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Wow, what a great question. Learning the drums seems like this impossible thing and sometimes you may wonder if you need to start learning drums when you’re a kid. You’re in luck, it’s not too late. Let’s talk about how long it takes to learn the drums.
You can learn the basics of drumming in a month, but most drummers play for around 26 months before feeling competent enough to play for an audience.
I asked over 130 drummers how long they played before they felt competent to play in front of an audience. Read on and I’ll share some of the details.
How Long Does It Take To Learn the Drums
I’ll cut to the chase--this is how long it takes to learn the drums.
|To Have Fun||None!|
|To Really Have Fun||1 Month|
|To Play Along With Music||6 months|
|To Play a Gig (In Front Of An Audience)||~2 years (26 months)|
The reason why this question is complicated to answer is because everyone has a different expectation of what it means to learn the drums.
If your goal is to have fun, then it takes all of 2 minutes to learn the drums!
If your goal is to play competently in front of an audience, well that’s another question, entirely, since competently is also another subjective word.
However, I have some awesome data to share that will give you some perspective. I also did an experiment, myself, and will help answer this question.
Learning For Fun
Before embarking on learning an instrument, it’s important to know what you are trying to accomplish. If you just want to have fun, then it simplifies things and relieves some of the pressure. If, however, you have other goals, it’s good to think about those, because it’s a real time commitment to reach those goals.
Just having the drums in your house isn’t going to get you better at them. So, it’s good to know your goals.
If you are curious about the drums and just want to learn to play a fun instrument, you’ll be amazed how quickly you can figure out the basic coordination.
MULTIPLE times I have taught people to play a basic (but popular) rhythm on the drums in less than 30 minutes. It doesn’t sound great, but they can still play that basic rhythm. That’s fun!
So, if your goal is to play for fun, you can get there in a very short time… like say… practically instantly.
What if you have other goals? Well, let’s talk about that.
Learning For Fun But Being Able To Actually Play
So maybe you are just learning for fun but you actually want to feel like you can play the drums. Well, there’s a lot that goes into that.
One of the most important skills a drummer can gain is the ability to keep time. This is part of feeling the beat--this is about creating the beat for your listener (which is just you right now) to feel as they listen to the music.
Learning how to keep the beat is a lifelong journey, but you can keep a solid simple beat after around 3 months of playing consistently with a metronome.
This kind of skill doesn’t happen automatically. You can “play the drums” for years without making much progress. Learning to keep the beat takes 3 months of mindful practice.
Learning For Playing Along With Music
If your goals are a little higher, let’s say, being able to play with your favorite music, or a minus track (a song with all the other parts except the drums), or maybe even being able to jam and play songs with your friends.
Let’s go over the skills you are going to need to make this happen. All these time estimations are assuming you are practicing 5 times a week.
- Keeping a beat for an entire song with other instruments: 6 Months This is one thing to be able to do this for a few seconds on a practice drum rhythm, and it’s quite another to do this for an entire song, or even an entire playlist.
- Standard drum rock rhythms: 3 months. This is just scratching the surface on the amount of rhythms you can learn as a drummer, and if your band is looking for a jazz drummer, then it’s going to take you longer.
- Standard drum fills: 4 months. Fills are the transitions between parts of a song and it’s essential for playing along with music. Our ears are trained to listen for fills to know what’s coming next and they are needed to build tension (and interest) in the song.
- Performance anxiety: 6 months. I’m putting this here because this is a real problem for many people (including myself). You might have some solid chops when practicing, but playing with other people might make you nervous--and you can lose all that cool, calm, and collected skill you’ve been working on. You have to practice playing with people for a while before you can get this down.
So, all told, it takes about 6 months of solid practice before you can play along with other music. Less or more depending on your practice.
Learning To Play a Gig (In Front Of An Audience)
This is probably what people mean when they ask how long it takes to learn to play the drums--essentially: how long does it take to learn to play the drums in front of an audience. Or simply, how long does it take to learn to play the drums well.
This is the gem of this article.
I asked over 130 drummers this question: “How long did you play drums before you felt competent enough to play a gig?”
The average of all the answers was 35 months, or about 3 years.
However, some of the answers included folks who have a lot of self-doubt or they simply didn’t practice consistently. Some drummers reported over well over 10 years of practicing before they felt “ready”. Subtracting these individuals I got an average of just 26 months for the average drummer.
I also learned some interesting things:
- Many drummers (about 8%) felt competent with about a month of playing. (Although many drummers admitted they knew nothing at that point) Confidence is sometimes something people just come with.
- Out of 133 answers, the most common answer was 12 months (one year) at about 18%
- 14.2% said 36 months, and 12.8% said 24 months
What does this mean for you?
Well, it follows that depending on your personality you have a high chance of feeling ready to perform in 12 months of practice, but most likely it will take 2 to even 3 years of practice before you get there.
Everybody’s situation is different. Many drummers in this question also related a bit of their story. Many drummers were drummers in high school (or younger), and these drummers played for 4-6 years before playing a gig. As a kid in school, it’s likely you don’t have the self-discipline and consistency that an adult has learned. In fact, if you were like many kids I knew you might only practice during band hour at school.
You can learn in less time if you are more focused.
Similarly, many drummers didn’t feel ready before they started playing gigs, but were just needed to to circumstance and therefore had to learn very quickly to adjust. There’s something to be said to throwing yourself into deep end of the pool (metaphorically speaking).
How Long Should You Practice Drums A Day?
This is a big (and important) question. You could practice for “10 years” and only play once or twice a week and be at the same level as a student who practices an hour a day for 6 months. The key to quick success on any instrument is consistent mindful practice.
I tested this out. I practiced the drums for 30 days for an hour a day. I had some drumming experience… if I had to estimate it would probably be around 30-40 hours of my collective high school years.
What did I learn?
- An hour a day is a solid amount of time to practice. Less is fine, but at least 30 minute practice sessions are important so you can get into the groove of playing.
- Most importantly: You can grow a lot in a short amount of time if you focus.
- Becoming a good drummer is hard. The amount of precision and dexterity you have to learn is insane. It’s not enough to be almost there--a drummer is expected to be on the beat all the time. This takes so much deliberate practice to nail.
- Just playing beats will not get you where you want to go. You have to practice playing along with music and try to nail it as if you were in a performance
- It’s essential to always practice with a metronome to learn to feel the beat.
I saw lots of (subtle) improvement in a month, but that was practicing an hour a day. You can expect around that rate of improvement if you practice for an hour a day.
Quality over quantity practice is an important concept, for sure. You can play for 2 hours just jamming out your favorite rhythms over and over again and it won’t get you very far. If you can get 30 minutes of highly focused practice (which means mentally challenging practice), then you are in a very good place and can progress quickly.
Another thing I learned is that learning the drums looks like this:
You’ll learn a lot in the first couple months of practice, but the rest of your drumming career might look more like gradual and slow improvement.
You might learn all the sick beats in a matter of a couple of months, but it takes (literal) years to learn to play those beats solidly in a way that will inspire the crowd and lock your band members together.
This is kind of a hard thing to realize. Sometimes you want to just be able to do all the awesome things quickly. I learned to respect drummers for the incredible skill that they have to build up with countless hours of playing.
Should I Learn Guitar Or Drums?
If you are trying to pick what instrument to learn, there’s a lot to consider! The life of a drummer and a guitarist are very different, even in high school band!
The key is to look inside yourself and find out whether you are more interested in melody or if you are more interested in rhythm. The guitar can contribute to the rhythm of the band, sure, but the drums are the soul (along with the bass player) of the rhythm of the band.
I really recommend watching and listening to great drummers and great guitarists to get a feel for what the music can be like. In fact, I made an article that helps you answer the question of whether you should choose the path of a guitarist or a drummer here.