Beginning Drumset: Learn Through Play

October 23, 2009 4:56 pm in Drumset by mark wessels

I’m often amazed by how quickly young kids get hooked on sports. Here’s my experience – if you have young children, you’ve probably experienced something similar.

I enrolled my 5 year old in his first soccer league and went with him to the first practice. After paying for the jersey, the kids learned how to kick a ball. On the second practice, they learned what a goal was and how to kick the ball into the goal.

Then they played their first game against another team.

When I got the game schedule at the first practice, I thought the coach was kidding…  How can the kids play a game when they barely know how to kick a ball?   Well, it wasn’t pretty.  One boy walked around the field picking flowers. My son stood in the middle of the field and watched as the ball went back and forth between goals.  More kids kicked goals into the wrong net than scored points for their own team!

But the kids – and the parents – loved it!  It’s like that scene in “The Music Man” where the kids begin playing without any lessons and the parents were thrilled.


I think we as teachers focus our lessons more on “learn” than we do on “play”. Obviously, that’s not what most young kid sports teams are geared towards.

Most teachers (myself included) have always insisted on the basics. The proper grip. A great basic stroke. Great sound. Playing in tempo. In some cases, the kid has to master that before he or she even TOUCHS something other than a snare drum. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that expectation – unless the kid gets bored and quits within the first month.

We need to accept the fact that kids are used to instant success. They can pretend to be a drummer playing video games – where no basics are necessary.  Granted – that’s all “hook” and no “substance”, but we should at least consider the success of having millions of people playing the game. Maybe mixing in a little music with the fundamentals that we teach would be a good idea.

As an example of what I’m proposing, I offer a page from my new book, “A Fresh Approach to the Drumset.” After a couple of brief lessons on basic grip, stroke and easy coordination, they are playing their first rock beat – along with a cool tune!

So – not quite as boring as it could be!  Finally, we’re ready to move on to our first “game” – playing a “real” drum beat along with a “real” tune!  Check it out:


And here’s the track (for the sake of the article, there’s only a “w/drums” track – the book also has a “drumless” track for all of the play-alongs).

So within a few lessons, a beginner can jump into the game. Sure, it might not be pretty – but the enthusiasm they (and their parents) will gain will certainly propel them into their next lesson.

Which will give you the opportunity to keep knocking them over their heads with the basics.

So, the approach is to “learn through play” rather than “learn, then play”. If you can think back to when you learned to play the drums, I’m sure you played more than you worked on the basics. I encourage you to grit your teeth and just let them play!

Let’s hear from you.  Feel free to tell us what has (and hasn’t) worked for you!



Mark’s latest book, “A Fresh Approach to the Drumset” is now available! Check out for more information and to download samples from the book!