Exercises for Improving Your Speed on the Drums

Any good drum teacher will be quick to dissuade a beginner student who wants to find a way to become a speedy drummer quickly. Trying to become a speed demon behind the drum kit overnight is an unrealistic aim and can be detrimental to your growth as a drummer. As is universally known in music theory, “control is the gateway to speed” and refining your playing mechanics and technique MUST come before any aim to play drum parts quickly.

First and foremost, if you don’t own a quality digital metronome you need to get your hands on one immediately. Working with a metronome is a key part of a young drummer’s developing a steady and reliable sense of time. You shouldn’t need to be reminded that your primary duty in a musical performance is to be the beat on which the music is built, and this is true no matter what tempo you’re playing at. Working with the consistent meter of the metronome is the way to achieve this ability.

The single stroke roll is again an easy way and effective way to apply the principles of adding speed to your playing.

However, the method that will follow here can be applied to ANY rhythm or roll pattern you are learning on the drum set.

To increase the speed with which you can play ANY pattern on the drum set:

  1. Using your metronome, find a Beats-Per-Minute (BPM) setting at which you can play the pattern comfortably over 50 counts (the pattern played 50 times accurately and on-tempo with the metronome)
  2. Using either musical notation paper of any piece of paper, make a note of that speed and then add the next 7 BPM settings on the metronome, in increments of 2 BPM.For example – imagine you can play a single stroke roll uniformly and comfortably at 88 BPM for 50 counts. This would be your speed progress chart:
     90 92 94 96 98 100 102

    Continue to work at each setting – NOT MOVING ON UNTIL YOU HAVE MASTERED EACH AT 50 COUNTS. Once you are able to play it at 102 BPM, you cross off the lowest BPM and add the next highest to the chart:
     90 92 94 96 98 100 102 104
    You now begin again but at 90 BPM and move forward. “But wait,” you say, “I have shown I can play it at 90 BPM.” Yes, but again “control is the gateway to speed” and this repetition will solidify your technique and control and further the effectiveness with which you can get to greater speeds. DO NOT skip these slower speeds, follow the chart the same way every time.

    Once you can play your pattern with perfect consistency at 104 BPM, your chart becomes this:
     92 94 96 98 100 102 104 106  This technique is a fail-safe way of ensuring you develop speed the right way, without sacrificing control or technique. Further, it will make playing at speed less physically taxing and allow you to play fast for longer periods of time. Follow it exactly and apply it to ANY drum pattern you are learning.

Lastly, another way of increasing your hand speed is to practice with larger and heavier sticks than you would use during performance. The increased weight and size will require more of your hands and forearm muscles and the muscle memory created will be more effectively applied to your playing when you resume with your standard sticks. This is because speed in large part comes from the responsiveness you can generate in your sticks. Don’t hold the sticks too tight, however, as you will be prone to “forcing them.” Remember, those fast drummers you look up to are having the stick do most of the work for them when they’re flying on the kit. You’d probably be surprised at how little tension they are applying to the sticks in their hands.

As a last word, it is important to keep sight of the fact that being able to play fast comes as part of being able to play cleanly and consistently. Aim for having perfect technique and endurance first, and playing speedily will follow much more easily and naturally.

Phil Barrow

Phil Barrow

Phil discovered his passion for music in his early teens when he began learning to play the guitar. He attended the VCC School of Music where he studied jazz and contemporary guitar performance. Phil joined Resound as a guitar teacher in 2013 and has been the school’s Director since 2014.

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