I’m going over Drums for Dummies, written by Jeff Strong. Strong is a longtime drummer who knows his stuff

Drums For Dummies

Table of Contents

Introduction

I have been teaching drumming for a long time, and I’ve worked with people at many different skill levels. All the time, new and aspiring drummers ask me for advice on resources. They want to know who to listen to, who the good teachers are, and what books they should read, among other things.

That’s why sometimes I review drumming and percussion books to see if they’re any good.

Today, I’m going over Drums for Dummies, written by Jeff Strong. Strong is a longtime drummer who knows his stuff, and does a lot of good in the world by using drumming to help people with different kinds of psychological issues. That’s his specialty.

There’s no doubt that he has the skills and experience to write a great instructional book, but knowledge and skills don’t always lead to a great book.

How does this one hold up? Is it worth buying?

The short answer is yes. It’s a solid book, especially for beginners, but a good review should tell you more than that. So, let’s really get into it. I’ll break down all of my thoughts on the book below.

Presentation

I want to start by going over the presentation of the book. This isn’t just a boring textbook for introductory college music classes. It’s a “for Dummies” book, and the goal is to make the reading easy and the information easy to absorb.

This book accomplishes those goals. Most of the book presents what I would call general information. There are also special snippets and sections sprinkled throughout that Strong refers to as sidebars, technical stuff, and history. I’ll go over each aspect of the book separately.

General Information

Most of the book is written like any other. You have chapters, sections, and paragraphs, and Strong writes with his own voice and style. I can give the general information a solid stamp of approval. Jeff Strong is a seasoned musician who knows his stuff. Later, I’ll nitpick some of my disagreements with things he says, but by and large, he’s giving out very good advice and covering pretty much all of the bases you need to break into drumming.

I like his writing style. It has personality and a bit of fun. Yet, every concept is as concise as possible without ditching important information. The book is dense, but it’s about as accessible as possible considering the goal. Strong is trying to turn you into a competent drummer in under 400 pages. That’s a massive topic in a shockingly short amount of time, and it’s not easy to do.

If you take nothing else away from this review, let me say this one thing. Drums for Dummies is a rich text of useful and accurate information for drummers.

With that said, there are some extra and special things in the presentation of this book, and they’re worthy of a few words too.

Sidebars

I like the sidebars. When you’re revisiting the book — after working through a section thoroughly — the sidebars are probably what you’ll reread the most. They’re quick tips that help you focus your practice and thoughts, and in general, they’re good advice.

Technical Stuff

The “technical stuff” snippets are a lot like the sidebars, but they focus on specific breakdowns of rhythms and techniques. Again, these are parts you’ll reread more often than the general information because they’re concise and meaningful.

History

The history is just plain fun. You don’t need any of it at all to learn to play the drums, but it adds color and a lot of interesting information to the book. Plus, the history lessons are short and sweet, so they aren’t wasting time. If anything, they do a good job of breaking up the otherwise dense information in this book.

Things That Are Good

If you read this review from the beginning, I’m not trying to bury the lead here. I like this book. It’s solid, and I want to go through my favorite things that I found while reading.

Later, I’ll cover what I think is lacking or not quite right in the book, but if you compare my list of good things to bad things, the good list is much longer. That’s why I can easily approve of this book.

So, let’s get into it. What’s good about Drums for Dummies?

Audio Clips

This is a book about music. Being able to hear the things described on the pages is invaluable. The book comes with a website link, and every snippet of written music that you read in the book has an accompanying audio file so you can hear it played professionally.

Other things being equal, I will always recommend the book that includes audio files over the one that doesn’t. This goes in the win column for Jeff Strong.

The Focus on Applicability

There’s a lot of information in this book, and Strong really tries to strike the balance between giving you breaks for air and not wasting your time. You could write multiple encyclopedias on drumming and still only cover a fraction of the topic. No matter how a book like this is designed, you have to pick and choose what actually makes it into the volume.

For the most part, Strong focuses on things you can immediately apply to your own drumming, whether this is your first day or you’ve been playing for 20 years. The focus on applicability is a positive.

If this book were to be your introduction to the world of drumming, you’d be playing sooner rather than later, and I think that’s important.

Other seasoned drummers might complain about different things that aren’t in the book (I’m even going to do a little of that in a minute), but overall, Strong made the right choice to prioritize information that you can use right now, as opposed to abstract theory.

The Breakdown of Music Notation

This is a high point for the book. Strong assumes that you’re coming into this with no background knowledge. So, he teaches you how to read music, and he does a good job. It’s probably the densest part of the whole book, but considering what he’s accomplishing, it’s hard to imagine that he could teach music notation from scratch and do much better.

If you take your time and get through his notation lesson, you’ll be able to learn everything this book has to offer and a whole lot more. And, if you really can’t or won’t do the notation, you can learn by ear. He makes that possible too, and the combination of approaches is commendable.

As many of you know, I am a big believer that reading music is important for drummers; perhaps that’s why I like this part of Strong’s book as much as I do.

RSI

For those who don’t know, RSI refers to repetitive stress injury, and it’s a common problem for drummers. Anyone who gets serious about drumming is going to have to face the possibility of RSI. If you don’t warm up, stretch, use good technique, and rest, you risk winding up with an RSI. But if you take preventative measures from the start, you can most likely have a long, successful career in drumming without much hand pain.

Strong talks about RSI early in the book, and I think that’s important. You don’t want to say, “By the way this can hurt your hands and wrists” after pages and pages of exercises and explanations. Before drummers start getting to it, Strong is talking about RSI, and that puts everyone on the path to preventing injuries. It’s important. I like how he approached it. Max points for this part of the book.

Styles

Strong puts sincere effort into covering as many mainstream styles as possible. He explains what makes them unique, how to play staple grooves and fills in each, and even how you can think about combining them to make your own unique flavors.

This book is trying to be exhaustive (which no book can really accomplish), and covering so many styles adequately is essential for that. You can learn a lot about most of the main styles  of drumming with just the information in this book, and you can learn it all pretty quickly.

That’s impressive.

So Many Drums

Strong also takes time to cover more than a standard five-piece drum set. He does cover the drum set, and then he gets into a ton of other drums and instruments. Overall, there are too many percussion instruments to fit in one book, but he gets through a pretty thick list of hand drums and accessories.

Things That Aren’t So Great

We’ve gone through my favorite parts of the book, but I want to be fair to Jeff Strong. The vast majority of information in the book is adequate. The fact that I’m not mentioning every single little thing that is positive isn’t meant as a slight. It would just take too long.

So, I talked about my favorite things. Now, I’m going to discuss my specific complaints. Some of this is pretty nit-picky, which really is a compliment to the book. Still, I can’t hold my tongue on these issues.

Physical Descriptions

This is the easiest thing to pick on in the whole book. Strong is trying to cover a lot of ground in a limited number of pages. Yet, he takes the time to describe how many inches your average drumstick is.

I get it. When you’re an expert comparing drumsticks or drums or heads or what have you, you really are going to consider the exact dimensions. It’s something you come to understand.

But, he’s doing it when introducing instruments and tools, and I just don’t think it’s necessary. After all, he includes pictures of all of these things. I feel like the deep physical description of something pictured below is probably a waste of time and words.

Still, this does not ruin the book in any way. It’s just an area where I think he could have saved some time.

Lazy Technique

This is actually my strongest criticism of the whole book, and I’m going to have to take a minute to talk about it.

When you’re teaching someone who is brand new to the drums, there are two dominant schools of thought. One school says you should try to get the student to play something that feels good sooner rather than later. This makes the lessons fun, and it builds a better foundation that someone can carry through a lifetime of playing.

I largely agree with that school of thought, and judging by the book, so does Strong.

The other school of thought is that you should focus on technique and theory early so that it’s easier to play at a higher level as you progress. With this school of thought, you might not rush to play basic rhythms on the drums and instead spend more time analyzing the grip and studying notation.

I already said that I subscribe to the first school, and I do, but there’s a caveat.

When it comes to grip and physical technique, I believe that the topic is so deep and also so important, that you have to go very deep when teaching it. Sure, you can tell someone to shake hands with their drumstick and then get them on the drum, but that’s just not good enough.

Since grip and technique are fundamental for how one can express oneself on the drums, I think Strong misses an opportunity here. He doesn’t teach these concepts incorrectly (although I do disagree with some of his teaching), but if he spent a little more time going deeper, I think it would have been time well spent for the reader.

Here’s where I disagree with his technical teachings.

In the discussion of matched grip, Strong explains that the fulcrum is created with the index finger and thumb.

That’s kind of an “old-school” approach.

I strongly believe that creating the fulcrum from the middle finger and thumb is a far superior method of gripping the stick in matched grip. I’ve been teaching that detail for years and its origin for me was watching Dave Weckl, who, in turn, credits Freddy Gruber with helping him make that change.

Alright. Enough on that. This is the weak point of the book for me.

Emphasizing Coordination

I’m going to flirt with hypocrisy with this part, but it’s an important discussion. It’s very, very common for new drummers to hear that coordination is the key to playing. You want to learn to use each hand and each foot independently.

Strong says this in his book. I have said very similar things to many people. Nothing about this is explicitly wrong.

But, it’s not always accessible. It’s important for people who don’t really think of themselves as coordinated to realize that they can still learn to play the drums, and well. Instead of learning to independently use each limb (which is very difficult and takes years to master), you can shortcut a lot of mental blocks by helping people think in a different way.

You aren’t learning to do four things at once when you play the drums. You’re learning to do one thing that happens to incorporate four limbs. It’s like driving a car. You don’t think about how to work the clutch alongside the gas while independently managing the shifter and the steering wheel. You’re just driving, and by learning how the different pieces fit together, you can do it a lot faster and easier than if someone tries to teach you each element as its own thing.

When I teach beginners this idea, I see the ah-ha moment a lot sooner. You’re not doing four things at once. You’re fitting each part together into one rhythm or groove.

All of that said, Strong has some excellent exercises that help you with limb independence.

Metronomes

My last nitpick is extremely minor. Strong spends a small section near the end of the book talking about how to pick a metronome. It’s an old-school thought, and I get it, but I have to disagree.

You probably have a smartphone. You can download a free smartphone app that is more sophisticated and useful than any metronome built before 1995. As long as you have headphones for your phone, the app will do. There’s no need for a specialized metronome device. It’s just one more expense, one more thing to lose, and one more thing to carry around if you take your drumming seriously enough.

Things That Are Missing

Earlier, I explained that no one book can teach you everything about drumming. That’s beyond impossible. Inevitably, there are things missing from Drumming for Dummies. I understand why these things aren’t in the book, and my listing them here isn’t necessarily a complaint (with one exception).

Instead, I’m pointing out things that aren’t in this book so you know what you’re getting. If you want to learn how to play the keyboard, this is the wrong book. You might think that’s obvious from the title, but the three things below are worth mentioning, along with why those are things I think you should explore whether you pick up this book or not.

Video

There are audio files of every exercise in the book. Video would help too. Video would really help. After all, seeing and hearing is better than just hearing. I especially think some videos would help when he’s talking about tuning and caring for drums.

That’s just me; I’m biased towards video because I am big into video creation. That’s the majority of how I teach these days. But it i

Overtones

This section could go here or in the bad things that I complain about, but it’s not exactly a bad thing.

Throughout the book, Strong discusses how you can get rid of overtones and essentially says that overtones are always bad. That’s not quite right. There are plenty of styles and times when you want to minimize overtones, but there are also times when you want to maximize overtones.

It’s a nitpick because this is a very minor aspect of the book, but a more thorough explanation would be to point out that controlling overtones is important. That way, you can play with more or fewer overtones depending on the music.

In case you’re curious, overtones become more useful in acoustic ensembles, and especially larger ensembles. The best example is probably playing a triangle with a string quartet.

Even though the triangle is considered an unpitched instrument, if you get a clear tone with no overtones, it actually kind of sounds like a pitch (the exact pitch will depend on the dimensions of the triangle). As a result, a clear tone can accidentally clash with whatever your string quartet is playing at the moment. If you change your technique to maximize the overtones on the triangle, it won’t really sound like a single pitch, and it won’t clash.

Is the Book Worth It?

Ok. We just talked about a lot of stuff. I had praise. I had complaints. What’s the bottom line? Is this book worth it?

If you’re new to drumming, or just new to the drum set, it’s a good book. It has most of the basics you need, and with both written forms and audio clips, you can master everything in the book. It builds a legitimate foundation. In general, yes. I can recommend this book.

My only caveat is that you should get more in-depth technique study somewhere else. The middle finger fulcrum is a big deal to me.

Drums for Dummies should not be the only book in your library, but it’s an OK starting point.

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