Warming up on the Drums

by Ryan Langford 11. November 2011 09:08

One of the things that you will quickly learn as a drummer is that playing your instrument well is much more physically demanding in comparison to other musicians.  Drumming is a 4-limb realization of the rhythms in your mind, and applying them most effectively to the drumset in front of you involves 2 criteria:

  1. Having established muscle memory in each of your 4 limbs, to the point that your body moves in a consistently efficient manner when playing the drums.

  2. Naturalizing this efficiency and having it manifest itself in your playing with ease so that you can focus on the music exclusively.

The first comes from regimented practice, a necessity for all musicians and a critical component of your growth as a drummer. The second is achieved, in part, by “warming up” effectively before playing the drums. Being able to prime your hands, feet and trunk to the impending musical task is important. Here is, quite simply, the best warm up for beginner drummers:

TRUNK ROTATION

This calisthenics exercise is GOLD for drummers as a loose and flexible torso is essential for efficient movement around the drum set. Do it before beginning to play and notice how your midsection is loosened up nicely.

  1. Hold your drumsticks in both hands with hands over top of the sticks at either end of the pair and at full arm extension above your head. Tilt your body backwards from the waist to the point where you can feel the pressure in your lower back and waist.

  2. Like your upper body is the minute hand of a clock, begin to move your body FROM YOUR WAIST in a full circle, moving your torso slowly but deliberately in a full circle from 12 o’clock all the way around and back to 12.

  3. Complete 5 rotations and then stop. Now begin 5 rotations in the opposite direction.

Feel free to do this extremely effective exercise as many times and as often as you like.

SINGLE STROKE ROLL WARM-UP

The single stroke roll is integral to any drummer’s technique, no matter what style they play, and is simple enough in its notational layout that even the most novice drummer can begin working with it. Conducting a consistent single stroke roll at a slow-to-fast-to-slow tempo progression around the drum set is the basis for nearly any drummer’s warm-up, from beginners to established professionals.

Begin on your snare drum, slowly playing the basic right-left /right-left /right-left stroking pattern that makes up the single stroke roll. Gradually increase your speed to the maximum level at which you can clearly and consistently voice the pattern on the drum. Once you’ve stayed steady at your maximum speed for a good 30 seconds or so (repeating the bar shown above), begin to slowly decrease your speed and progress down to the speed you began at. Spend 30 seconds there as well (this is important – do not look past the slow speeds on either end of the exercise. They are important to making your loose, relaxed and in complete control of your roll)

Now begin the exercise again, but count out the beats on your snare drum as you start slowly:

Now take the same bar and play it on the high tom-tom immediately above your snare drum. Then take it to the mid tom-tom on its right. Next play it on the large Floor Tom next to your right leg. Begin it again on the snare drum but play it at a slightly increased tempo and follow the same pattern across the drum set.

Once you’re comfortable with this exercise at a good speed you can take it one step further and really increase your dexterity on the drum set. Here’s how:

Play the same pattern that you just played, starting with 4 full measures on the snare (1 e + a  2 e + a  3 e + a  4 e + a  times 4).  Then do the same thing, but on your high tom. BUT INSTEAD OF TAKING IT TO THE MID-TOM, RETURN IT TO THE SNARE DRUM FOR 4 MEASURES. Do the same thing for the mid-tom – 4 measures on the snare to start, 4 measures on the mid-tom followed by 4-measures back on the snare. Then go snare-floor tom with the same method. Begin again with snare-high tom and increase your speed gradually.

Once you get good at this staple exercise, feel free to mix it up – go snare to floor tom to start, floor tom to hi-hat from there, hi-hat to mid-tom from there, etc. etc. You’ll find that you become very loose and adept at moving around the kit. Start to add in your kick drum on the 1's, 2's, 3's, and 4's: i.e  1 e + a 2 e + a 3 e + a 4 e + a. 

Practice this until you are very comfortable with the exercise and then get ready for a fun addition.  Now add in your hi-hat pedal (left foot) on the "+'s." i.e. 1 e + a 2 e + a 3 e + a 4 e + a.  Once you've got this down, you will end up with this:

This is THE best warm-up exercise for beginner drummers, but remember – START SLOW and don’t move the tempo up until you’ve achieved complete control at any speed.

TRIPLETS WARM UP

Playing a triplet – RLR or LRL with a 1-2-3 feel – is an easy stroke roll for beginner drummers to both get a handle on and incorporate into their playing. Accordingly, it’s well-paired with the single stroke roll exercise to further warm you up and open up your hands to playing with dynamics and feel on the kit.  We'll count the beat like this:

Follow the same method as you did for the single stroke roll warm up – RLR / LRL / RLR / LRL - starting slow on the snare and pumping out the triplets uniformly. Move up slowly to your maximum speed at which you can play the pattern consistently. Then move back down slowly to the starting speed.

Now follow the same pattern as given for exercise 1 as well, snare to high-tom, high-tom to mid-tom, mid to floor and mix it up.

Once you've got that down, work in the kick and hi-hat pedals in the same manner as before but this time with the kick pedal on the 1 and the 3, and the hi-hat pedal on the 2 and the 4, like this:

After you are comfortable with both of the exercises in this post you can have even more fun and expand on their effectiveness by alternating them – 4 bars of single stroke roll followed by 4 bars of triplet roll all over the drum kit. This is an excellent compound warm up exercise.

What are some other exercises that you use to warm-up? 

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Drum Basics

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