I've been taking drum lessons for about two months now. I'm a bit short on money, and I spent savings on drum class. So, I've been practising paradiddles on a wooden board with a cloth on top. Today, when I was hitting the practice pad at my class, I realised that I've gotten faster. (Its hard to tell from my makeshift-pad at home). I would like to know of getting a practice pad is way more effectivw than hitting other surfaces with no rebound.
First I would suggest asking the teacher of your class how important it is for you to have one. The bounce of the stick is a very important aspect of drumming and you even noticed the difference yourself at your class. It seems like practice pads start at about $20 in the big music stores but if you’re not going to get one right away I would suggest using something other than cloth over the board. I think the cloth might have the opposite effect and deaden the stroke. Maybe you have a thick rubberized mouse pad or some type of thick rubber or foam laying around the house that will simulate the bounce of a drum head or practice pad.
I have a practice pad, but often times, I use a pillow instead. A pad does help a lot if you are wanting to play upper battery in a drum line, but I still use the pillow to build chops and its also quite a bit quieter.
A lot of drummers in my percussion ensemble get into the habit of relying on the rebound too much and you can tell that they don’t put in the effort to build their chops. They tend to have weak doubles and cant do very clean paradiddles.
If you work to get a good clean paradiddle or double stroke, or even a fast clean single stroke on a pillow, it will dramatically help your drumming.
Yes it does take some practice on the rebound surface to be more fluid on the drums, but being able to have chops despite the rebound will help in your playing on any percussion instrument, and often a practice pad won't match the instrument perfectly.
For learning marching snare pieces, I would say yes get a pad, but for any other percussion instrument, I would just chop out on a pillow.