Pillow Or No Pillow?
Practicing drums with a pillow is a highly debated topic. Most articles out there that bring this up emphasize how great it is to practice on a pillow. It’s silent, works your muscles, and helps develop your stick control.
Some of the greats used pillow practice like Buddy Rich, Billy Cobham, and Dennis Chambers, and yet other drummers vouch that pillow drumming does more harm than good and it ruins your technique.
So is pillow practice good or bad?
Well, it turns out that it’s good IF you know how to properly utilize it. Dennis Chambers himself said that most people get the wrong idea when approaching the pillow and try to burn themselves out on it trying to play through the pain.
The main idea is that you should practice rudiments VERY slowly on it, and only play up to the pain and then stop completely. Walk away and go take a break.
The next part is the most important...
You should then do the exact same exercises on an actual drum (or drum pad if you don’t have a drum) so that your muscles can understand and get used to the difference in playing surfaces. This is what makes pillow practice so great.
If you only practice on a pillow you will become great at playing on pillows, but not much else.
So go ahead - drum away on your pillow but go about it in a smart way and stop when you start to feel any tension or pain, and don't forget to get in some practice time on a more bouncy surface.
The best way to practice without a drum set is with the humble practice pad. There’s no better way to fine-tune your rudiments and stick control.
Today’s drum pads come in all different shapes, forms, and materials, so finding the perfect one for you shouldn’t be much of a problem.
The drum pad is a great way to really focus on your technique since you can be pretty much anywhere while doing it including in front of the TV. There are some important things to note though. You want to have the pad at a good height that mimics that of a real snare drum, and you want the sticks to fall naturally in the center of the pad without you having to lean over or bend unnaturally.
There’s one huge benefit of practicing on a pad vs. a drum set. When you are sitting down in front of a kit, chances are you will be playing some groove or trying to nail down your favorite fill. It's one of the most common drumming mistakes. The problem with this is that while it’s fun, it doesn’t do much in terms of helping your stick control and fundamental technique.
When using a drum pad, try to focus on the simple things like single, doubles, and paradiddles. If you can nail those you can tackle anything.
The most essential drum practice tips I can give it to always USE A METRONOME. I know, it can be boring, but it will make a tremendous difference and it will help develop your internal clock and stick technique more than anything else.
Keeping perfect time is the number 1 job of every drummer, so using a metronome to train with should always be your highest priority and it's essential when learning how to become an amazing drummer.
Practicing on a drum pad gives you a great opportunity to focus on your stick handling as well.
As Dave Weckl once said, “Let the sticks do as much of the work as possible. This works only if the grip point is primarily at the thumb and middle finger, so the stick is balanced from the centre of the hand. All fingers are in contact with the stick as much as possible, while the feeling of 'bouncing a ball' is maintained while throwing the stick down to the head using the wrist - thumb sideways, palm down."
If I had to recommend one practice pad, it would have to be the Evans 2-Sided Practice Pad. It’s very high quality, offers 2 different types of rebound, and the 12-inch pad fits inside a snare basket if you want to use a snare stand with it.
Air Drumming, Or Just Hitting Everything Around You
When it comes to the question of how to practice drums without a drum set and you have absolutely nothing to play on, you just have to use your imagination.
Look around you right now. How many different surfaces are there? How many different sound possibilities? Some materials are going to have high sounds, and others low sounds. Use this to your advantage and start getting creative with your hands and fingers.
Get your feet involved and start creating some interesting beats. Try throwing on a metronome and practice things like odd time signatures.
Can’t make a lot of noise? No problem! Throw on your favorite song and play some good-old-fashioned air drums. While it’s not the same as playing on a real kit, you can start to work out how certain parts might be played and develop a mental map of the drum part in your head.
I believe that there are definitely advantages to mental imagery, so the more often you can imagine being behind a kit the better.
Electronic Drum Set
If the main reason you don’t have a drum set is because of the sound, you should definitely consider getting an electronic drum set. It’s one of the greatest purchases I’ve ever made, and without it I would have been stuck playing on a practice pad for the past 10 years while living in an apartment.
Today’s electronic drum set sounds are getting very realistic, and when wearing headphones you sometimes forget that you aren’t on a real kit - especially if you use it with drum software.
My top pick for electronic drum set right now is the Roland TD-17KVX, but if you’re on a budget the Alesis DM6 USB Drum Kit can be a good choice as well.