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I have an idea to learn drums in addition to my main instrument, piano. I do not plan to become exactly a drummer, just want to improve my understanding about the rhythm, maybe significantly. Some say I play all notes same duration at times that is a total shame.

I feel not ready for a complete drumset that I used to see, because of the space constrains (as piano is already using up some). Most likely playing only during the lesson itself will not work either. After some thinking I come to conclusion it may work to buy a single smaller size drum and try to learn soloing on it instead.

Would it be possible to ask how popular/known this approach would be, and is it a reasonable approach in general? I do not have the previous experience with drums.

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By "soloing" do you mean "using only one drum" (as opposed to a full kit)? –  Dave Mar 21 at 12:59
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I think it is a great idea. Concentrating on rhythm by using a drum would help the timing on the piano significantly. –  r lo Mar 21 at 13:26

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

If the only purpose is to educate yourself about rhythm, hands, feet and knees are the only thing you need. If you want to use sticks, use a practice pad (phone books is a low cost alternative).

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"hands, feet and knees" and a metronome ;) –  le_vine Mar 24 at 13:17
    
+1 for this one and Sheldon's answer, a practice pad covers a wide range of what a drummer need to know about sticking. The simplest will only help for rhythmic purposes where more advanced ones will do the job for feeling, sound and even performance with a practice mode (for electronic ones). –  JoeBilly May 16 at 14:03
    
"Phone books"? Do those still exist? I think you just outed yourself as my age. :) –  Codeswitcher May 17 at 23:12

For just practicing drumming basics (sticking, rudiments, etc) without involving your feet, a good practice pad like the RealFeel pads do an excellent job. They give great stickfeel (best of any practice pad I've tried) and are very quiet. The two different sides means you can practice in two different regimes. The softer side is quieter and gives a more generous stick bounce, but it's also more forgiving and masks mistakes. The harder side gives a more distinct "tap" from the stick, so it's easier to hear exactly what you're playing and how. It also doesn't give a high energy stick bounce so it requires more work (builds stronger chops) and requires better technique. These pads, in the 12" size, are a little more expensive than your average pad, but, after 10 years, mine's still going strong unlike the other pads I've owned. And the more realistic feel I think is easily worth a little extra money.

If you're willing to spend a bit more (and have a practice space where you won't disturb people) nothing beats the feel of a real drum. The stickfeel and sound of the drum changes with where you play on the drum and with how hard you play. You also need a real drum (with a real rim) to do rimshots. But buying a full kit is probably overkill. I'd recommend just buying a snare drum to start. It's your sort of most fundamental and technical drum because it's the most diverse in terms of the sounds it can make. The great thing about buying the 12" RealFeel pad is that it fits very nicely right on top of a 14" snare drum. So you can play your snare drum when it's convenient, and when you need to make less noise (or you just want to take your earplugs out for a little while), you can plop the pad down and keep practicing with the same setup, same positioning, etc. I think that makes the 12" pad easily worth the price delta over their 7" pad (although the 7" pad is more portable. I actually own both but the 12" is more of my "go-to" pad so it's the one I generally recommended as a first pad to my students).

As far as 4-limb integrated practicing is concerned, there are not so many good solutions. There are practice sets like this or this that are cheaper, take up less space than a full kit, and make less noise than a full kit, or you could just buy an electronic drum kit if you wanted as well, but I don't really care for these solutions. You don't really need to practice hitting toms. They usually aren't essential to the beat or style you're trying to learn. There are really only 4 main pieces - snare drum, bass drum, hi-hat, and ride cymbal - 4 pieces for 4 limbs. With these pieces you can play almost any type of music. I don't have a good link for it but Jojo Mayer, in his "Secret Weapons for the Modern Drummer" dvd (which is incredible btw), he has little transitions that feature him playing super diverse grooves on the same 4 pieces. There are just bass practice pads, which are pretty good if you've got a bass pedal. But the hi-hats and ride cymbals are very diverse and complex instruments. The cymbal practice pads you'll find in that Pearl practice kit or in most electronic drum sets are nothing at all like the real thing. They simulate playing real cymbals worse than a cheap keyboard with non-weighted keys simulates playing a real piano. So personally, the ideal practice setup for 4-limb integration with space and budgetary constraints is 1) a RealFeel pad either on top of a snare or in a snare basket, 2) a real bass drum pedal attached to a bass drum practice pad, 3) a real pair of hi-hat cymbals on a real hi-hat stand, and 4) a real ride cymbal. The cymbals don't have to be expensive. They just have to be real metal that really vibrates so you can get a sense of what playing a real cymbal actually feels like. EDIT: As far as making your real cymbals quiet when/if you need to, pads like these work alright. I don't love that they don't go all the way around the cymbal, because they move the center of gravity off center (where the mount is) so they don't sit at the same angle they would without the pads on. They also don't give the best stick bounce recovery energy, so you're not going to be practicing your 220+ bpm be-bop ride patterns on them. But they do a good job keeping things quiet, so when that really matters, you do what you gotta do. END EDIT

So that's my purist/snobbish advice. Real drums are hard to beat but they can be reasonably well simulated. Real cymbals cannot. And the subtleties matter when it comes to making a groove sound like a proper groove. But this is coming from a guy that used to make a living playing and teaching drums and percussion, so of course I'm going to be a little purist. But no, I wouldn't recommend going out and buying a full drum set. They're big and loud and heavy and expensive and 90% of the time those 4 main pieces alone would suffice. And probably at least 50% of the time the snare drum or practice pad alone will suffice. Gotta hit 'dem rudiments.

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Excellent, in-depth answer with personal experience. Do you have any advice for muting cymbals if you need to keep the noise down? With that, I think this would be a perfect answer. –  Bradd Szonye May 16 at 1:33

I have thought about the exact same thing and also have insufficient space to place a whole drum. My purpose is to have a drum to be able to record some things to have a basic rhythm drum. However, what I came across is a nice small and handy tool that works well enough for me. The cajón is a box that has some parts of a whole drum in one box (snare, kick, ...).

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