Finger Drumming Practice Tips

No physical teacher

A big advantage of the XpressPads finger drumming tutorials is that you can repeat chapters and exercises as often as you like and anytime you like. The tradeoff is that you are obliged to evaluate your progress on your own and without professional human feedback. This requires a certain amount of self-reflection and self-discipline while you practice. This is why I highly encourage you to come back to this section from time to time until you have fully internalized these finger drumming practice tips. A physical teacher would have an eye on the following items and would remind you of them whenever necessary. When you re-read this section, ask yourself: Do I apply this? …and change your practicing habits when necessary.

Enjoy what you do and avoid frustration

Enjoyment is an important element of rapid progress. I once read that if you do something with passion and joy, you will remember FOUR TIMES MORE than if you don’t. That’s a pretty good reason to keep a positive attitude. Your brain produces dopamine when you progress. That’s just a natural product of the learning process itself. Dopamine motivates you to move on and strive for the higher-hanging fruits. This is why it is so important to avoid frustration – the opposite of joy. When practicing, frustration can appear as a result of:

  • Trying to progress in a manner that is faster than the capabilities of your brain and body. In this case, you are overburdening yourself.
  • Not having thoroughly learned the basics and therefore stumbling upon this fault at a later stage. This forces you to go back and do the homework that you skipped.
  • Not fully concentrating on what you are doing. Watching TV while you practice finger drumming will massively slow down your progress.
  • Physical or psychic fatigue that you ignore or don’t notice while practicing.

With this in mind, try to keep your learning of the XpressPads finger drumming technique an exciting and fun activity. To make practicing a good and joyful experience, select good-sounding kit pieces from your virtual drum module. From time to time, allow yourself to get lost in just playing your pad controller. Set time aside for unfocused experimentation and let go! This way you will get into the subject in a very natural and concentrated manner. Those activities are not wasted time. They are crucial for your motivation and progress. Furthermore, try not to push yourself too hard when you exercise. Stay focused and concentrated, but don’t exercise rigidly.

Pad sensitivity

It is most likely that your pad controller has an option to control the responsiveness or sensitivity of the pads. This means that the input- or actual trigger-velocity is converted into an output velocity based on different available algorithms. There probably are some presets from which you can choose.

I suggest that you use a linear algorithm with no hit velocity conversion. This way you can learn to play dynamically right from the beginning.

Velocity curves

Also, check if your DAW and virtual drum module each have a feature that automatically limits or modifies the dynamic range of the incoming MIDI notes and set this feature to “off” if you want to learn to play dynamically.

I am not saying that you should never use these features. Certainly, you can use them, but I suggest using them only temporarily and purposefully (e.g. for electronic and metal music which often requires very constant drum sound volumes), but not permanently. The XpressPads finger drumming technique aims to help you improve your expressive playing. Limiting the dynamic range of MIDI data will make expressive playing almost impossible.

Don’t overdo it!

Although a pad controller is a relatively small device, finger drumming on it can be a physically and mentally exhausting activity, especially in the beginning. Remember that it is actually the brain that does a lot of the learning, and the brain needs to rest in order to digest what it has learned.

Sometimes it is really hard to stop playing, but don’t overdo it! When body parts start aching, it is time to take a break for at least a day or two. You don’t want to hurt yourself. A “typewriter’s cramp” is very annoying and can become so bad that one is not able to play for weeks. Don’t be afraid of not progressing fast enough. The XpressPads finger drumming technique is designed so that you can learn it quickly, but please understand that you cannot learn it all within four weeks. You will certainly progress very quickly if you stick to the rules, practice with continuity, and thoroughly complete the suggested training units.


Of course, speed is important in certain styles of music, but definitely not at the very beginning. When you start, it is important that you learn the concepts thoroughly and that you are able to play anything with the right accentuation and with a rock-solid time feeling. Faster playing does not equal better playing.

If time is not indicated in the exercise, practice the beats at a tempo that feels comfortable, except when the exercise is a speed exercise.

Increase practice speed slowly. When you have found a tempo at which you can play effortlessly, increase it by 5 or 10 bpm and stay at that new tempo until you have mastered it. Make sure that you always play solidly before you increase the tempo. If you realize that you are not yet capable of playing at that speed, reduce the tempo or you will waste your time on exercises, and that will definitely frustrate you.

Groove and feel

Groove and feel are sometimes seen as a coloration of a beat in terms of certain tiny accentual and timing variations. It is good when you are able to incorporate this into your playing, and it might become “your style” one day – but for the start, I recommend that you try not to colorize your play too much. It is important to be able to play regular beats solidly before you add your personal beat coloration.


Experimentation is a crucial element of effective learning because it is fun, exciting and it allows your own rhythmical understanding to grow naturally. At times it was through experimentation that I suddenly understood the core of a special beat concept. Why is this so? Because learning happens in several parts of the brain. There is a technical component of learning that requires some input from the outside world (for example, the XpressPads finger drumming technique). The other part of learning is the way your very unique brain understands, evaluates, and anchors this new information. So allow yourself to be an explorer!

Also, experiment with tempos and sounds. Zap through the presets of your virtual drum module and discover how different beats can sound if played with another drum kit or different effects setups and at various tempos.

Deal with the exercises creatively. Don’t just repeat. Develop your own ideas. When you have finished a chapter, take what you have learned and create your own beats. If you foresee the information in future chapters, or if you experience a few “I knew that was coming” moments, then you are definitively on a good path.

Playing “blind”

Try not to look at the pads while you are finger drumming. Although it might not be very easy at first, it is possible and it will be an advantage to you in the long run. Think of the millions of people who are capable of typing. They do not look at their keyboard at all, yet most of them rarely make mistakes. You can achieve this with your pad controller. The pads are much bigger than the keys on a keyboard, there are fewer pads than there are keyboard keys, and they are even more logically arranged. You will avoid getting confused or dizzy when you are able to play faster beats without having to visually monitor your playing.

Host quantization & metronomes

It is tempting, I know, but try to keep the MIDI input quantization feature of your DAW turned off. If you only use your pad controller knowledge to record drums for electronic music, you might see no value in turning off the quantization feature; however, keeping it off will train your sense of rhythm and will give you the chance to evaluate your progress. You should use a metronome when practicing, either a stand-alone one or the one provided by your DAW. If you MIDI-record your finger drumming you can always quantize it later, should you need to.

Drummers with three arms do not exist

Some people program drums in such a way that a real drummer would and COULD NEVER play drums. A drummer has only two arms and therefore cannot play certain busy patterns. This might not be of interest to you if you do not care about these real-life boundaries in your musical endeavors; but if you want to get as close to the real thing as possible, take real-life limitations into consideration. Just compare the number of drum sounds that you are playing to the number of limbs a living, breathing human being has.

The XpressPads finger drumming technique actually gives you the tools to play whatever you like, but all of the exercises and chapters are designed with the real drummer’s limitations in mind. This will help you to develop an overall understanding of what is possible and what is not. Try to consider this when you start creating your own grooves.

Health tips

I quickly touched on this subject previously, but I feel it essential to make you aware of it one more time. Your hands are the most valuable tools you possess, so take care of them. Before you start playing or practicing, warm your fingers up with simple, slow exercises. Start working at low speeds. This will help you to avoid developing hand cramps.

Keep your fingernails short. Remember, you will be hitting the pads at considerable velocities with the tips of your fingers. If your fingernails are long, you will constantly be pushing the nails backward into their roots, which could lead to painful inflammation.

Do not practice the exercises for too long in a single session. Making the same finger movements for too long will actually weaken the fingers and make the muscles sore. Keep some flexibility and variation in your playing to keep your muscles vital.

Place the pad controller directly in front of you on a table or other solid surface so that it is in the absolute center of your attention, and it is effortless to reach.

Take care of your posture. Sit up straight and rotate your hips forward to keep the natural s-curve in your back while you play. It is the safest and most stable position for your back. If you lean forward to reach your pad controller, the muscles in the lower part of your back will need to work very hard in order to stabilize the bent upper part of your body. Place your pad controller close to your body so that the elbow feels comfortable.

Be careful about the volume of your speakers or headphones. The better your virtual drum kit sounds, the louder you might want to hear it, but beware. Once your ears are damaged, you might not be able to enjoy music and many other things as you once did. I suggest that you use a limiter plug-in in the master (or headphone) channel of your DAW in order to prevent ear damage.


The XpressPads finger drumming technique is about the development of motor skills, and motor skills can only be improved through repetition. Again, exercise and repetition are the only paths to improvement. Repeat especially those exercises that you have the biggest difficulties with. Don’t rely on your knowledge about technique. Knowledge of a technique is just 20 percent of the skills that you need in order to internalize the technique. If you skip important exercises, you will run into trouble at later stages and this could be very frustrating.

Concentrate while you practice

Concentrate while you practice. Even if it is the twentieth time that you’ve played the same simple beat to a metronome: CONCENTRATE! If you have to practice in a noisy environment, practice with headphones. Make sure that everyone around you understands and respects how important your practice time is to you.

Break down complicated grooves into smaller patterns

If you don’t know how to play a particular groove right away, the fastest way to learn it is to break it into sub-units, learn each sub-unit individually, and piece the units back together when you have mastered them. You could learn the Bass Drum – Snare Drum pattern first, then switch to the Bass Drum – Hi-hat pattern, then to the Snare Drum – Hi-hat pattern before you eventually play the groove altogether with Bass Drum, Snare Drum, and Hi-hat.

Playing “musically”

Playing musically is something that we will be looking at every now and then. It appears in very different forms. In general, playing musically means integrating your finger drumming into the musical context as appropriately as possible. This is really important if you want to become a good and convincing finger drummer. Remember that the style of your music will probably dictate what “musical” is. It could be the right amount of complexity or transparency, loudness or softness, sophistication or simplicity. It could be choice of time feel, choice of the right drum sounds, and more. Musical playing really encompasses a wide range of elements.

Despite this idea, always keep in mind that the primary function of the drum kit in all kinds of music is to KEEP TIME. So, find the right balance between expressing yourself, contributing to the music, and keeping solid time.

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