Getting Students Started on the Drumset

Teaching a student to start on the drumset can be challenging. Lisa Werner, the Wisconsin Music Educators Association state chair for jazz education, says, “Learning the coordination to properly play the set is difficult enough to try to do myself, let alone teach it to a middle school student.” After researching this topic in depth and talking to experts, she recommends the following:


  • The student should be centered in a semi-circle of equipment and should not have to move to get to each piece.
  • The height of the throne (seat) should be adjusted so the student’s ankles can move naturally to the hi-hat and bass drum pedals.
  • All of the instruments should be as close together as is practical.
  • The music stand should be placed above the hi-hat and to the left of the small mounted tom.
  • The student’s arms should be level with the snare drum or just dipping slightly. Young players tend to set the snare too low, which limits their hands.

Playing Technique

  • Bass drum: Most experts suggest a “heel down” approach, where the foot just rests on the pedal. “Heel up” techniques take more time to develop volume control.
  • Hi-hat: The “rocking motion” technique works well. The student should step down on the pedal on beats 2 and 4 and rock the heel up on beats 1 and 3.
  • Ride cymbal grip: This grip is similar to the French timpani grip. Have the student extend the right hand as though shaking hands with someone and put the stick between the thumb and first finger. The rest of the fingers are placed on the stick and serve as a guide. The stick should hit about two inches from the edge of the cymbal.

This article was adapted from the article, “The Drumset Tradition: Introducing Your Students to the Drumset” by Lisa Werner. The original was published in the April 2008 issue of the Wisconsin School Musician. Used with permission.

Lisa Werner is a Nationally Board Certified Teacher who teaches band and orchestra at North Lake School in northwestern Waukesha County, Wisconsin.

–Anne Wagener, May 6, 2009 © National Association for Music Education