When a student sits down at their first drum lesson, he or she is most likely thinking that they will jump right on the drum set and start rocking out immediately. Well, we can absolutely do that for the purposes of creativity and expression. However, playing with drum sticks can be a little more difficult than it looks to the first-time student. Your drum teacher would also suggest that starting a lesson with a practice pad is a great way to hone in on these skills and make it easier for the student to start rocking out on drum set as quickly as possible.
What is a practice pad?
Great question. A practice pad is a small plastic or rubber surface designed for drum and general percussion lessons. A player can use a practice pad to warm up their hands to play, or just simply practice basic hand dexterity. The practice pad provides a surface for the practicing musician to play on with just their sticks so all tables and chairs around the drummer are spared.
Plastic versus rubber
There are two basic types of practice pads: plastic head practice pad and rubber head practice pads. There are benefits and drawbacks to both. Plastic head practice pads can be a little louder and less bouncy. The loudness factor can be an issue if there are other people anywhere close to you (still not nearly as loud as a snare drum or whole drum set for that matter). However, the plastic heads are more sensitive, so they have a much wider range of dynamics and the player can get a better idea of their dynamics between their hands and decide if maybe one hand is playing louder than the other. As far as the bouncy factor, the rubber heads make it easier to begin bouncing to work towards rolls, but for the more experienced drummer who is already playing rolls, the plastic head will provide more resistance and therefore refine their skills a bit further. If they want to take it a step further, substitute a pillow for a practice pad and see how fast their stick control increases.
What to practice first
When I sit down with a student for their first drum lesson, one of the first things I teach them is how to hold their sticks. They must keep the stick situated between the top crease of their index (closest to the nail) and the flat part of their thumb. The rest of the three fingers loosely wrap around. Once they have this down, we practice playing basic wrist strokes on the practice pad. Practice pads can be a great start to practicing how to hit the sticks without blowing out any ears on a snare drum.
One of the biggest reasons why I use practice pads when I teach a drum lesson is that I can put on a metronome for the student, and they can play with it while actually hearing the metronome. If you try this on a snare drum alone, the loud ring of the snare drum will mask the sound of the metronome and the student won’t be able to hear it. Practicing with a metronome is very important when a student starts drum lessons, because it sets the standard of rhythm for their whole musical career. If you can’t hear the metronome, you can’t practice with one.
Anyone who does any sort of physical activity knows that it is important for the body to warm up before getting into anything complicated. That’s why in a good drum lesson, it is important to warm up the hands before handling more complicated coordination practices. Warming up with a practice pad with a metronome is a great way to get your hands ready for taking them to the actual drum set.
Using a practice pad as a beginner is essential to becoming a well-rounded drum set player. Is there any point in the evolution of a student’s playing where it becomes okay to ditch the practice pad? The answer is no. It is not always enough to begin each drum lesson with the practice pad. The student should have a practice pad be in their practicing routine even into advanced drum lessons. For more information on continuing with a practice pad, check out my next blog!