be loud and obnoxious.


One way to enjoy the calming effects of drumming is to use cushions instead of drums or a practice pad. Besides muscle memory, hand, arm, and wrist development. Playing drums on cushions is also a great way to relieve stress and tension. This method is often used in meditation circles. As repetitive thumping can help to clear the mind and promote relaxation. The rhythmic pulses can help to release muscle tension and ease headaches. And best of all, you don’t have to be a professional drummer to enjoy the benefits of this simple technique. All you need is a little patience and a willingness to experiment.

So go ahead and give it a try the next time you need to relax or unwind. Pull out the sticks and start practicing your drum rudiments. You might be surprised at how therapeutic a little cushion drumming can be.

How To Play Drums in Your Imagination

The few drumming methods included here such as air playing and playing drums on cushions. Are part of an integrated system that results in great drumming when done right. A drummer with a full kit will at times play on cushions or in the air. And when he isn’t in a position to do any of these, he does them in his imagination.

The human mechanism is a goal-seeking mechanism. We are always seeking something and the things we seek often (always) begin in the imagination. It’s not for nothing that athletes visualize. Or every self-improvement guru advocates visualizing your goals. The body is better able to perform almost any task when used in conjunction with imagining. Or visualizing yourself doing a thing. Whether it’s drumming or clearing the house out.

We use our minds to imagine everything we do throughout our lives. Start watching yourself as you move through your day. You will soon discover that you get up to go and make another coffee. Because you first imagined yourself drinking the coffee. And when you decide to take a warm relaxing bath – it’s because you first imagined yourself doing it.

The thing we may not get at first is the activity, whatever it is. Whether it’s making a great coffee, taking a warm bath, or a beat played in time, with style and groove. Those activities are enhanced to a massive degree. Based on the quality of the visualized outcome.

So visualize yourself playing drums, and visualize them sounding fantastic. Visualize every aspect of your drumming and you will come to believe that you don’t need a drum kit at all. Unless you want to communicate what’s inside your imagination. To an appreciative audience.

What are your experiences of playing drums without a drum kit? Let us know in the comments below… but do it physically as well as in your mind. Thanks for listening.

The Drum Coach.

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