For most people who do not play percussion instruments, this might just sound like a funny children’s tongue twister. For drummers and other percussionists, however, the paradiddle is of monumental importance and is one of the building blocks for developing control over singles and doubles, as well as learning how to alternate the starting hand for each pattern.
You need to become a Ph. Diddle and the only way of achieving it is through dedicated practice. So, sit behind your kit and practice away! But you will notice after a while that you’ll start itching to throw in some more interesting beats rather than just going “right, left, right, right left, right” and so on for hours upon hours. And such, many beginner drummers skip forward and only realize later that they’re lacking control over singles and doubles and wish that they would have spent more time diddling.
Introducing the Practice Pad
“But what is the point in investing so much time actively practicing solely on the snare drum when I have so many toms and cymbals waiting to be smashed?” – Great question! And I am here to tell you that you can take advantage of your full drum kit and become a master of the paradiddle without having to be sat behind a drum kit for who knows how many hours a day.
What you need to do is to go out and get yourself a practice pad. This way, you’ll be able to tackle the diddle anytime and anywhere without annoying your spouse, mom, or neighbor.
The simplest form of a drum practice pad is a flat, fairly small, and robust snare-drum replica with a rubber layer on top. It is designed for practicing with sticks as the rubber surface enables a silent, realistic, and comfortable playing experience. With this new piece of gear in your arsenal, you are now equipped to quickly practice for 10 minutes before going to school, in a hotel room, on long trips (where you are not driving), in your back yard, in the backstage before a show, and many more options. Now you can practice your paradiddle much more easily without cutting down on more interesting exercises. The most common pads are the single surfaced snare practice pads, but many alternatives have appeared in the past few years that offer a more complex workout.
So why are there multiple options for such a simple tool, you ask? What you need to keep in mind is that this is a practice pad, so everything from the size of the pad and the number of surfaces it has to the material of the rubber and its bounce and shock absorption need to come together and facilitate your learning around playing a real drum kit better. It is even more important if you mainly play an electronic kit, as you might want a practice pad that is very similar to the one on your kit.
As of right now, let’s dig deeper in the single surfaced drum pad because if it’s good enough for somebody like Marco Minnemann, it’s definitely good enough for anybody else.
Anybody, ranging from an absolute beginner to a world-renowned professional drummer can make extremely good use out of a simple practice pad and it should be an indispensable part of your kit!
With a single snare drum pad, you can go beyond the paradiddle and explore more and more rudiments, drastically increasing your control and precision without ever touching the drum kit. We’ll touch on this a bit later when I propose some exercises.
Single-Surfaced Practice Pads
So, what are your options for a single surfaced drum pad? The two most popular choices on today’s market are the round, 8-inch Remo RT-0008-00, and the octagonal, 12-inch EVANS RealFeel Practice Pad. Let’s take a look at each one individually.
The Evans RealFeel practice pad is one of the most popular practice pads out there. Its shape is distinguishable from the other simple practice pads, and its heavy, thick wooden body makes it sturdy and hard to slide away by accident. It also has another great feature; it’s double-sided! One side, the natural gum rubber, is designed to provide a realistic rebound, it’s response being similar to a snare or a tom. The other side, the recycled rubber, is a harder surface that is adequate for practicing. The pad is highly commended across the internet and is ideal for practicing quietly and remotely.
The Remo RT-0008-00 has a specific characteristic that sets it apart from its peers. It has real drum skin on the top. And not only that, it’s also tuneable! This was you get to determine the response you get from the pad and this overall creates a more authentic experience. Not only that, but it also has a rim, so you can practice dynamics across the skin and playing with the rim itself. Similar to the Evans pad described above, it’s compact, quiet, and portable, making it ideal to practice spontaneously and remotely.
However, practice pads can be more complex, with different surfaces, sizes and shapes. They can be more useful in developing your skills playing across the whole kit and doing fills.
Let’s have a look at the most common multi-surfaced practice pads on the market right now.
Firstly, we have the Vic Firth Heavy Hitter Quadropad. It comes in two different sizes, small and large. The difference between them is pretty negligible, so we’ll just focus on the large version right now. Just by looking at it, we can definitely say that portability is not the defining characteristic anymore. Standing at an impressive length of over one meter and a weight of almost seven kilograms, I wouldn’t personally carry this in my backpack and practice on the bus. Other than that, it still has all the advantages of a practice pad by being quiet, convenient, and mobile.
Some of you might recognize that this product resembles a marching band tenor drum kit. And that’s exactly what it is. It keeps the same layout as the tenor drum kit, making the overall surface a bit more efficient by literally cutting corners. Does it mean that it’s only good from practicing on a tenor drums? Of course not! It’s good practice for any kind of percussionist and it has some clear advantages over the simple drum pad. For example, you can practice your paradiddles on six whole different surfaces! Even if the skills you develop on it will instantly translate to a tenor drum kit, the motions and control are the same for any kind of kit.
Another good thing about this pad is that the wooden base that separates the rubber pads will notify you instantly whenever you miss a drum, so there’s no way of ignoring your mistakes.
While we’re still on the topic of multi-surfaced pads, the people at Drumeo took their approach to a literally (yes, I’ve said literally twice) different dimension. With their P4 Practice Pad, instead of replicating a full-sized drum kit the same way Vic Firth have done, they have taken the easiness and convenience of a simple drum kit, and divided its surface into four areas, each of them being made of a different type of rubber and on a different height.
The lowest, largest blue surface at the bottom of the pad replicates a snare drum, the black one on the left simulating the response of a high-tom, the grey one on the right being quieter than the others which can be used for even quieter practice or strength training, and the final orange one at the top, the highest and the hardest surface of all four, replicating a ride cymbal.
Now this one is just as portable as the single surfaced ones we’ve discussed earlier, and I would definitely play it on the bus just to show it off. This one brings in all the concepts together and the result is practical and sleek. The different levels that the surfaces are on add that extra layer of simulating the feel of playing on a real drum kit, and opens up many more ways of playing, improvising and doing exercises.
We live in the 21st century, so now I can walk into a kitchen and feel intellectually intimidated by a toaster, or smart toaster rather… that can tell me how I am having way too many carbohydrates in my diet and draw a chart for the past few months with the amount of gluten in my body.
As drummers, we should always be in time with everything, so we can also find electronic practice pads. As an example, we have the PAXCESS Electronic Drum Set, a roll-up pad with controllers and a built-in speaker that can be a great replacement for real drums in some scenarios. As it’s electronic, its versatility is incredible, having a ton of sound choices for your drums, using it as a controller for your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), or even being able to play games with it!
It comes with two pedals, offering the most complete practice experience out of all the products that we’ve discussed so far. It’s clearly not a replacement for a professional electronic drum kit, it’s design and quality are good enough to practice, but I doubt anybody would like to play this on a gig, or if anybody would enjoy listening to it. A key aspect of the pad is that it has a velocity function, controlling the volume of the sample playback directly by hitting the pad. It keeps the same qualities of a practice pad, being portable (especially as it can be rolled up), light and convenient.
Which Practice Pad Should I Buy?
Firstly, I want to say that having at least a simple practice pad is a must if you want to improve your skills at a good rate. Now, we saw that there’s a fair amount of good choices when it comes to buying one. With this in mind, we need to take into consideration a few variables in order to ensure you make the right purchase. What do you need it for? How often do you plan on using it? Where do you want to use it? How much money are you willing to spend?
Let’s tackle this by creating a “Pros and Cons” list.
Pros: Small and convenient, very easy to carry around and practice on-the-go almost anywhere, easily replaceable as they are most affordable, has a real drum skin, and a rim making it the most drum-like practice pad
Cons: Limited in regards to number of surfaces
Pros: Most accurate representation of a real kit, the skills developed with this pad will be the most transferable compared to the other pads
Cons: It’s very large and heavy, little chances of practicing on it anywhere else besides your home. It’s also the most expensive of them all
Pros: Multiple surfaces made from different materials on three height levels. Just as convenient and mobile as the simple ones, so easy to carry around and practice spontaneously in different locations.
Cons: Considerably more expensive compared to the single surfaced pads, making it a riskier asset to carry around
Pros: Ability to amplify and use different sound samples
Cons: It’s made out of silicon and the arrangement of drums is unrealistic, so it’s more difficult to develop transferable skills to a real drum kit
The prices vary between all those quite significantly so this is another dimension that you need to take into consideration when you look at buying a practice pad. If you’re lucky enough not to have any financial limitations, you might consider buying them all. Here I’d advise against it, as the more choices you have available, the less likely you are to choose and start doing work. With one pad, there isn’t much you can think about besides playing or not playing.
Exercises for Practice Pads
We’ve started off talking about paradiddles and then we moved onto discussing practice pads… How about we bring those two together?
The most efficient exercises to practice with drums pads are drum rudiments. Rudiments, as the name implies, are often described as the simplest, most basic form of a subject. In drumming, those comprise in small patterns that are used as building blocks for more complex phrases. These rudiments only use the left and right stick and are played on a single surface. They cover almost all possible left and right combinations and revolve around the idea of coordination, accents, dynamics, and timing. They can seamlessly translate into drum fills and some can help develop critical abilities, such as the paradiddle, which is commonly used for switching the leading hand.
Those rudiments originated being played on snare drums, so having those practice pads that resemble snare drums to some degree is the ideal practice situation.
According to the Percussive Arts Society, there are 40 international drum rudiments, all of them widely available on the internet, so there is definitely a lot of practice material out there!
And I should also mention the following: always practice with a metronome! There is absolutely no excuse for practicing without a metronome even when playing a practice pad in a remote location. There are numerous metronome applications available for your phone, and we all know that you have you phone with you at all times. I have only started doing real progress once I started playing with a metronome.
There’s one trick to it, and it involves a lot of patience: start doing your exercises, rudiments, patterns very slowly, at around 60 beats per minute. Each day, increase by 2 to 3 beats per minute. If done properly, in a couple of months you’ll be able to play at speeds that you would could have only dreamt of. This way you develop a genuine technical proficiency and you’ll be able to have true control over your playing.
It’s been a hefty journey going through all those different practice pads; small, big, single surfaced, multi surfaces, electronic, and whatnot. You have to keep in mind after all this what your end goal is: to become a better drummer. No amount of gadgets and pads are going to level up your skills unless you put in the hours and work that you need. Maybe one day, we’ll be able to download an app on our iBrain that would allow us to download synapses and neural pathways, but, until then, we have a long road of practicing ahead of us. It might be difficult, but it’s certainly rewarding and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Having the above said, I still believe it’s essential to own at least a simple, single surfaced practice pad that would enable you to rehearse more often than you would on your regular kit. After you play around and realize what you’re looking after in a practice pad, you’ll be able to a choose a fancier one that suits you best. Remember that the one thing that all practice pads are good for is the paradiddle. The ever-helpful, everlasting, always there, always fun paradiddle.
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