Over the course of my many years’ experience learning to play drums, I've run across quite a few useful tips that I think can benefit anyone just starting to play.
Implementing these strategies into your drum playing early can save you from encountering problems later on and make your learning process easier, more efficient, and more fun. In other words, you'll get better faster and enjoy yourself while you're doing it. The following are several tips that I've found useful for beginning drummers. I have also added some footnotes for each tip.
1) Go slow at first. This tip is true for most any musical instrument and drums are no exception. In fact, it may be truer for drums since staying in precise time is so important. Of course, it's tempting to start bashing away as fast as you can but, particularly when you're starting out, this is bound to result in poor timekeeping and a loss of technique. Focus on playing a beat or fill slowly with a metronome. Then, gradually increase the speed, making sure that at each tempo increase, you maintain the same control as at the previous, slower speed. You'll be amazed at how tight this will make your playing once you are playing the beat or fill at full speed.
Footnote: This first tip is the traditional way to teach drums and to some degree I agree as a very helpful point. However, I will state that the most important part of the above process is playing slowly. When I was about 25 (approx.) years old I realized that to get where I wanted to be I would have to get better, not technically but just better at what I was already doing. In the process of getting better I practiced everything at 60 bpm, never any faster. I did that because learning at such a slow tempo makes you, in fact, forces you to get the drum strokes on the click of the metronome. The spaces become bigger and therefore there's more room to think about your technique. How you do the movement that you are doing. This is further explained in my Before the Big Bang: Beginner Tips book available on Amazon for just $1.49. At various point in my playing I was really put off by not being able to hear the click at all, not because of volume issues but because I was on time precisely.
2) Play along to CDs or the radio. One of the best (and most fun) ways to practice drums is to play along with your favourite band or song. Making your practice time fun will of course lead to you practicing longer and becoming better. There's also a practical side to playing along with a CD will force you to stay in strict time and it will also make it pretty obvious when you're not quite "in the pocket" (i.e. dead on the beat). Of course, you could (and should) do this with a metronome as well but, let's face, it jamming along with a rockin' tune is a whole lot more fun.
Footnote: This again is the traditional teaching. I would adjust the traditional slightly though as this tip can result in many hours wasted time if you aren't disciplined enough to keep control of your progress. What I mean is that in conjunction with the above traditional approach it would be a good idea to write drum charts for the songs you play, and to use the practice time as a development process and not just a fun project. Begin by writing a basic map of the tune then add fills and phrases as you become aware of them. This is explained more in the Time Space And Drums Series Part SIX which at the time of writing hasn't been published yet bit the TSD Series as a whole learns the student to understand drumming charts as an integral part of the whole program. Either way, don't waste too much time playing along to records or CDs as you could be developing your skills at such times.
3) Focus on keeping time, not flashy fills. As I mentioned at the outset, keeping precise and proper time is the most important aspect of drumming. Of course, it is very impressive to be able to play flashy fills and exciting rolls but a drummer, first and foremost, is there to keep time for his/her band. As such, be sure that your beats, above all, are precise and as perfect as your able to develop them. Don't get me wrong, being able to play insane fills is definitely a great attribute for a drummer to have but, especially when you're just starting out, you want to focus more on timekeeping and less on crazy helicopter fills and wild double bass rolls.
Footnote: This tip is one of my favourites and most controversial. I say that because of course the greatest drummers can play the basic stuff by laying the time down and in the pocket. They can also play the technical stuff and of course some of this involved a thousand notes per mile so to speak. It is the music that you are playing which naturally leads you to play what the tune needs. If it needs something complex then by all means play your heart out. If on the other hand the music requires solid time then play that. They say a fish grows to the size of the tank it swims in so if you want to play contemporary fusion style music and drumming then you may need to change your pond as you develop and grow as a drummer. You also stand a better chance of being accepted as a technical drummer if you live in a country conducive to that kind of music. The US will more likely accept complex playing but in the UK more straight-ahead rock playing is preferred and more acceptable to British audiences. But that is only my experience. You may find something completely different so read your environment as you develop.
4) Learn your rudiments. The 40 Drum Rudiments can be found in a ton of places ranging from the Internet, various drum videos, and a multitude of drum lesson books. Although these may seem boring to practice (particularly when compared to jamming along with your favourite song), the rudiments are incredibly important to improving your drumming. Not only do they improve overall technique and skill on the kit, you'll notice that they make up parts of almost any song you choose to play. You might say they are the "building blocks" of drumming. Having a solid grasp of these rudiments will make learning new songs and making up your own beats and fills much, much easier.
Footnote: This again, is a controversial tip. Everyone is different and although the above recommendations are quite valid for all drummers, most will find that they find some more difficult to master than others. I myself was never really great at single stroke roles. I believe now the basic reason was that my strong point was always double stroke rolls as I spent many hours per day practicing them in my early days. I didn't do the same with single stroke rolls as I didn't see the point in that part of my development but that was basically a technical decision at the time and not a practical sound-based decision. In short, the rudiments produce different sounds and feels so both should be worked on. I do find though, that learning the top 5 rudiments to near perfection. Those being:
...along with good old 1/16th note sticking variations as well as triplet sticking variations. Then, these two coupled with added flams should be high on any drummers rudimentary practice sessions.
The drums are an incredibly fun instrument to learn to play and I'd encourage anyone with an interest to give them a try. If you do, try following the tips I've laid out above and I'd be willing to bet your learning and playing experience will be greatly improved. Have fun!