Tiger Bill's Drum Tips and Tricks

I began offering Tips on drums, drumming, and percussion that change regularly on the main Home page of my site. This section is an archive for your convenience. Unless posted otherwise, all tips have been supplied by me.

Have fun, stay loose, and I'll see you online!

Tiger Bill

Top Drumming Speed Requires Fast Reflexes
If you are not naturally fast have no fear, there are ways that you can build fast relexes and many of these techniques have nothing to do with drumming. You can take up tap dancing or a martial art. There are also many games that can help you build your reflexes. One of the best I've found is a simple little toy called a BOP-IT. Try one!

Practice Pads are Good But Real Drumsets are Better!
Unless you are planning to make a living playing a practice pad, you should always practice all of your pad exercises on the drumset as well. Drums not only have a different feel than a pad but there are usually a lot more of them and you need to get your body comfortable moving from drum to drum. So don't be one of those drummers who plays a terrific pad but doesn't know what to do behind the kit! Everyhting you practice on the pad should be woodshedded on a full kit!

How NOT to Practice Your Rudiments!
I don't agree with the common method of practicing rudiments from slow to fast and back to slow again. This tends to build bad timing into your muscle memory.You should practice your rudiments at all tempos but you're better off stopping and re-setting your internal clock before each tempo change.

The Key to Breaking Through to the Next Level of Speed!
If you've been working on your speed but you can't quite seem to make it to the next level then you're probably practicing incorrectly. The key to increasing your speed is to push yourself slightly past your usual comfort speed level and practice short burst of speed exercises. Even at the risk of sounding a bit sloppy! This serves to build the new speed level into your muscle memory. Then, when you back off a notch or two on the metronome, you'll find that you will be able to play faster and cleaner than before. It's kind of like taking two steps forward so you can take one "clean and precise" step back. Try it! But don't allow your muscles to tense up at any time!

Is leg pain normal when playing Heels Up?
Absolutely not! It's one thing to become fatigued when practicing your foot chops for long periods of time but you should never feel any real pain! If you do, you are playing under too much tension. If you're having this problem, here are two important things to look for:

#1: Check throne height. If your seat is not at the correct level, you will have poor foot chops. See "Improve Your Bass Drum Chops Instantly" for more.

#2: When playing Heel Up, raise your heel no more than about 1/4 inch from the footboard. Higher than that will cause tension.

The Correct Type of Practice Makes Perfect... Incorrect Practice Just Wastes Time!
One of the most common questions I get is from drummers who complain they've been practicing for many years and they're not getting any better! The problem usually lies in the type of practice they're doing. To get better you must constantly push yourself. Effortful practice is the key to improving your skills. Practicing  things that you already know and can play well is a waste of valuable practice time.

Building Neuro-Pathways for Improved Performance!
All great athletes know that the 'secret' to becoming the best that they can be is repetitive practice. Practicing the same motions over and over and over again, stimulates and builds pathways between the brain and the muscles. The more repetitions you perform on a regular basis, the more efficient these pathways become.

The result is that you'll soon be playing things that you thought were impossible!

Make Mistakes Faster!
Everyone makes mistakes but the most succeessful people are those who have learned to make mistakes faster!

So, if you have been trying to be very careful and negotiate your way through life and/or business worrying about making mistakes, forget about it! Take a tip from some of the world's most successful people and go after your dream, whatever it is, not worrying about making mistakes. Just learn to make them faster. This, in turn, will allow you to become successful much faster!

Only the Proper Kind of Practice Makes Perfect!
Practice really does make perfect but only the proper kind of practice. The key is to start slowly and gradually build up your speed while maintaining control over everything you do. Once you get to the point where you are starting to sound sloppy, back down a notch or two on the metronome to find your "Control Speed" and start over again.

Two Books NO Drummer Should Be Without!
The first book that every drummers should own is Stick Control by George Stone. Not only is this book gret for working both hands and feet, but with a little creativity you can apply it a thousand different ways to the entire drumset.

And every drummer, regardless of musical style, should also own the book Syncopation by Ted Reed. There are so many different ways that you can practice the exercises in this book, it's unbelieveable! Get your copy of Syncopation today and get creative!

Making Odd Time Signatures Easy
If you're having trouble feeling comfortable when playing in odd time signatures, such as 5/4, 7/4, 11/4, etc., try breaking them down into more common signatures. For example, instead of counting in 5 for 5/4 time, try it as a bar of 3/4 and a bar of 2/4. You can think of 7/4 time as a 4 and a bar of 3, and so on. Try it. It can help make odd time signatures feel a bit more even!

Improve Your Bass Drum Chops Instantly!
Sometimes all it takes to improve your bass drum chops is a simple height adjustment on your drum throne. Sitting too high or too low can cause tension in your legs, which not only slows you down but makes endurance and control a nightmare!

How do you find the correct adjustment for you? Watch the DRUM! Magazine Web site for Tiger Bill's Free Video Lesson on Developing Tension-Free Footwork.

Drummers NEED Music Theory Too!
While it's true that some very famous drummers cannot read music they are the exception, not the rule. The very best drummers are those who have an overall knowledge of music theory, which includes a knowledge of melody , harmony, and chordal structures as well as rhythm. Once you have Music Theory under your belt you can do anything with your music, even compose your own songs. I feel that every drummer should have at least a rudimentary knowledge of keyboard in addition to drums.

The Circle of Success
Practicing properly yields successful workout sessions. The more successful sessions you have, the more your confidence level increases, which makes you want to practice more. This, in turn, increases your success even more. It's a never-ending circle of success!

Avoiding A Common 'Speed Trap'
One of the most common problems shared by drummers of all experience levels, from beginners through advanced, is the tendency to speed up when playing fills. The best way to avoid this is to practice with a metronome (use a variety of tempos from slow to fast) and play 3 bars of a groove followed by a fourth bar drum fill. Once you can easily lock in the tempo for a one bar fill, increase the fill to 2 bars and practice playing 2 bars of groove followed by a 2 bar fill. Once you've mastered this to a metronome, it's time to try it to music and the best way to practice this, outside of a real band, is to use Spencer Strand's CDs Turn It Up & Lay It Down. Volume 1 and 2 both contain play-along tracks that are perfect for practicing fills without benefit of a click track. Have fun!

The Key to Becoming a Musical Drummer
LISTEN! That's it. Listen to everything! Listen to all kinds of music (not just the music you like to play) and listen to what everyone in your band is playing. Although listening to the bass player is important so that you can both lay down a solid foundation for the beat, it's also important to listen to what each member of your band is doing so that what you're playing doesn't step on any of their toes! So, in addition to practicing various exercises to build your technique, practice "listening" every day.

The Money Beat!
Originally coined by Nashville session drummer Paul Leim, the 'Money Beat' is as follows: Play bass drum on 1 and 3 and snare drum on 2 and 4. That's it! You can play about 90% of today's Rock, Country, Pop, New Wave, and Techno tunes using this basic pattern. Learn it well. Then go out and make some cash with it!

Rockin' the Rudiments
Rudiments are not just for marching drums. When used with a little imagination, they can be extremely effective on the drumset in whatever style of music you play.

Check out the Tiger's Free 5-part lesson Rudiments Around The Drums for details.

Secret to Speed?
It's simple. The faster you play, the closer you should keep your sticks to the drumhead. For maximum speed, try using less wrist and more fingers. For free lessons and tips on speed drumming technique see Tiger Bill's Free Video Speed Drum Lessons, exclusively at DRUM! Magazine.

Would You Like to Make Your Drumheads Sound Better and Last Longer?
Try putting a good insulator wax on the bearing edges of
the drum shells and the underside of the heads where they meet the shells. This little trick allows the heads to vibrate freely over 100% of their surface. They breathe throughout and last about twice as long and keep their tuning much longer. [Supplied by Roger Strange.]

Verbal Phrases Are Often Easier Than Counting
Difficult rhythmic patterns can often be made easier to play by converting them to verbal phrases rather than counting them. For example, triplets could be counted as 1-trip-let, 2-trip-let, etc., or you could use a verbal phrase like "ba-be-da, ba-be-da" to play the triplets instead. You can do this for quintuplets and any rhythmic pattern. Create your own verbal phrases for various rhythmic patterns and experiment with it yourself.

Think ODD As Well as EVEN
When you're looking for more options for creatiive drum solos, fills, or rhythmic patterns try interspersing odd-time phrases with the more common even ones. For example, instead of playing a drum fill that consists of four groups of four-sixteenth notes, try playing four groups of five-sixteenth notes. Also experiment with groups of seven, nine, eleven, thirteen, and fifteen for some real strange but different (and challenging) drum patterns.

Check it out and see what you can come up with.

Thinking Out of The Box
I regularly receive questions from Drumheads asking how they can improve their creativity. Actually, there are a number of ways but here are two of the simplest:

1) Rearrange your drumset. Move your toms to different locations. For example, try placing your floor tom on your left side and/or an additional snare drum where your floor tom normally is. When your drums are not where you expect them to be, you'll find yourself playing different sounding patterns. This can lead you to new ideas.

2) Practice playing on a limited drumset. For example, use only your snare drum and hi-hat and see what you can do with them. This will also force you to discover new ideas that you'll be able to apply even when you get back behind your entire drumset.

Force yourself to "think out of the box" and you'll find that your creativity will greatly increase.

Drumming and Your Health
Let's face it, drumming IS a physical sport. If you want to keep drumming well into your golden years, you've got to take care of your health - now! Lighten up on the junk foods. Eat more fiber and vegetables. Have some fruit instead of candy and cake. Learn how to make great tasting health-shakes in your blender at home. If you smoke, quit it! If you're not already physically active other than playing drums, start an exercise routine and stick with it. Exercising can be as simple as taking a brisk walk, riding a bike, or swimming but you have to something every day. And don't forget that yearly physical, it can help detect minor problems before they turn into major ones. For more on staying fit, see Healthy Drumming.

Keep Your Drums Clean
Clean your gear once a week with a soft, clean cloth and it will be a long time before you'll need to disassemble them for a more thorough cleaning. Non-wax furniture polish will keep a shine on lacquer finished wood shells, Windex works wonders on plastic wrapped shells, and chrome-cleaner will keep your hardware sparkling.

Video of Tim Waterson and the World's Cheapest Double Bass Drum Pedal The World's Cheapest Double Pedal!
Click on the camera, you've never seen anything like it. Supplied by Tim "Fast Feet" Waterson.

The Key to Building Monster Chops
In a word: Slowly! Don't rush it. No one develops Monster Chops overnight. It takes time and practice but the proper kind of practice. Speed is nothing without endurance and control. Start slowly and work on each exercise until you can play it easily and in complete control before moving up the next notch on the metronome - or, as I prefer to use, an EZ Sound Module!

This is the key to developing a technique that will last a lifetime. For details on hand technique, see Building Monster Chops.

You Can't Fail!
If you're looking for the "secret" to making it in the music biz (or any other biz for that matter), it's simple: Never give up and you can't fail! Providing you have your act together and you really can play, just hang in there long enough and you can't miss.

DrumHead Tips for DrumHeads
Although drumhead makers would like you to believe otherwise, you only need to replace a head if:
1) It's cut or badly dented
2) The head buzzes when struck
3) You can no longer get your drum in tune

As far as drumhead selection goes, if you want your drums to ring more use single-ply heads. For less ring use double-ply heads. That's the general rule but with so many different drumheads available today, your best bet is to find a music store that has lots of drumheads mounted on kits and try them out for yourself!

Get Creative
Regardless of what type of music you're into, don't just play the same old beats you hear other drummers play. Get creative and try some variations of your own. You might just come up with something that sounds better. Check out the following lesson articles for some examples: Disco Sounds Good, With a Little Creativity and Polka Fun.

Calluses and Blisters Are NOT Normal!
If you are developing calluses or blisters from playing the drums, then you're not playing correctly! Using the correct technique, you can drum for a lifetime and still have fingers as soft as a baby's behind! For further information, see Building Monster Chops.

Supervise That Syncopation!
If you're showing off for a room full of drummers at a clinic that's one thing, but if you're keeping the beat in a band be careful not to overdo the syncopated rhythms. Remember, a drummer's main purpose is to be a timekeeper and groove maker and too much syncopation can destroy both, not only for your bandmates but for the the listeners and dancers in your audience.DrumHeads from around the world.

Before You Junk Those Drums...
If you can't seem to get a decent sound out of your drumset, try new drumheads before buying a new kit. That may be all you need. There are many different kinds of drumheads available today that will give you a "dry" or "wet" sound or any type of sound in between. Even the most inexpensive drums can sound a whole lot better when outfitted with high-quality drumheads. Check out our Buying Gear section to find quality drumhead manufacturers.

Counting Out Loud
The importance of counting out loud, especially for beginning drummers, cannot be stressed enough. Not only does it help you to find your mistakes faster but it also helps you to develop "5-way" coordination. This will come in handy should you ever need to sing harmony or lead vocals while drumming in a band someday. After all, look what it did for Ringo!

The Key to Fame in the Music Biz
It can be summed up in three words: Word of Mouth. More than any other business on earth, finding work in the music business relies on word of mouth. For example, a bass player who likes your playing remembers you, and when someone mentions that they're looking for a drummer, he recommends you. Most of the time, that's the way the pros find work in music. So, if you want to be famous, you've got to get out there and play as often as you can, with as many musicians as you can. And play regardless of whether you're getting paid or not.

Follow this link for a detailed how-to guide on How To Make It in the Music Business.

Practice Routine
I constantly receive questions from drummers who want to know how long and how often they should practice. As far as length of practice time, there is no correct answer. It is much more important to practice regularly. Practicing for 10 minutes every day will get you much farther than practicing for 10 hours straight, once in a blue moon!

Pitch-Matching Your Drumsticks
Pitch-matching your drumsticks is important if you want to get an even sound from your drums and cymbals. Although top stick makers now computer test sticks for weight and straightness, I have yet to find matched pairs from ANY maker than are consistently matched in pitch.

Here's what you can do to check your sticks before you buy: Holding the stick lightly between the thumb and middle finger, raise it up to your ear and tap it with the forefinger. Do the same with the second stick and you'll be able to hear if the pitches match. If not, choose another pair of sticks.

Building Double Bass Chops
There are plenty of exercises you can practice on your pedals to build up double bass drum chops but they'll do you little good if you're lacking in leg strength. So, along with your drumming exercises, I suggest that you add a leg strengthening routine. Practiced regularly, any of the following will make you a better double bass drummer and a healthier person to boot!

1) Swimming with lots of leg action

2) Martial arts that contain lots of high kicks (like Tae Kwon Do or KickBoxing)

3) Jogging

4) Jumping Rope: The safe way to jump is to jump just high enough to let the rope pass below your feet, which is about one or two inches off the floor.

Those are the best exercises you can do for your double bass drum chops. Note: Always check with your doctor first before beginning any vigorous exercise routine.

You Can't Groove Alone
It's not easy to make everything you play really cook or groove, as they say in the biz. Developing a good groove requires practice but the proper kind of practice. First, you need enough coordination to be able to play various rhythmic patterns with ease. Then, you need to practice playing alone until you get a consistent groove. But the third and most important part, is that you must learn to groove with other musicians. For example, if you've got one idea of groove and the bass player has another, there will be no groove! There's a lot more to grooving than just the drums. The entire rhythm section needs to groove together. And that takes practice.

Time Times Three
"Time" refers to the rhythmic pattern played by a drummer during a tune. That's easy to understand. What's difficult, especially for beginning drummers to comprehend, is how to develop the great "time" feel of the pros. That's usually because beginners think there is only one correct "time" feel and that is strict metronome time. Actually, there are three distinctly different "time" feels and experienced players decide what is best for a particular tune. Sometimes the "time" feel changes within the tune itself. The three types of time are:

1) On Top of the Beat: This type of time, exemplified by Buddy Rich, is the most exciting and energetic. You have to be careful not to rush the tempo when playing on top.

2) In the Center of the Beat: This is strict metronome time, where you play directly in the middle of the beat.

3) Behind the Beat: This type of time, popularized by Count Basie, requires that you play slightly behind the beat. You have to be careful not to drag the tempo down when playing behind.

Those are the three distinct time feels. Each should be practiced with a metronome and also while playing along to various records from Count Basie to Buddy Rich to *NSYNCH.

For more on working with a metronome, see my article: Time In – Time Out.

Cymbal Sense: Let 'em Breathe!
A major cause of crummy sounding and even cracked cymbals is due to overtightening. When setting up your cymbals, make sure your cymbal stands have felt pads and nylon sleeves on them before placing your cymbals over the threaded screw. If the nylon sleeves are missing and your cymbal touches the metal screw threads, not only will it sound terrible but you'll eventually wear an extra groove in your cymbal hole. Not good! When installing the final wing nut on top of your cymbal stand, don't tighten it so much that it hampers the free swing of the cymbal.

Top hi-hat cymbals are also often kept way too tight. Tighten the clutch only enough to hold the cymbal while still allowing it to move around freely.

Be an Original, Not a Copy
Joe Morello once told me that, although he loved the way Buddy Rich played, he would never be flattered by someone telling him that he sounded like Buddy. Why? Because Joe didn't want to sound like anyone but himself. As Joe puts it, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but the fastest way to failure!" Anyone who has heard Joe play would have to agree that Joe sounds like no one but Joe. He's a true original whose playing style has influenced, and continues to influence, drummers the world over. I feel the same way. Every drummer has something unique to bring to the art of drumming. As much as I loved Buddy's playing myself, how boring would drumming be if we ALL sounded like Buddy? And years after all of the Buddy Rich imitators fade away, who will even remember their names?

Although you can (and should) listen to and emulate the playing styles of all of the great drummers, you should NOT copy any of them note for note. Develop your own variations on their theme, create your own sound. Then, someday, you may find other drum students copying YOU!

That's when you'll know you've made it as a true original in the field of drumming.

Audition Anxiety Cure
Everybody gets nervous at auditions, beginners and pros alike. Here are a few things you can do upfront to help you relax and give you the upper hand during any audition. First find out if you'll be playing their drums or your own. If it's their drums, try to get a look at the set ahead of time so there aren't any surprises. If you can get a tape of the tunes you'll be expected to play for the audition, great. If not, at least get a list of the songs, get them, and practice them prior to the audition. The better you know the music, the more likely you'll get the gig. Important note: There is often a difference between tempos of tunes that are recorded live and those recorded in a studio. (Live version tempos are often faster.) Try to get live in-concert versions of the songs to study, if possible.

If you're auditioning for a band like KISS, it's probably overkill to come dressed up as a "Cat" but it's not a bad idea to try to emulate the overall look of the band - minus the theatrical makeup! The more closely you identify with the members, the more likely they'll choose you to become one of the "guys." (Whether you're a Guy OR Gal!)

Find Yourself A Sub
Whether you play for a hobby or for a living, be on the lookout for good drummers that you can use to sub for you. Subs can come in handy whether you're too sick or injured to play the gig yourself, or if get two gigs for the day – and one of them pays more. So keep your eyes and ears open and start collecting phone numbers of other drummers you can use to sub for you.

Additional Tip: Not only do you need to make sure that a potential sub can cut the gig musically, you need to verify that he is someone who is trustworthy and easy to get along with. You wouldn't want to send a "looney tune" in on a gig that you value – unless, of course, you are trying to get fired from the gig!

Best Hand Technique On The Planet!
The Gladstone method of drumming allows you to play at top speed for hours at a time without getting fatigued. The longer you play the better you feel. That's why I based my Tension Free Drumming Concepts on the Gladstone Freestroke! Follow this link and find out for yourself.

Got 4-Way Coordination Problems?
The secret is to break the exercise down and practice only two parts at a time, alternating parts until they become easy to play. Then, add the third and finally the fourth part and you've got it.

If you're still having trouble, click this link for more help.

The World's Slowest Drummer?
What's harder than playing fast? Playing slowwww. That's right. It's much harder to play slow than fast. Try it. Set your metronome to the slowest setting (which is usually somewhere around 40 bpm) and try to play a quarter note pattern to it. Not so easy, is it? But, practice makes perfect. If you practice enough, you may even have a shot at getting listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the World's Slowest Drummer!
Now that's cool!

Bad News for Knuckle Crackers
Do you regularly crack your knuckles as a way to warm up before playing the drums? If so, STOP IT! Why? Because it really doesn't loosen you up at all, it tightens you up. And worse than that, it can eventually cause arthritis. Don't do it!

There's Always Something New To Learn
No matter what your musical bag, there's always something new that you can learn - as long as you keep an open mind. Once you get to the point where you think you know it all (and NO one knows it ALL), you're dead (creatively speaking). That's why you'll find that the top pros in the business are constantly learning, they learn from each other and from their students. There's always something you can learn from anybody - even if it's how NOT to play! Keep learning - and stay loose!

The Secret To Monster Chops
The faster you play, the looser your muscles should be. Allowing your muscles to tighten up is like driving a car with your gas pedal to the metal while the brake is on.
The secret is to Stay Loose! And all the secrets are exposed in detail in TigerBill's Concepts of Tension Free Drumming™ Hand Technique DVD-Set. Click the link to check it out today.

Tame That Slippery Drum Kit
Having problems with your kick drum or hi-hat sliding away from you while you play? Buy a piece of indoor-outdoor carpet of the correct size to fit your entire kit, including your seat. It's thin, which won't soak up as much drum sound as heavier carpet would. And it's inexpensive, lightweight, and rolls up to make schlepping easy.

Trick to a Click Track? Make it LOUD!
Here's a tip for recording in the studio with a click track: Make the volume of the click as loud in your headphones as you can stand it. This lets you forget about concentrating on hearing the click and you'll find yourself playing as if the click didn't even exist. Experiment with this at home by sending a metronome or other electronic type click sound through your headphones while you practice. But don't overdo the decibels. Give your ears a break!

Auditioning Cymbals?
Make sure you bring your own drumsticks with you. Drumsticks of varying sizes and weights can make cymbals sound very different. Not to mention the huge sound difference that wood and nylon tipped sticks can produce.

Dr. Scholl's Moleskin is Not For Blisters Only!
Most people probably think of Dr. Scholl's Moleskin pads in relation to blisters on their feet. But, for years, I've used the stuff to protect my batter bass drum head from wearing out. And, as a bonus, it improves the tone too!

Just cut a piece big enough to cover the area where your single or double bass beater balls strike your bass drum head, remove the backing on the moleskin, and stick it on. Then as the pad wears out, replace it with a new piece. It's a whole lot cheaper than replacing bass drum heads!

Why Electronic "DrumHeads" Will Never Replace The Human Kind
Electronic metronome-like drum machines can play on the beat with incredible accuracy, but that's not what makes the groove. In addition to playing exactly on the beat, groove is sometimes created by laying back and playing slightly behind the beat or by playing slightly on top of the beat. Something that electronics will never be able to reproduce.

Improve Your Slow R&B Chops
Set your metronome to quarter note equals 80 and play a standard slow triplet R&B groove: That is, eight note triplets on the ride cymbal, 2 and 4 on the snare drum and hi-hat (with your foot), and 1 and 3 on the bass drum. Play it over and over until you feel you're in the pocket. Then set your metronome down to 60 and repeat the exercise. Finally, set your metronome to 40 and play it again. You'll see that the slower you play, the harder it gets! Try it!

If your metronome lets you turn the audible click on and off, while the metronome continues to keep time, try the following: Play the above exercise and once you think you've got it in the pocket, turn the audible click off and continue playing for one bar before turning the click back on. Did you stay on the click? If you did, cool. Try turning it off for two, three, and four bars (or more) at a time. Have fun!

Weighted Drumsticks: Good or Bad?
If you currently use or have ever thought about using weighted drumsticks, forget about it! Some say that they build up your "drumming" muscles but, in reality, they tear them down.

Speed and precision in technique requires race horse type muscles NOT weightlifter-type muscles. Practicing with heavy sticks will only desensitize your hands, when you should be looking to increase sensitivity.

Expensive Drums Deserve Protection
When you spend a lot cash on a drum set, don't skimp on the cases. Lightweight, hard shell fiber cases aren't cheap but do offer the best protection. They also make your set easier to carry. For added protection against damage, wrap each drum in a towel before packing or include some foam packing blocks inside each case. You never know when you might roll a drum down a flight of stairs! I DID! But, because of the case, it wasn't damaged.

Have fun, stay loose, and I'll see you online!

Tiger Bill


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