I am a 24 year old computer engineering student who just have started playing drums. I spend on avarage 1 hour on bus to school and 40-60 min on exercise like running, biking, etc every day. My point is, I am trying to figure out how I can use these minutes to improve my drumming. Any suggestions? I have come up with one possible scheme.

  1. Get a set of metronome tracks on my ipod. ( with varying bpm )
  2. Count different beats in my head so that they match the metrnome beat i listen to while running.

Regarding point (2.), is there other cool sounds than "one", "two", "three", and "four" one can use to verbalize rhythms?

  • Are you looking for exercises in general for drumming or exercises concerning keeping a steady beat? As it is, thyis question seems rather open-ended.
    – Luke_0
    Commented May 23, 2012 at 21:19
  • Seems to me the question is "What can I do to practice drumming sans drum set?" Which may be slightly broad, but not unanswerable given that it should be limited to a beginner level.
    – NReilingh
    Commented May 23, 2012 at 21:33
  • Keeping time is good and integrating time keeping with running, biking, etc should help this but it won't be as good as using your hand with sticks or brushes on real drums. Drumming is more than feeling the beat, like other instruments you need to train your whole body to respond. Think performance muscles: hands, arms, upper body, your hips, your feet tapping the bass drum or Hi-Hat.
    – filzilla
    Commented May 23, 2012 at 21:33
  • @filzilla Although being at the kit in my opinion is the most beneficial you don't always have to be at it to train you muscles in the same way. you can tap your feet on anything to keep that up. Using a practice pad for example will help the hands and wrists :) Commented Jun 10, 2015 at 10:49

7 Answers 7


Much more useful than metronome tracks would be a metronome app; if you have an iPod touch or iPhone (or Android) I highly recommend Tempo by Frozen Ape software as it has a noticeably more accurate timing engine than many competitors.

When riding the bus to school you have free movement of all four of your limbs, so there's really quite a lot you could do just tapping different drumset beats in place. Even with just two hands you have mountains of material and technique to work through just on the 40 Essential Snare Drum Rudiments.

If you have a decent teacher they'll introduce you to this soon enough, but the most common useful system (ignoring non-contextualized syllables like Kodaly) of verbalizing rhythms is based on subdividing the beat into sixteenth notes in the following manner:

4/4 time:
1       2       3       4       (four quarter notes)
1   +   2   +   3   +   4   +   (eighth notes, pronounced "and")
1 e + a 2 e + a 3 e + a 4 e + a (sixteenth notes. Alone, the 'a' is verbalized as 'da'.)

Instrumental students will often practice clapping and counting rhythms using these syllables, using one foot to tap the beats, the hands to clap the rhythm, and the syllables to process the notation and contextualize everything at the right time (if they're doing it correctly). For example, the opening strain of "The Stars and Stripes Forever" would be vocalized thusly:

1 2 - da 3 + (4) + 1 + 2 + 3... (parentheses used to indicate a non-clapped beat)

Every rhythm is contextualized because a number is always used to indicate something on the beat, the 'and' always indicates an upbeat or syncopation, the 'a' indicates the second sixteenth in a beat, and the 'da' indicates the last sixteenth in a bar.

Compound meter can even be counted in a variation on these syllables, using 'ta' and 'ma' to indicate the second and last triple subdivisions, respectively, occurring after a numbered beat--see also triplets and asymmetric meter:

6/8 time:
1 ta ma 2 ta ma

4/4 with a triplet on beat 3 (increasing subdivisions):
1     2  +  3 ta ma 4 e + a

7/8 time, 3 + 2 + 2 subdivision
1  ta ma 2  +  3  +  

In the last example, 7/8 indicates the pulse is constant on the eighth notes, so all syllables written happen at a constant interval.

  • Hm... jTab is eating my first example.
    – NReilingh
    Commented May 23, 2012 at 21:40
  • Now I'll have that "Dr. Beat" voice in my head! Commented May 23, 2012 at 22:37
  • I've read about a rhythm vervbalizing system that was in the style of "one ka ta ka, two ka ta ka, ..." but I don't remember where or any name for it. In this (disputed) Wikipedia article some others are listed, including the one NReilingh describes: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhythm_syllables Commented May 23, 2012 at 22:56
  • @UlfÅkerstedt ka ta ka are familiar to me as syllables for learning how to double-tongue on a brass instrument. There are a few different systems; the reason I choose this one is because every subdivision of the beat has a distinct syllable, so you can identify where something is happening as "the and of 2" or "the e of 4". Most other systems reuse syllables throughout the beat.
    – NReilingh
    Commented May 24, 2012 at 0:32
  • @NReilingh Yeah. I like the one you suggested for this very reson. Thanks for pointing it out. Commented May 28, 2012 at 23:08

I play the drums with my teeth. I'm not saying this is a good thing.. But I've done in unconsciously most my life, to the point where my incisor's are slightly dented (but not much). I liken it to the dent in my ring finger from playing traditional style. I never thought much about it, till once I attended a class taught by Jim Kilpatrick (prodigy of Alex Duthart) and he asked us if anyone played the drums with their teeth, I sheepishly raised my hand and everyone was like lolwut?! Apparently he drums with his teeth as well, I felt special. Play a phrase slow with your teeth till you understand it, then speed it up, mirror it, accentuate different parts of the phrase, embellish based on your current emotion. The exact pattern isn't important, the feeling is. By the time you pick up sticks the phrase will be ingrained well enough you'll be more than halfway there, just a matter of technique at that point. I'd also suggest that you take time to consider that you (not the drums) are the instrument. My favorite quote from T.S. Elliot is "you are the music while the music lasts". It's true. Try to concentrate not just on the letter of the notes, but their spirit, focus on the emotion and passion underpinning your technique. And beside the 40 essential techniques (structure), learn to sing/play the Talas (ebb and flow), Afro-Cuban patterns (left right separation), Scottish swing (crush rolls, start/stops), and Jazz (improv / all of the above). It's also good to remember that drumming reveals patterns you can't express with words. Once you start to discover them, it's good to keep playing.

  • 1
    I also drum with my teeth, but thought it was just a bad habit/OCD related. +1 for the information that it's possibly a good thing... Commented May 7, 2014 at 23:07
  • Please enlighten me to how you manage to play drums with your teeth? I don't think I've ever heard or seen that being done... is it holding the stick in you mouth? or clattering your teeth together? I'm so confused... :S Commented Jun 10, 2015 at 10:56
  • @ThunderToes Clattering your teeth together. Relax your jaw a bit so your teeth aren't touching. Move your jaw left. Most likely your your left top/bottom incisors will touch first. Then move your jaw right, your right top/bottom incisors will touch. Go back and forth like you would with hands. LRLR, RLRL. So now instead of vocalizing "Di-ga-di-gat" or "1234," you can silently play with your teeth. Do it lightly. For accents, clamp your jaw up as it moves over so you're almost biting down instead of knocking your teeth from the side. Good for quiet times when you can't sing the parts.
    – sime0n
    Commented May 8, 2016 at 2:14
  • Hmm that's strange. It does work upon trying it. There are even two distinct sounds as each incisor sounds closer to the ear on the same side... quirky. However I am prone to Sensitive teeth to begin with (having lip piercings and such). I have a feeling this would be quite bad for your teeth. Commented May 11, 2016 at 14:21
  • I shouldn't be surprised that I'm not the only person that does this, but I am!
    – Brent
    Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 13:03

Most of the practicing I've done in my life has been without the kit. The trick is to train your brain signal paths to move differently than they are naturally programmed (e.g. your right hand and right foot kind of naturally want to move together, but you train them to move separately). Your limbs can do it, and practice (with or without a kit) will get you there!


Listen to all kinds of music and try to follow it with the hand or just by counting 1,2,3,4. Listen it for a long time, try also to sing the melody. When you are in a gig, follow the song with any limb.

When you feel comfortable with the tempo play 1/8 notes with the right hand. Try to pick a song slow enought to match your habilities.

After that, add snares in 2 and 4. Take your time for this to be well seated. Then add a kick drum pattern with the right foot. This can follow the bass guitar or the bass drum in the song. Listen to each limb while doing this. If you feel comfortable play 1/4 notes with the left foot.

A few variants of this:

  1. Remove or add the limbs in other order.
  2. Sing the part of any limb that is not yet playing.
  3. Do patterns with the hands while listening to music, the most common are (singles) RLRLRLRL, (doubles) RRLLRRLL and paradiddles (RLRRLRLL)
  4. Focus on the limbs that need more practice (typically left ones if you are right-handed)

NReilingh's answer seems to cover the time spent on the bus pretty well. As for the time spent exercising, when your hands may not be free, you might want to try out the kind of time-keeping exercise suggested by Bruce Arnold's "The Big Metronome" book (found here) - basically, keeping time to metronome track with increasingly larger gaps between clicks.

  • 1
    This looks like an answer to me.
    – user28
    Commented May 8, 2014 at 13:45

The Great thing about drums, is that it is a truly organic and primitive method of making sound, it can be performed on any and all materials (not recommended on Breakable surfaces - Glass etc) but any material that makes a sound can be used as a drum, pots and pans, desk and books (I annoy my workmates daily with that one) seats, bus handles, even your knees!

If you have a rhythm in your head, don't hold back! play that thing over and over and don't be put off if people see you in public. Drummers are always said to be a bit loopy anyway :P. When I Have my iPod playing, my feet go uncontrollably. I then tap my hands on my legs whenever I am on the bus, even when I'm driving I tap the steering wheel. Everything you do to keep rhythm with you mind and body will help you with Drumming as it is so instinctive. I often find myself walking in Perfect 4/4 timing! be aware of your own rhythm EVERYWHERE, and you will come on leaps and bounds as a drummer.

But if you are thinking inside the box, use a practice pad with your sticks in your spare time. Don't have one? use a pillow. Pillow practice is fun and really makes you work with technique, particularly with blast beats as you don't get much compensation in terms of bounce back.


you can use: da da da da for 1, 2, 3, 4 (4/4)

daba daba daba daba for 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + (8/8)

dabaraba dabaraba dabaraba dabaraba (16/16)

what is: da da da da , daba ba ba badaba, daba ba ba ba ?

for my brass instrument I often use

dagadaga or dagaraga for 16th notes

dgr or dgl for triplets (with any vocal as you like as dagara or dögölö or dügürü)

an appropriate mean is to use just well known city names which fit to a rhythmic pattern.

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