Nothing beats sitting and playing at your acoustic or electronic drum kit, however the humble practice pad should still be a crucial part of your setup. While playing a full drum kit is your vehicle to playing the grooves and fills that you’ve learned, a practice pad is far more than something to turn to when you need to keep the neighbours happy. In our bid to help your neighbourly relations, we’ve compiled this guide to the best drum practice pads for you.
By using a pad, you have the opportunity to develop the more mechanical side of playing the drums - developing control, speed, hand technique and muscle memory for sticking patterns in an arguably more focussed way - you don't have the kid in a candy store distraction of a full kit. Plus, putting in time on a pad allows you to focus on the nuances of these areas for extended periods without the ear fatigue that even a softly-played acoustic snare drum could induce.
By finding the right practice pad for you, and setting it up away from the kit, you can avoid the distraction of breaking from rudimental and technical practice into full-kit playing, meaning that you can set aside dedicated time for working on your stick technique, then take it back to the kit knowing it’s been well honed.
Practice pads are portable, come in different sizes, and have different playing surfaces to adjust your feel, plus the added benefit of being quiet means that you can make the ‘where’ and ‘when’ of your practice time much more flexible. We've got all the info you need to fid the right option for you and your budget.
Best drum practice pads: MusicRadar's Choice
Our selection covers a range of playing surfaces, pad sizes and budgets. If you’ve used a pad before then the familiar design, feel and sound from practice pads such as the Evans ReelFeel and Vic Firth Hard hitter are most likely what you have in mind.
Drumeo’s P4 possibly holds the greatest appeal to kit drummers who want to hold their focus with a varied feel across the same surface.
Best drum practice pads: Product guide
When it comes to a no-fuss, simple practice pad, the ReelFeel series from Evans is Classic Coke. While there are a few different options in terms of sizes and single/double-sided pads, we’d suggest going for the 12” double-sided version. This octagonal pad consists of a composite wood core, measuring 12” from its widest points on the playing surface, while the extra wooden lip brings the total diameter of the pad to 13”, meaning you can sit it on top of your regular 14” snare drum, or inside your stand’s cradle without any problems.
On one side you get a dense, gum rubber playing surface for maximum rebound, while flipping over gives you a recycled rubber surface with less rebound (although it’s by no-means dead). Both surfaces are the same thickness, but will produce different tonalities when struck. It’s a simple, but not limited, durable pad that will end the search for many players straight out of the gate.
While Ahead started life as a sub-brand of arrow manufacturer Easton, producing aluminium drumsticks, it has since moved into drum accessories (and even snare drums). The Wicked Chops pad is an innovative, go-anywhere design that you can keep in your stick bag, sling in your backpack or pocket and use to build your chops on the go in the smallest of spaces. At 1.75” diameter, and just 2” high, accuracy is certainly a by-product of using this small pad!
There’s a single rubber playing surface which is similar to the gum side of other pads featured in this guide and when not mounted to a stand, the pad sits firmly in place on your desk. However, given it’s dimensions, the Wicked Chops pad isn’t the perfect choice for warming up on your lap or on a surface that isn’t flat and solid. But, for portability when warming up or grabbing your sticks during a break, the Wicked Chops Practice Pad certainly wins.
Stick giant Vic Firth’s Heavy Hitter pads were first designed by hand technique guru/drumline monster/educator, Bill Bachman, and a quick glance at any one of Bill’s videos online should be enough to confirm that you’re in good, er, hands with this practice pad.
The Heavy Hitter is available as two models: Slim or the Stockpad which we’ve chosen as our recommendation. While the Slim model’s reduced thickness makes it slightly more portable, in reality we’re talking about a difference of a couple of mm on the depth of the playing surface and a few grams lighter overall. While that adds up to a slightly less bulky pad, the tonal difference between the two is actually quite large, with the extra thickness of the Stockpad’s gum rubber surface giving you a lower pitched, warmer stick sound.
Once again, the Stockpad is 12” in diameter with a wooden base, and the underside of the pad is fitted with a non-slip rubber surface to help fix the pad in place. Vic Firth also produces Mylar (drum head material) laminates to attach to the Stock Pad, giving you an even more realistic feel.
So far, all of the pads we’ve featured have been standalone models, very much an intentionally separate entity from your kit. But what if you simply don’t enjoy the feel or sound that a traditional practice pad creates? Enter the RTOM Black Hole. On its own, the Black Hole is a hoop with a tension-adjustable mesh head attached. Pair it with your snare drum, though, and it takes on an entirely more interesting purpose.
As much a solution for noise as feel, this nifty playing surface sits on top of your drum’s batter-side rim and creates a gap between itself and the head of your drum. When struck, the Black Hole will make your drum heads and snares resonate, but with way less volume and attack. This means that you can practice on your regular snare without the usual volume, but still get some authentic sound and – thanks to the variable tension of the Black Hole – feel.
They aren’t cheap, but they do perform as designed, and you can even buy a whole set to put over your kit. Unlike the foam/rubber ‘drum mutes’ of old, these will maintain your enjoyment of playing your kit, and we love the fact that they’re a fast, temporary solution to killing noise without destroying vibe.
The P4 Practice Pad from online drum education site Drumeo takes playing on a pad to the next level, literally, with its three-layer design.
The Drumeo P4 was designed by New York educator, Pat Petrillo, (and also bears his signature), giving you four different playing surfaces on the same side, and spread over three different levels.
First is the gum rubber section which emulates the feel of a tightly tuned snare, while the middle level is designed to replicate the feel and rebound of your rack and floor toms. Finally, the pad’s hardest surface on the upper level aims to give you a similar response to a ride cymbal. As well as a variety of responses from the different zones, the P4’s multi-level layout encourages movement, perfect if you want to help develop some agility around the kit without being able to sit at one.
ProLogix produces some of the most desirable-looking practice pads on the market, and across its busy product line there are plenty of options to choose from. The Blackout series offers the most ‘dead’ feel of its standard pads, with a thick yet soft playing surface that will force you to manipulate the sticks for each stoke while offering a reduced volume level compared to harder surfaces.
The chunky neoprene top is mounted to the CNC-cut Baltic birch base, giving you a sturdy feel along with a countersunk rim. This allows you to practice some additional stick techniques such as rimshots, and it’s designed not to chew up your sticks. Turn the pad over, and the thinner, non-slip base rubber also doubles as a second playing surface, giving you greater rebound along with a louder, more solid tonality.
The Blackout is available in three sizes – but we’re recommending the 8” version here as we feel the solid construction and thick playing surface strikes a great balance between portability and playing response. It’s a quality pad, but the price is still competitive
Unlike many of the best drum practice pads featured here, the Moongel Workout Pad from RTOM doesn’t feature any rubber playing surfaces at all. Instead, RTOM have made the pad’s playing area from its famous Moogel – the same stuff drummers use for dampening overtones on acoustic drums. The result is a pad that offers a greatly reduced stick rebound – similar to playing on a pillow.
This forces you to use your wrists and arms more, maintaining a fuller grip on the stick to keep the momentum going. It also offers a reduction in acoustic noise due to the soft nature of the gel, so it’s a great choice if you’re looking to build stamina without making prolonged hollow tapping sounds.
The Moongel pad can also be mounted to an 8mm cymbal stand thread, and has non-slip rubber on the underside to stop the pad from running away from you. Plus, at 7” in diameter it’s small enough to be easily portable. It’s not a traditional practice pad, but it definitely has its own place in the market.
The Aquarian Super Pad can be used as a standalone practice pad or, in a similar way to the RTOM Black Hole, as a drum-mounted, noise-reducing pad. However, unlike the RTOM Blackhole, the Super Pad features a closed underside, with a more solid central core. This dual-purpose design gives you some additional convenience in that you can take the pad away and use it on its own when you’re away from your kit, however the Super Pad does not have an adjustable playing surface.
The pad remains in place by creating its own vacuum seal against your head, and the resonance is enough to activate the snares and tone/pitch of the drum you use it on.
The 14” ‘snare’ version will fit any regular snare drum, but there are also 10”, 12”, 13”, 16” and 22” versions for you to outfit your whole kit if required.
Overall, the Super Pad’s feel is less bouncy than standard mesh heads due to the lack of tension and the absorbent nature of the surface. A whole kit’s worth will be pricey, but if you’d prefer less rebound than a regular rubber-coated pad or mesh head provides, along with the flexibility of using the pad with or without a drum, it’s a strong contender.
Mesh heads have become extremely common in the last decade thanks to the increased popularity of electronic drums, and numerous companies now offer their own mesh-style heads. These take on a similar feel to a traditional drum head and, with a tiny tennis racket-style weave to them, disperse the bulk of the impact noise and resonance you get from striking a traditional drum head.
Of course, you could buy a mesh head and fit it to an existing drum, but that would mean making time-consuming changes unless you have a spare drum to use for this purpose. Likewise, there are plenty of affordable electronic pads equipped with mesh heads, but unless you have one that you’re not using, you’ll be paying extra for the trigger part of the pad. Remo’s Silentstroke mesh practice pad offers a ‘dumb’ pad that will achieve everything you need it to, while remaining portable.
The head can be adjusted by using the tensioning screws, and like many other pads here, the SilentStroke can be mounted to a cymbal stand via its threaded base or used on a table top without slipping thanks to the non-slip rubber underside.
Best drum practice pads: Buying advice
Practice pads are relatively simple solutions, but there are a few options for you to decide on. The most important is likely to be the playing surface, which will govern how your stick rebounds when you strike the pad, as well as the type of sound you’ll create.
At their most basic, practice pads will commonly offer one (single-sided) or two (double-sided) playing surfaces, with a wood or plastic core. The playing surfaces usually incorporate a dense, hard rubber surface or softer, less responsive side. The first is designed to replicate the bounce of a tightly-tuned drum head, throwing the stick back quickly after each stroke and will usually produce a dead-sounding thud, great for learning to manipulate the rebound with finger control.
Flip the pad over, and you’ll usually have a more cushioned, less responsive side that doesn’t give as much rebound – better suited to developing techniques that don’t rely on utilising rebound (such as your wrists). In the case of single-sided pads, you’ll need to choose the type of response you’re looking for.
While these playing surfaces are the most common, there are also mesh heads – the same as you’ll be used to from an electronic drum setup, gel pads which are closer to playing the ‘dead’ side of a rubber pad, and in some cases, pads with multiple ‘zones’ of different material on one side.
Your next important decision is pad size. If accuracy and convenience are important, then choosing a smaller 2”-8” pad will allow you to set up virtually anywhere, with features such as cymbal stand threads and non-slip bases commonly available.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to replicate the feel of playing on a drum, or want to sit the pad in a snare stand cradle or on top of a drum, then larger pads are also available.
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