Starting (or Advancing) at Any Age

No More Excuses!

by Russ Miller

I have the privilege of meeting players from all over the world. I also meet many people who are interested in taking up the drums but are torn about it. Many of the excuses for not starting to play are the same excuses for not working on progressing in drumming. The most common are discussed below.

“I should have started at an early age.”

This is one of the main excuses for not learning to play. I also hear a lot of players use this as an excuse for their current state of development. The point I’m trying to make is that there’s often a tremendous amount of time wasted at the beginning of study. This is especially true when the student is very young. Lack of focus and diligence is common at younger ages. You can actually progress much faster in adulthood than in childhood, especially with solid organizational skills and commitment.

“I don’t have anywhere to practice.”

This is a valid issue. But the industry has put quite a bit of focus on practice scenarios when designing instruments. On the market are silent mesh heads for the drums, low-volume cymbals, electronic pads that mount right to your drums, electronic kits, and practice drumsets. These are all alternative options to full-volume playing.

I would recommend using low-volume cymbals, like Zildjian’s Gen16, over electronic cymbal pads. Learning to coax various tones from actual cymbals is very important, and you cannot do this on electronic versions. Using silent mesh heads or electronic pads is fine, but the cymbals should be actual instruments.

“It costs too much to start playing the drums.”

Money constrictions are relative to your current financial state. But the cost of drum equipment has lowered significantly over the years. When I was thirteen years old, after playing on a pad and then a snare for five years, I sold my Star Wars toys at a yard sale and bought my first drumset. The bass drum, tom, and floor tom cost $400 and came without any hardware. These days you can buy a name-brand, five-piece, great-sounding drumset, with hardware, for $500. This is less than the price of a smartphone, eight video games, or four months of daily stops at Starbucks.

Also, if you have the discipline to start the correct way, with a practice pad and private lessons to get you developing proper technique, the initial financial output will be reduced dramatically. Work up to getting a full drumkit after you’ve acquired some basic rudimentary skills on a practice pad.

“I’m just too busy.”

I understand this as much as anybody. Family, children, employees, aging parents, travel schedules, and daily business responsibilities don’t give me a whole lot of time to practice. I have a system for practice that I recommend in my online classroom. It involves breaking your time into three sections. First, play your drumset for fifteen minutes. Play along with your iPod and just have fun. Use this time to work out the “I feel like playing” energy.

Next, spend a focused thirty minutes working diligently on your current lessons. This is your concentrated and deliberate study time. Take notes and log your progression. Organized and deliberate practice is the key to development on any instrument.

In the third and final section of your practice, play with music or solo for fifteen minutes. Have fun so you can walk away from the drums feeling positive. This way, if you were working on difficult things in the middle section, you won’t leave the session thinking, I stink at this, and end up not wanting to come back the next day.

Just an hour of practice, with the proper guidance, can be very effective. What usually hinders progress isn’t time constraints—it’s ego. As I’ve mentioned multiple times before, everyone needs a coach. Online lessons make it very easy to gain information on your time as well. Just make sure you’re getting information from a reliable source. One approach is to seek out a player who has done or is doing what you want to do and ask for some guidance or lessons.

In last month’s column I wrote about the nice environment that a great drum shop can create. Shops often offer lessons that not only further the ability of students but get them into the store once a week, which helps them stay inspired. Students get to meet other players, test new gear, and be exposed to educational materials such as instructional DVDs and method books.

I grew up in a small town in northeastern Ohio, and the local drum shop, Zampino’s, was owned by one of my first teachers, Phil Zampino. Later, another one of the teachers, Scott Grewell, purchased the store. My earliest memories of Zampino’s include taking lessons, attending clinics—the great Roy Burns was my first one—watching instructional videos, and performing recitals. There was always a great vibe at the store. I bought all of my gear there. I ended up teaching at the shop and working there part-time while I was in high school. I remained invested in Zampino’s until I moved to Miami for college.

The first thing I did when I got to Florida was to seek out local drum stores. I ended up teaching at and eventually managing Resurrection Drums. I actually hired its current owner, Jeff Lee. There I learned about building drums, tuning, and the differences between various brands on the market. Those experiences prepared me to develop my various signature products over the years with Yamaha, Zildjian, Mapex, ProLogix, and Meinl Percussion. The time I spent in these drum shops did so much for me. I was inspired, became a better player and more educated in the world of drums, and even got my career going by teaching and subbing on gigs for my teachers.

You can be a drummer just for fun, you can become a part-time musician, or you can even switch careers and become a full-time professional. It’s all up to you!

Russ Miller has played on recordings with combined sales of more than 26 million copies. For more info, visit