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How to Train Limb Independence for Drums

Getting your limbs to move independently

Last Updated: December 2023 | 1579 words (7 – 9 minute read)

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As a beginner drummer, getting your separate limbs to do separate things is one of the hardest skills to develop.

But it’s also the most important if you want to play a drum set well.

In this guide on how to train limb independence, we’ll give you a some important tips and a bunch of exercises that are going to frustrate you to high heaven. But stick with it and you’ll be rewarded with a much better ability to play.

If you’re brand new to drumming, check out our guide on how to play drums first.

Let’s get right into it…

Audio Version of Article


Microphone Month at Sweetwater

How to Practice for Limb Independence

Learning limb independence is like learning to walk – it’s not automatically within us. The brain is meant to focus on one thing at a time.

So first and foremost, an important thing to keep in mind when practicing these things is… TAKE IT SLOW.

And by slow I mean super slow – turtle speed slow. So slow that it’s easy to do.

No Metronome at First

You don’t even want to be using a metronome when you first start. Even 60bpm might be too quick, especially when you’re first encountering an exercise.

So for the first few times (until you’re able to do the exercise extremely slowly with no mistakes) don’t use a metronome, and don’t try to do it with any speed at all.

Focus solely on getting the movements right, no matter how slow you have to take it.

Visualize It Before Playing It

The next thing to consider is how you approach the exercises. You almost want to imagine it in your head first.

When you read the exercise description, close your eyes and imagine what each of your limbs would do in your head. Go through the movements in your mind’s eye, without moving your actual limbs.

Simply, think about doing it.

Once your mind is familiar with the movements, take it to the drum kit. And remember, take it as slow as necessary to get the right movements down (i.e. you’re able to do it at least 3 times, without making mistakes).

Break It Up

Another helpful tip is to break it up – if you’re having trouble with synchronizing all 4 of your limbs, start with only two. Then gradually add the third limb, and finally the fourth.

You could start with just your arms, or one arm and one leg together. Then as that becomes easier, add in another arm or leg.

Breaking it up like that can make things less frustrating.

Practice Anywhere

Finally, you don’t need a drum set to practice these.

You can use a practice pad and other surfaces while tapping the floor to mimic the movements. The idea is to train your limbs – that doesn’t require ANY special equipment – even sticks.

You can do these types of exercises while sitting on the couch in front of a TV.

Of course, it’s best done on the drum set, but it’s not a requirement.

Closeup of Drummer Using All Limbs

Exercises to Develop Limb Independence

Here are 4 exercises to gain more independence (multi dexterity) between your limbs.

Even if you just practice these for 10 minutes a day, you’ll see massive improvements. But you have to do it daily! That’s the only way.

However long you do it and whatever you use to practice them, just get those “reps” in – that’s all that matters.

Split Paradiddles

If you’ve gone through our drum rudiments guide (read now), you’ll be familiar with the paradiddle.

If not, it’s basically using both your sticks in a modified alternating pattern – Left, Right, Left, Left | Right, Left, Right Right.

This is great to build independence between your arms – you can do them on a single drum (like the snare) or you can do them on different drums (ex/ left stick on snare, right stick on hi-hat)

But you can also do paradiddles using your feet to develop leg independence – your right foot plays the kick and your left foot plays the hi-hat pedal. Simple follow the same pattern – L, R, L, L, R, L, R, R. 

You can also split the paradiddles between your arms and legs. This is where some real magic can happen.

For example, you could play the right foot and left stick together as a paradiddle. Or you could use your right stick and right foot to play – Arm, Foot, Arm, Arm | Foot, Arm, Foot Foot. 

Use a bunch of different variations and combinations to help train your limbs properly.

Up-Beat Kick Groove

The below chart will show you a practice drum groove you can play on the whole kit. It will work to develop your brain’s ability to do non-conventional things with your limbs.

Normally, we always want the kick to be on the down beat. So let’s only play the kick on the up beats!

The hi-hat hits on every down beat, and the snare hits on the 2 and 4. 

Simply play the drum on the proper count wherever there is an X marked. A “-” symbol means you don’t hit on that count.

Hi-Hat StickXXXX
Hi-Hat Pedal
KickXX –

Up-Beat Pedal Groove

This next groove is similar to the above exercise, but instead of playing the kick on the up-beat, we’re pedalling the hi-hat on the upbeats.

It’s more difficult than it seems because we’ll also be playing the KICK on the 1 and 3.

Remember, take it slow at first.

Hi-Hat StickXXXX
Hi-Hat PedalXX

Once you get good at both of these grooves, try adding another kick/pedal to the additional upbeats on the bar (i.e. the & of the 2 and 4 counts).

These grooves are great for short-circuiting what your brain is expecting your limb to do.

Stacking Quarters and Moving Eighths

This final exercise is one of the most difficult and frustrating exercises for independence that you can do. It’s amazing. And it seems a LOT easier than it actually is.

You’re using all of your limbs together at the same time on the following drums:

  • Right Hand – Ride Cymbal
  • Right Foot – Kick
  • Left Hand – Snare
  • Left Foot – Hi-Hat Pedal

If you don’t have a ride cymbal or floor tom, you can use the hi-hat or middle tom. The drum itself isn’t important here, the concept is.

  1. Start by playing quarter notes with all your limbs at the same time for 4 bars.
  2. Next, start playing 8th notes on your right hand (ride cymbal) – but keep playing quarter notes on the kick/snare/pedal – for 4 bars
  3. Go back to playing quarter notes on everything for another 4 bars
  4. Now, start playing 8th notes on the hi-hat pedal – but keep playing quarter notes on the kick/snare/ride – for 4 bars
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 randomly switching one limb to 8th notes while the rest keep playing quarter notes.

If you start playing this exercise, you’ll quickly notice how difficult it can get.

It’s because your brain gets used to the pattern you’re playing and then you suddenly interrupt it and change. 

This exercise will train your brain to get better at those types of change-ups.

Make sure you’re using switching up the drums you’re using as well. So your right hand may start on the ride cymbal, but during one round you switch it to the hi-hat for 8th notes, or you switch your left hand from the snare to the high tom for 8th notes, etc.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Limb Independence?

Limb independence is the ability to move your limbs – arms and legs – in different/opposite/counterintuitive ways at the same time. It’s a skill needed for playing a drum set effectively, as each limb plays a different drum, using a different rhythm at the same time.

Can You Learn Limb Independence?

Yes, you can train limb independence, by learning and practicing various exercises that force you to move your limbs in counter-intuitive ways at the same time.

How Do You Build Limb Independence?

You can train limb independence by consistently practicing drumming exercises that specifically use all of your limbs in difficult and independent ways.

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    Final Thoughts

    Getting your limbs to do different things at the same time is really hard when you’re first starting out.

    Our brains aren’t really wired that way naturally. We have to work on it and learn it just like we learn to walk.

    But if you use the exercises found in this guide to practice drumming on a daily basis (learn more), you will be able to move your limbs in incredible ways over time.

    Complex drum patterns won’t be as intimidating once you get a handle on your limbs.

    If you really want to level up your drumming, I highly recommend you use a drum practice/training app like Melodics – you’ll improve your rhythm and groove whether you use electronic/acoustic drums or want to finger drum.

    Thanks for reading this guide on how to develop limb independence for drumming. I hope it was helpful.

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    About The Author:

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    Omar Zulfi

    Omar Zulfi is a music producer, rapper, singer, songwriter and digital entrepreneur. He is the founder and head writer at Deviant Noise. Learn more about what he's doing by clicking here.