Drum Kit Mastery in One Simple Diagram*

*drum kit mastery diagram may not be at all simple.

So, you’ve come here looking for a shortcut, a quick fix, or some secret that only the pros know. Think again! The following diagram aims to represent my personal thoughts on all of the elements that one needs to master in order to become a true drum kit ninja! The diagram is still a work in progress and as you can see, it’s already a monster!

*mouse over image to zoom or click for a larger version*
While I still have a long way to go on that – never ending – journey myself, bear in mind that I’ve taught hundreds of students of all levels so I feel like I’ve witnessed enough partial journeys to have a strong sense what works and what doesn’t. Besides, the colours are pretty.

While there are no true shortcuts to achieving any level of mastery on the drums, there are definitely practice methods and approaches that work better than others. Some of these approaches have such tangible results that they can truly feel like you’ve tapped into some hidden secret.

Marvelous Mutations

I’m talking about Permutation exercises. Permutations can be defined as every possible combination within a defined set of parameters. It’s a concept well know to mathematicians but many drummers don’t discover this concept until late in their progression.

The idea is quite simply applied to the drum kit by making sure that one practices every variation within a particular type of coordination (or aural exercise) to gain complete freedom to improvise within the framework of that particular type of coordination. For example, take a look at the first 8 bars of my Permutations part 1 lesson:

Bass Drum Permutation Lesson*click for the full lesson

You’ll notice that while the hands remain the same throughout the exercises, the bass drum moves (or permutes) to the next 16th note in each example. In theory, being able to play each of these examples comfortably would allow you to play any combination of bass drums with that hand pattern just as comfortably.  That’s the theory anyway, but in practice you’ll probably have to work through some combinations to attain that kind of freedom.  You can see some example combinations in the full lesson.

You may also notice that some of the permutation examples sound quite strange at first, and herein lies the greatest hidden advantage of permutation exercises – They are excellent for developing aural skills and and a deep understanding of the structure of different drum grooves/sounds.

Future Sounds


I first encountered permutation exercises in David Garibaldi’s Future Sounds book.  Working through this book kick started a massive period of development as a player for me. There are many different applications of the permutation concept throughout the book and I highly recommend checking it out (click the image to view on amazon).

While Garibaldi’s book served as an excellent introduction to the wonders of permutations and their application on the drum kit, I eventually absorbed the concepts outlined in the book and felt the need to expand on those concepts. Some years later something else came along and blew my mind. More about that later, but first back to the diagram.


4 Main Elements

Major Elements of Drum Kit Mastery

You’ll notice that I’ve broken our goal of attaining Drum Kit Mastery into 4 main Elements. Each being represented by a different coloured circle:

- Technique
– Coordination
– Groove

Each of these Elements are broken down again (and sometimes again) into their respective sub-elements with the goal of demonstrating how interlinked each of the main categories are. This is one of the diagram’s biggest flaws, because to truly demonstrate anything close to the relationship between each element I would require some serious 3D animation skills. I’m not even convinced that that would do it justice.

In addition to these elements, I’ve tried to illustrate some solutions to developing each of these skills. Some are more traditional, for example practicing the rudiments (paradiddles, flams, etc) will help to develop your Control, Speed, Power & Stamina – ie Technique, but what about those bigger “Rhythmic Letters, Words & Syntax” squares on either side of the diagram? This is where that “mind blowing part” I mentioned comes in…

The Language Of Drumming

Language of Drumming image

While there’s no single way of attaining mastery over all of the aforementioned elements, Benny Greb’s 2010 DVD and subsequent book, The Language Of Drumming: A System For Musical Expression, comes pretty damn close.

It’s especially good for mastering the more physical aspects such as Technique and Co-ordination, but it’s also excellent for development of the Aural elements relating to Musicianship and Groove on the kit – an area that can be very much overlooked by young drummers and a difficult skill set to develop.

The system is loosely based on the Indian way of learning rhythm in which one practices the smallest elements of rhythm – the so called ‘DNA’ of rhythm – gradually leading to endless combinations of those rhythms. The resulting freedom that one gains from this approach is extremely rewarding and truly liberates one as a player in a way that practicing licks and traditional rudiments simply can’t.

Actual Proof

Ok, I’m preaching a bit so by now you may be wanting some evidence? Benny Greb worked on this concept for the 15 years prior to unleashing his system on DVD & Book. If you’re interested to see how the system has worked for him, here is Mr Greb in action:

If those videos don’t sell the concept to you, It’s pretty certain that nothing else will.

Is That it?

As I mentioned the system doesn’t cover everything. It’s a very mathematical approach so it doesn’t cover many important elements/aspects on your path to mastering the instrument, such as:

  • Understanding of different genres to allow one to make stylistically appropriate musical choices
  • World or non-European music’s place in contemporary drumming
  • History of the drum kit & an understanding of the it’s place in a social context
  • Harmonic and Melodic elements

To learn more about some of these more elusive elements, I’d recommend the following books / DVD’s:

(click the images to view on Amazon)
Groove_essentials_1Tommy Igoe’s Groove Essentials for an excellent introduction to many different grooves from all over the globe and their application on the drumset.
Groove_essentials_2Tommy Igoe’s Groove Essentials 2.0 a further look at many different grooves from all over the globe as well as the construction of grooves.
century_projectDaniel Glass’s Century Project for an in depth truly and fascinating look at the development of the drum kit from 1865-1965.

To be continued…

That’s all for now. Over the coming months I’ll be taking a closer look at more of these elements by diving deeper into the drum mastery diagram in future articles so stay tuned, practice hard and enjoy the ride.

Copyright © 2014 Wayne Katz, All Rights reserved

Article Name
How to master the drum kit in one simple diagram.
A graphic illustration of all of the elements one needs to master to become a master drum kit player.

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