Choosing the best drum pad depends on factors such as skill level, style of playing, and what skills need to be honed. Drum pads are made from many different materials and vary from just an inexpensive surface to play on to moderately priced electronic drum pads that teach and record what is played for focused training. Take some time and try out what is available at local instrument providers. Talk with teachers, band directors, and fellow drummers.
Most novice drummers should start with a single drum pad, either a stand-alone drum pad or one that is placed directly on the drum that then acts as a sound dampener. Intermediate or advanced players should think about whether the primary need is to simulate a drum kit for quiet time or if the need is to tighten up stick control and rudiments. Expandable kits may be considered depending on the situation. Highly detailed and experienced drummers may wish to consider electronic drum pads.
A drum pad can be homemade and as simple as a pillow or a phone book, which is great for marching drummers. Manufactured drum pads can be tabletop or mounted on a stand, and all types usually have a drum head–type surface or a gum rubber surface. The surfaces respond differently, so trying them out is a good idea. Electronic drum pads and electronic drum sets allow for hearing a sound through headphones, and many can be used for performance through an amplification system. Specialized electronic drum pads have features including metronomes, songs to play along with, and recording and playback, which allow for detailed fine-tuning of skills and timing.
The medium played with, drumsticks or brushes, can also be a factor in choosing drum pads. If drumsticks are used, then the choices for drum pads are many. Drummers who need to practice with brushes, however, should look for a drum pad with a real drum head or a textured surface. The rubber drum pads tend to work poorly with brushes. A piece of non-shiny cardboard is an option for a drum pad that works well with brushes.
Sound dampeners are drum pads that are put directly on the drum and may be a better alternative for a large drum kit. Drum pads like this come in different thicknesses, and there is a standard design for snare drums that have a thicker center and a super thin edge for different types of practice. Drummers on a tight budget can also put a pillow or some fabric inside the drums, effectively turning them into drum pads.