How to Improve Timing on Drums [+6 exercises]

Ever got so into a song…and then all of a sudden realized that you’ve lost the ‘click track’?


Or, have you tried to jam to a groove but can never seem to catch the right timing?

Timing is a fundamental that drummers must build up.

Here are 6 exercises that you can do today to start improving your timing on the drums.

Here’s what we’ll cover, click on the sub headings to skip to the section:

Who is this guide for?

In short:

This guide was written with the aim to help you transition from a drummer who have no way to tell if you are really playing ‘on time’ to a versatile drummer who can keep time and become a reliable core of any band.

Why this guide might just work for you…

I’ve been frustrated with the inability to keep consistent timing in a band for more than 15 minutes.

Things somehow just start breaking up when we are into our 5th song of the set.

And it was driving me (and the band) nuts.

So, I went in search of ways to build a strong foundation to keeping time.

I’ve spent over 5 months searching for help, living in the forums and practicing every possible exercise that could help.

I’ve found that most don’t work.

Not because those are bullshit exercises, but because there were too many objectives behind 1 exercise.

So, I’ve listed down the 6 drumming exercises that I did, all with the help of a metronome.

It’s been 2 months and I’ve started to feel the improvement during practice.

Songs no longer start to break apart, even as they got complicated.

If you are a drummer who has been learning to drum or have drumming for a while now, but are facing problems with trying to keep time, this guide will show you the exact exercises for you to improve your timing on drums!


Before you jump right in, you’ll need to first learn the following:

Read my guide on drum notation if you need help understanding or interpreting drum rudiments.

Ok, now let’s jump in:

Drumming Exercises To Improve Timing on Drums

#1 – Use Drum Rudiments to Master Timing And Counting For Drummers


  • Teach yourself to time consistently
  • Gives you the strong foundations for creating fills in the fly, in the future

As the saying goes, “(purposeful) practice makes perfect”.

When you practice your drum rudiments, you’ll want to be pairing those sessions with a metronome once you have understood how the rudiment works.

I’ve broken down the drum rudiment practice regime down into 3 levels.

All these should only be done after you have learnt the drum rudiments.

Drum Rudiments Poster
Source: Pinterest

Exercise 1: Back to Basics (Level 1)


  • Learn to count in ‘normal’ and ‘basic’ time (the most common being quarter notes: 1,2,3,4)
  • Learn to speed up your counting while remaining calm and consistent

You shouldn’t be practicing all the drum rudiments at this stage.

Instead, start with the following rudiments:

  • Single stroke rudiments
  • Double stroke rudiments
  • Paradiddles

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Start simple, match your downbeat with each metronome click*.
  2. Start at 50 or 60 BPM,
  3. Work your way up to 120 BPM.

*This means you’ll play a stroke with each click of the metronome.

You may notice that you’ll tend to rush the notes at slower speeds.

It is important to make a mental note to time your beats right, because it will result in inconsistent timing if not reined in early.

Exercise 2: Sub Note Divisions (Level 2)


  • Learn and master the ability to break down whole beats:
    • eighth notes (1 – and – 2 – and – 3 – and – 4 – and)
    • sixteenth notes (1 – e – and – a – 2 – e – and – a – 3 – e – and – a – 4 – e – and – a -)

You should now be familiar with the drum rudiments from Level 1 at this stage.

Level 1 should be pretty easy by now.

This means you can accurately drum with the click even at higher speeds of 120 BPM.

Now, its time to practice the rudiments at the sub note division levels.

What are sub note divisions?
‘Sub note divisions’ refer to the different ways to sub divide a whole (musical) note into (usually) equal beats that should be completed in the same amount of time. For example: eighth notes, sixteenth notes

This exercise should be done with the following rudiments:

  • Single stroke rudiments
  • Double stroke rudiments
  • Paradiddles

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Start with eighth notes, get used to the counting: “1 – and – 2 – and – 3 – and – 4 – and” [the metronome should beep at every numeral]
  2. Play your rudiments, matching up a beat with a count.
  3. Repeat with sixteenth notes.
  4. Start at 60 BPM and work your way up to 180 BPM.

Eighth notes Single Stroke Rudiment:

Sixteen notes Single Stroke Rudiment:

Here’s a great video example from the Rockschool’s syllabus:

Rmember if you lose the timing while playing, just slow down your metronome and restart from there.

I know it can be frustrating at times….i really do :S

At this stage, your aim is to get used to eighth and sixteenth notes.

When practiced alone, you will notice that these should be easy to grasp…so, let’s up the difficulty:

Exercise 3 – Bring It Together (Level 3)


  • Master the ability to count
  • Introduce variation in your drumming

Let’s face it, if a song is played at the same tempo or sub note division, it can get boring pretty fast.

To be a functional drummer, you’ll need to be flexible and be able to transit between different note divisions.

And this was what I’ve tried to master with this 2 part exercise.

Before we start, here’s a quick overview of the basic rudiments we’ll be using:

rudiments improve timing

A) Mix up the rudiments

As you build up your speed, you’ll want to start playing different drum rudiments instead of looping the same one throughout.

Here’s how this exercise goes:

  1. Choose a fixed note sub division (for example, quarter notes)
  2. Start with single strokes, then transition into a paradiddle and move into double stroke rolls.
  3. Feel free to mix the rudiments as you play.
  4. If you get ‘lost’, just start again.

You’ll start noticing that some drum rudiments tend to be able to transition easily into others.

At this stage, you’re getting used to transition between different drum rudiments. You’ll want to keep your note subdivisions constant until you are relatively comfortable with the transitions.

Also, you’ll want to build your muscle memory here because this will provide you with the tight foundation that’ll give you the ability to be creative in your drum fills later 😄

B) Mix up the sub divisions

Once you are comfortable with transitioning between rudiments, start varying your note sub divisions.

Start at quarter notes, move into eighth notes and then sixteenth notes.

Your aim will be to remain calm and consistent while being able to keep playing despite the changes.

It will be difficult to come up with the transition as you play, so I would strongly suggest that you pen down your transitions before your practice.

Here are 2 3 of my notes:

i) Warm Up Round

  • Single Stroke Roll (1/4th) ->
  • Double Stroke Roll (1/4th) ->
  • Single Stroke Roll (1/8th) ->
  • Single Paradiddle (1/8th) ->
  • Single Stroke Roll (1/16th) ->
  • Double Stroke Roll (1/16th)

ii) Warm Up Round

  • Single Stroke Roll (1/16th) ->
  • Single Paradiddle (1/8th) ->
  • Double Stroke Roll (1/16th) ->
  • Single Paradiddle (1/4th) ->
  • Single Paradiddle (1/16th) ->
  • Double Stroke Roll (1/16th)

iii) Freestyle

Play whatever that comes to your mind. You’ll notice that it’ll be difficult to stay on time when you first go freestyle. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll find yourself playing better with the band!

Have some fun.

Create your own ‘grooves’ before each practice session 🙂

At anytime, if it starts to seem too easy, increase the tempo on your metronome.

Aim to be able to transition between fills comfortably at 150 BPM.

#2 – Missing Metronome


  • Internalise timing on drums

I got this exercise from a drummer I met at an expo 2 years back, but only got round to doing it recently.

And boy, this exercise almost killed me. (Or rather, I almost destroyed the drum kit in frustration)


But if you stick with it, you’ll definitely see some great improvement that comes exponentially once everything clicks (no pun intended).

The idea of this exercise is to wean you off any reliance on the metronome.

After you’ve worked your way through the first exercise, you’ll probably be very used to playing with the clip.

And over reliance on the clip can be detrimental, especially during live gigs.

In this exercise, you’ll alternate between playing with the metronome and without it.

Exercise 4 – Missing Metronome

This is how to practice ‘Missing Metronome’:

  1. Start at a slow tempo of 60 BPM, playing either quarter or eighth notes
  2. Start the first 2 sets with counting out loud with the clip
  3. Repeat next 2 sets counting out loud without the clip [use your metronome’s mute function for this]
  4. Repeat step #2 and see if you are on time with the clip.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 with single stroke roll rudiment.
  6. Repeat with double stroke roll rudiment.
  7. Repeat with paradiddle.
  8. Increase the tempo when you are comfortable, or get a friend to randomly mute the metronome for you.

And, here’s the video of Jared Falk demonstrating the exercise:

If your metronome doesn’t have the functionality to switch on and off at set beats, or allow you to turn it on or off during play, you can download Drumeo’s metronome loops.

#3 – Metronome Games

Your ability to control and understanding timing would have improved drastically by now.

So, it’s time to add some variations into your metronome practice to turn up the difficulty again!

I believe there are many creative ways to practice with the metronome.

Here’s 1 that I had found over the forums and on Youtube.

Oh, and trust me this one is enough for now.

Exercise 5 – Mismatched Clip

I first read about this exercise from Billy Ward’s forum.

I suspect the idea is to mess up your brain wiring and timing.

Your aim is to match the metronome click to ‘odd’ notes.

For example, instead of matching the click to the beats “1 – 2 – 3 – 4”, try matching the clip to every ‘e’ or ‘and’ or ‘a’ in the sub note division.

You’ll want to get off the drum kit and start by recognizing the right beat by counting first.

mismatched clips

How to practice ‘Mismatched Clip’

  1. Start with eighth notes first. (don’t get ahead of yourself)
  2. Practice counting with the metronome and clapping your hands at every ‘and’.
  3. Do this at 60 BPM, get used to it. [Try to go for at least 8 bars continuously]
  4. Up the tempo to 120 BPM
  5. Add in the single stroke drum rudiment
  6. Practice with different drum rudiments each time.

Here’s an example by Mark Kelso with Drumeo:

warning: he goes on for quite a bit, and it can get a little depressing, so just watch the beginning

Once you grasp the eighth note mismatched clip, move on and have fun with sixteenth notes.

You can start your beat on the ‘a’ (last count) first for a easier headstart, then move onto starting with ‘e’ in the sixteenth note sub division.

Have a go at it and let me know how you did in the comments! 😄

And oh, stay tuned because I’ll add more metronome games as I discover more^^

#4 – Muted Music


  • Internalise your timing

This exercise was created out of necessity. As drummers, you will definitely not be at your drum kit all day every day.

But, that doesn’t mean that you cannot be practicing or improving.

You can still do this:

Exercise 6 – Muted Music

Most, if not all of us would usually listen to music while commuting.

  1. Pick a song that is playing now
  2. Catch the base timing of the song
  3. Count along
  4. Mute music (while it continues on) for 2 seconds, and keep counting
  5. Unmute music and check if you are on time

This exercise sounds simple, but when you do it you’ll realised that it can be difficult to detect the ‘timing’ or tempo of a song initially.

You should pick the simplest tempo that fits the song during your first 2 tries (at least).


I hope this guide to metronomes for drummers has helped you with what you’re searching for.

We’ve talked about the importance of using a metronome during your drum practice, as well as 5 drumming exercises with the metronome that will help you improve your timing on the drums.

And by the way, you’ll want to bookmark this page because I’ll be expanding on the drum exercises whenever I stumble upon useful ones 🙂

Let me know in the comments if you’d like something to be included!

Other Useful Resources To Improve Timing

The use of metronome is pretty in line with speed training as well.

This is my practice regime aimed at developing my hand speed and control.

If you need some help with the drum rudiments, save this playlist by Vic Firth.

They provided 5 difficulty levels at which you can practice 20 different drum rudiments.

If you don’t have a metronome, you’ll find this tool very useful.

The only ‘complain’ I have is that it is very difficult to customise your practice because these are all continuous tracks.


*Disclaimer: I’m no pro drummer or drum instructor, what I’ve listed below is my personal regime which has helped me improved my own drumming. Feel free to modify it for your own needs.

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