How to Practice Single Surface Drum Exercises for Best Results

Posted in Learn | Last Updated on October 11, 2019

a hand holding a drum stick

Single Surface Drum Exercises are one of the most effective ways to improve your drumming.

While you can get a lot of single surface drum exercises on this site and around the internet, it’s important that you practice them effectively to get the most out of them.

After all, don’t you hate it when you spend hours practicing something only to feel confused and frustrated by it?

In this article, we’re going to talk about how to effectively practice single surface drum exercises for the best results possible in a shorter amount of time with less frustration.

Sound like something you want to learn?

Let’s get started.

The Process of Practicing Single Surface Exercises

If you want to get great results, there’s a process of six steps that you should work through when learning and practicing single surface drum exercises.

This process will enable you to develop a strong rhythmic framework that you can continue building on for a lifetime as well as help you develop the four essential building blocks of drumming.

The six steps are:

  1. Establish a Tempo
  2. Tap Your Foot on the Beat
  3. Count the Rhythms of the Exercise Out Loud
  4. Play the Exercise While Tapping Your Foot and Counting the Rhythms
  5. Bump up the Tempo
  6. Rinse and Repeat

On the surface, these six steps may seem elementary. You may be thinking, “Yeah, I got this. I don’t need to read the rest of the article.”

Be careful.

You see, these steps are elementary…but they’re EXTREMELY important.

If you go about these six steps in an unfocused way, you won’t get anything out of them. If you work through them with the intention of developing complete mastery over each one, you will get much better at a more rapid pace.

In addition, developing complete mastery over these six steps will legitimately help you build a platform for you to master difficult concepts later on leaving you with two choices:

Avoid mastering the fundamentals and hit a plateau in your playing that you will struggle to overcome
Master everything from the ground up and continually advance to higher and higher levels of play.

I think it’s pretty clear that the second one is more advantageous and desirable so let’s go over the six practice actions individually.

Step #1: Establish a Tempo

Before you begin working on an exercise, you have to know what tempo you’re going to play it.

You have two options here:

The best solution is to practice both with and without a metronome. Here’s why:

Practicing with a metronome is a great way to establish a tempo and develop a strong rhythmic framework. It provides you with evenly spaced intervals that are clear and distinct to ensure that you are lining up notes in their proper place. For this reason, you should regularly use a metronome when learning single surface drum exercises and practicing exercises.

However, it’s important to develop your own sense of pulse at the same time. If you always rely on the metronome to control the tempo, you never learn what it means to rush or drag a phrase and make adjustments on your own.

This is why it’s important to practice both with a metronome and without a metronome on a regular basis.

To do this, get comfortable playing an exercise with the metronome and utilize it to your advantage as a checkpoint. After you’ve practiced it with the metronome for a while and you feel comfortable with it, practice it without the metronome. When you practice it without the metronome, make sure that you keep a steady pulse throughout the whole thing.

Repeat this process and use the metronome as a reference and a checkpoint for you to maintain pulse and tempo.

It’s extremely important to note that when you practice with the metronome, the metronome is not keeping time for you. YOU are keeping time for you. You’re only using the metronome as a reference to line up your pulse with the consistency of the metronome. When you take the metronome out you should feel the pulse the same way. You’re just relying on yourself fully instead of having a reference to check in with.

Step #2: Tap Your Foot on the Beat

Before you begin playing an exercise, start tapping your foot to the beat.

This action creates a physical sense of pulse that you can actually feel. By being able to feel this physical representation of the pulse, your body and mind start to embody the pulse and how to maintain a consistent beat.

As you tap your foot, make sure that you are very conscious about when your foot hits the ground. By being very precise about this, you train yourself to tap your foot right on the beat and start to increase your level of awareness in terms of whether your pulse is fast, slow, or right on time.

Tapping your foot on the beat also provides you with a physical framework to line everything up with. When you start playing the exercises it gives you a checkpoint to know exactly when your hand hits on the downbeat.

The more you understand how the pulse relates to you what you’re playing and where every single downbeat is, the better you will be able to play it and execute it.

#3 Count the Rhythms of the Exercise Out Loud

One of my favorite sayings is, “If you can say it, you can play it.”

In other words, if you know how to count a rhythm, there’s no doubt that you will be able to play the rhythm as well. By sitting down and making sure you know exactly how to count every single beat in a single surface drum exercise, you train yourself to truly understand the rhythmic theory behind what you’re playing. When you understand the rhythmic theory behind what you’re playing, you better understand exactly how it should line up with the pulse.

To apply this, sit down and figure out the counts for every measure of the exercise or musical excerpt. Once you understand how to count it, turn on the metronome from step one and start tapping your foot from step two. When you feel like you have a solid sense of pulse established in your foot tap, count the rhythms of the exercise in time with your foot.

As you count, make sure that every single note is counted in time. This makes the exercise or the musical excerpt purely theoretical. If you can execute counting the rhythms in time with your foot, it will make playing it much better. Not to mention, you will truly understand the timing and theory of the exercise!

#4 Play the Exercise while Tapping Your Foot and Counting the Rhythms

The next step of the process is to add the playing of the exercise to the first three steps.

When you add the playing in, you’re still going to be doing the first three steps. This means that in step four, you will be tapping your foot with the metronome, counting the exercise out loud, and playing the exercise on your practice pad or snare drum.

When you do this, it’s very important to think about aligning your playing with your counting.

Remember, you spent a lot of time in step #3 counting the exercise with the pulse to ensure that you understood the timing and count structure of the exercise. When you add the hands in, you simply line up you’re playing with your counting. By doing this, you reinforce the rhythmic knowledge that you have gained and continue to solidify your understanding and feel for a pulse, timing, and tempo control.

Once you add the counting and the playing in, you’ll notice that tapping your foot from step #2 requires you to truly understand exactly where the downbeat is for each beat. This may seem like it is juvenile and like it’s obvious, but you’d be very surprised to see how many drummers don’t know where the downbeat is in what they’re playing. When you don’t know where the downbeat is in the music that you’re playing, you’re really just guessing at what you’re playing.

Step #5: Bump up the Tempo

After you have mastered an exercise at a slow tempo by going through the first four steps, it is time to increase the tempo.

It’s important to do this process in small increments (two to five beats per minute) over the course of time. When you increase the tempo of the drum exercise, you often need more developed chops and technical facility to play it faster. Trying to work through this process to quickly in a short amount of time will lead you to develop bad habits and poor technique. Therefore, learning an exercise one day and then bumping it up 50 beats per minutes the next day will not be very productive for you.

Instead, increase the tempo gradually in small increments over time – it will give you the opportunity to master the exercise continuously time after time at new tempos.

Each time you bump up the tempo of an exercise, make sure that you revisit all four steps listed above. Follow the same process with the same approach as you did the very first time you played it. This ensures that as you speed up the exercise you are still working on mastering it.

#6: Rinse and Repeat

Once you have learned and exercise with the first five steps you are going to simply rinse and repeat with the next single surface drum exercise in your Blueprint Learning plan.


Practicing can be frustrating and if you don’t get the results you desire, it can also be very discouraging.

Implementing effective systems and processes into your practice routine helps you improve at a faster pace and with less effort. Use the process described in this article to start getting the best results possible from your single surface drum exercises.

While it may seem like boring practice at first, this process works extremely well and will get you great results if you follow it with focus and diligence.

Have you used a process like this in the past? Leave your comments below.