Learning Guide

Step-By-Step Learning Guide – Learn To Play Drums

Learning Guide

We’ve developed this learning guide so that you have a solid plan to start working your way through the material on OnlineDrummer.com. The guide includes the foundational drumming concepts that every drummer needs to master. We’ve linked to key lessons and notation excerpts that will introduce you to the concepts and offer you valuable practice materials.

NOTE: If you’re interested in a more in-depth study of reading music, visit our Learning To Read Series. Working through both the Learning To Read Series along with the drum set Learning Guide outline below will give you a more holistic understanding of playing the drums.


Before you begin, it’s important to understand the basics of setting up the drums, posture and best-practices for successful playing. The first part of this lesson guide covers these important topics to ensure you get started in the right direction.

a1. Hearing Protection
(Video lesson – 3 min 25 sec)

a2. Tuning
(Video demonstrations by Bob Gatzen.
Scroll down to the “tune like the pros” section.)

a3. Setting Up and Positioning Best Practices:

Drum Throne & Posture
(Video lesson – 1 min 59 sec)

Snare Drum Positioning
(Video lesson – 2 min 25 sec)

Tom Positioning
(Video lesson – 2 min 53 sec)

Bass Drum & Hi-Hat Setup
(Video lesson – 4 min 58 sec)

Snare, Hi-hat & Bass Drum Positioning
(Video lesson – 2 min 28 sec)

a4. Metronome Training Lesson 1
(Video lesson – 3 min 22 sec)
There are also links to metronome practice tracks.


The first beats you’ll learn to play use an 8th note repeating pattern (called an ostinato) on the cymbal. All of the other drums will fall in line with one or more of these cymbal strokes. Though these grooves are basic, many chart-topping songs have used (and continue to use) this technique — the 8th beat technique.

b1. Five Foundational Techniques For Rock Drumming – Lesson 1 (8th Beat Technique)

b2. Drum Beats to Practice: Drum Set Time PDF

b3. More Drum Beats to Practice: Drum Set Time 2 PDF

All of the beats you’ve played so far have what’s called a back-beat on beats 2 and 4 (played on the snare drum). To create more interesting-sounding grooves, drummers often play additional snare strokes or even move (or displace) the back-beat to a beat other than 2 or 4. In this section, you’ll practice moving the snare around to bring a new feel to your grooves.

b4. Five Foundational Techniques For Rock Drumming- Lesson 2 (Snare Movement)
(Video lesson – 3 min 31 sec)

b5. Four Cool Drum Beats For Beginners
(Video lesson – 4min 33 sec)
Be sure to print out the lesson notation PDF to follow along with the lesson.
Also, this lesson introduces an embellishment technique — the open hi-hat.


Listen to real-world examples of the 8th beat technique you’ve been practicing. Then, try to play these groove excerpts (at any tempo for now).

b6. Billie Jean – Michael Jackson
(Scroll down to the sample excerpt.)
The symbol like in bar 4 is called a measure repeat.
It means to repeat the previous measure (i.e. play it again).

b7. Beat It – Michael Jackson
(Sample excerpt beginning at bar 15)
The symbol like in bar 17/18 is a two-measure repeat.
It means to repeat the previous two measures.

b8. Yellow – Coldplay
(Sample excerpt beginning on bar 5)
The “loose hi-hat” symbol means to keep the hi-hat
closed but loose so that the cymbals reverberate while playing.

b9. Have You Ever Seen The Rain – Creedence Clearwater Revival
(Sample excerpt beginning on the first full bar)

b10. Rock or Bust – ACDC
(Sample excerpt beginning on bar 3)
The first two bars have whole rests, which means that
you don’t play for those bars.

b11. Hate to See Your Heart Break – Paramore
(Sample excerpt beginning on the first full bar)


Most songs include some type of drum fill. A drum fill is often used to transition between parts of a song (i.e. intro, verse, chorus, etc.) but can also be used simply to add an interesting element in the music. The following lessons introduce you to some drum fills and give you practice templates to work on creating your own drum fills.

c1. What Is a Drum Fill, Really?
(Video lesson – 6 min 19 sec)

c2. Beginner Drum Fill Concepts
(Video lesson – 9 min 49 sec)
Be sure to print the accompanying lesson notation PDF
to make it easier to follow along with the lesson.

c3. 8th Note Drum Grooves & Beginner Fills
(Video lesson – 6 min 44 sec)
Be sure to print the accompanying lesson notation PDF.

c4. Basic Rock Beat Voiced on the Toms
(Video lesson – 4 min 46 sec)
This lesson introduces a new concept: playing the right stick
(or left stick if you’re using a left-handed setup) on the tom
instead of the cymbal. It also incorporates the snare movement
technique you’ve been practicing. Be sure to print the accompanying
lesson notation PDF.

c5. Creating Your Own Drum Fills
(Video lesson – 6 min 47 sec)
Be sure to print the accompanying lesson notation PDF.

c6. Cool Four Bar Loops
(Video lesson – 6 min 45 sec)

c7. Versatile Linear Drum Fill – Practice Page
(Printable PDF)
This page introduces the concept of starting with a foundational
pattern and re-orchestrating it around the kit to different drums.
The fills on this page are what we call linear because no two drums
hit at the same time.


The next step is to learn to play sixteenth notes in your drum beats. This involves playing snare strokes or bass strokes that sometimes fall in between the 8th note cymbal strokes. Adding sixteenth notes to your grooves greatly increases the potential of your grooves.

d1. Five Foundational Techniques For Rock Drumming – Lesson 3 (Sixteenth-note Bass Drum Phrasing)
(Video lesson – 4 min 40 sec)

d2. Back To Basics – Video #10 – Bass Drum Doubles
(Video lesson – 2 min 23 sec)

d3. Single Bass Pedal Exercises (16th Note Phrasing)
(Video lesson – 4 min 49 sec)

d4. Four Classic Drum Beats (with 16th phrasing on bass)
(Video lesson – 4 min 52 sec)

d5. Sixteenth Phrasing Exercises – Practice Page (any tempo for now)
(Printable PDF)

d6. Five Foundational Techniques For Rock Drumming – Lesson 4 (Sixteenth-note Snare & Bass Phrasing)
(Video lesson – 5 min 52 sec)

d7. Two Most Common Patterns in Drumming
(Video lesson – 7 min 35 sec)

d8. Developing a Drum Beat
(Video lesson – 9 min 11 sec)

d9. How Do You Backbeat?
(Video lesson – 5 min 21 sec)
This lesson incorporates the snare movement technique that
you previously practiced. Here, the snare is sometimes moving
to a sixteenth-note placement.

d10. Sixteenth Phrasing Exercises 2 – Practice Page (any tempo for now)
(Printable PDF)


Now that you’ve practiced sixteenth-phrasing, we can introduce some new drum fill concepts and ideas. Here we go!

e1. Drum Fill Spacing Technique
(Video lesson – 4 min 55 sec)

e2. Your Go-To Fill
(Video lesson – 3 min 30 sec)

e3. Drum Fill #2
(Video lesson – 3 min 36 sec)

e4. Skeleton Fills 
(Video lesson – 4 min 14 sec)

e5. Drum Fill #11
(Video lesson – 3 min 16 sec)

e6. Standard, Syncopated Sixteenth-Note Fills
(Video lesson – 4 min 37 sec)

e7. Syncopated Drum Fill Pattern
(Video lesson – 4 min 16 sec)

e8. Bag o’ Short Fills
(Video lesson – 6 min 3 sec)

e9. Improvising Drum Fills – Drum Fill Improv. Template
(Video lesson – 4 min 7 sec)

e10. Improve Your Drum Fill Improvisation
(Video lesson – 6 min 2 sec)


e11. Five Classic Drum Fills
(Video lesson – 8 min 25 sec)

e12. Power Fills – Charlie Watts Style
(Video lesson – 5 min 38 sec)

e13. Two Bar Explosive Drum Fill 3 Doors Down Style
(Video lesson – 3 min 57 sec)

e14. Californication – Red Hot Chili Peppers
(Video lesson – 3 min 23 sec)

e15. Drum Fill From Smoke on the Water
(Video lesson – 3 min 7 sec)
This lesson introduces the concept of sixteenth-note triplets

e16. Give It Away – Red Hot Chili Peppers
(Video lesson – 3 min 22 sec)


“Embellishing” is a fancy way to say … well … making it fancier. Changing the dynamics (how loudly or softly you play) and adding the open hi-hat technique are two great ways to bring your grooves to life. In fact, embellishing a groove can really bring a groove to life, often times giving your groove a completely different feel. Learning to control these embellishments will give you the ability to create the appropriate feel for every groove you play.

f1. Five Foundational Techniques of Rock Drumming – Lesson 5 (Embellishing)
(Video lesson – 4 min 33 sec)

f2. Five Chart-Topping Drum Beats with Embellishing
(Video lesson – 4 min 9 sec)

f3. Ghost Strokes
(Video lesson – 5 min 34 sec)

f4. Snare Drum Accents and Expanding Them Around The Kit
(Video lesson – 5 min 36 sec)

f5. Expressions with Accents
(Video lesson – 5 min 30 sec)

f6. Open Hi-Hat Layering
(Video lesson – 4 min 51 sec)

f7. Subtle Hi-Hat Dynamics
(Video lesson – 6 min 16 sec)

f8. Leave It Open – Hi-Hat Techniques
(Video lesson – 5 min 40 sec)


g1. 6/8 Rock Grooves
(Video lesson – 4 min)

g2. Intro to the Rock Shuffle
(Video lesson – 4 min 1 sec)

g3. What is Half-Time?
(Video lesson – 4 min 54 sec)

g4. What is 7/8?
(Video lesson – 4 min 5 sec)

g5. What is 5/8?
(Video lesson – 4 min 59 sec)

g6. What is 3/8?
(Video lesson – 5 min 53 sec)

Congratulations for finishing this learning guide! You now have a solid understanding of the basics of playing drum set and will be able to play many of the songs that you encounter. Send us an email to let us know that you completed the guide. We’d enjoy hearing from you! Congratulations again, and keep drumming!

You can explore our song sheet music here. There are also a number of video lessons teaching parts of songs.