BY BRAD SCHLUETER
Have you tried to play something a bit offbeat and wondered, “Am I ever going to use this?”, only to quit and move on to something more practical? If you’re like most drummers, this probably sounds familiar. But what if those odd little patterns were actually essential to developing other skills and creating your own unique style? I think we often give up on unusual patterns, not simply because they aren’t obviously practical, but also because their execution is so challenging that we find it hard to improve at them. However, these sorts of concepts might be exactly what our drumming needs.
Working on an awkward and seemingly pointless coordination pattern, rudiment, or polyrhythm can help you in ways you might not expect. Such patterns often require motions, timing skills, and coordination abilities you may not have developed yet. I don’t mean to suggest that they should replace developing solid fundamentals, but by spending a little spare time working on them you may get past limitations you weren’t even aware you had.
1. STRENGTHEN YOUR WEAK HAND
As a teacher, I get a lot of students who complain that their left hand is lame. Unless you’re ambidextrous, you probably struggle with your weaker hand, too.
One relatively easy way to improve your left hand is to learn to play basic eighth-note rock beats with your left hand on the hi-hat. It takes a bit of practice to become comfortable enough to reverse hands on a gig. After a bit of practice, once it starts to gel, you’ll notice that your left hand feels stronger, and is more comfortable playing crashes and doing hi-hat barks.Even if you’re just bashing out punk beats, this exercise will help your left hand and right foot get in sync. You don’t always need to play open-handedly, but at least try it in the practice room. You might be surprised at the results.
To take it to another level, try adding more dynamics to the hi-hat pattern, play more difficult beats, and even work up some simple fills with left-handed leads.
2. TURNING RUDIMENTS INTO GROOVES
One of the best ways to apply rudiments to the drum set is to use them as the basis for grooves. Many rudiments can be used for grooves, but for this exercise we’re going to use the paradiddle (Rlrr Lrll) to
create a series of funky beats. First get used to playing the paradiddle between your hi-hat (or ride cymbal) and the snare (Ex. 1). Play accents strongly and unaccented notes much softer, to add a subtle motion between the snare and hi-hat.
Once you’re able to do that easily, try adding the patterns with the bass drum seen in Exs. 2–6. Play the bass drum loudly while maintaining the dynamics with your hands. You may find it pretty challenging to line up bass drum notes under quiet left-hand notes at first, so take these slowly and try not to flam the bass drum and snare. More advanced players can try using other paradiddle inversions (such as Rllr Lrrl, Rrlr Llrl, or Rlrl Lrlr) for the hand ostinatos. Another challenging option is to play the patterns left- handed. Both will develop your dynamic control and coordination.
3. RHYTHMIC SCALES
Add new flavors to your drumming by practicing different note subdivisions from those you commonly play. You probably already routinely use quarters, eighths, sixteenths, eighth-note triplets, and sixteenth- note triplets (sextuplets) in your drumming, but have you considered using quintuplets or septuplets to expand your rhythmic palette? Both can be very musical in many different styles when played dynamically.
Let’s work on sixteenth-note quintuplets (Ex. 8). Learning to play and feel this note subdivision is similar to learning triplets (Ex. 7). Simply play alternating notes while counting “1 2 3 4 5,” and play an accent every time you say “1.” Next, tap your foot on the accents and play the pattern until it feels natural. Finally, turn on your metronome and play it at a comfortable tempo. Now try following the same steps using septuplets (Ex. 9).
Once these odd groupings become comfortable, try shifting between these new subdivisions and more familiar ones you’ve already internalized. You can also play rhythmic scales (Ex. 10), or jump from one note value to another to further solidify these new subdivisions. Using different sticking patterns like Rllrl is helpful to expand these patterns and make them more musical. For more in-depth and ridiculously challenging material, check out Gary Chaffee’s “Stickings” (Vol. 2 of his Patterns series).
4. BRAIN TRAINING
As a drum teacher, I’m a big believer in learning to read music and counting out rhythms. My students who count habitually understand patterns quicker. They also can spot their own errors, identify the meter of songs in odd time signatures, and progress faster. Part of the usefulness of counting is mnemonic; you remember on which counts the notes land.
You can strengthen your “drumming brain” by practicing various counting techniques when you’re away from your drums. Just as you may find counting “1 e & ah 2 e & ah” crucial for understanding how to play common rhythms, you may also find counting “1 2 3 4 5” helpful in understanding how five-note groupings sound and feel. Syllabic counting — such as “university” (u-ni-ver-si-ty) or “hippopotamus” (hip-po-po-ta-mus) — can be helpful for internalizing the feel of fives. It’s also useful to count measures when listening to music, which can make it easier to visualize song forms and memorize new songs quicker.
Most of us listen to music passively, but it’s possible to develop your ability to interact with music actively. Ask yourself questions about the song. “How would you describe the feel?” “What are the basic drum patterns?” “What’s the bass rhythm for each section?” “How do they fit together?” “What would be a more unusual or interesting groove for the song?” This final step will help you come up with your own drum parts for original songs.
To write your own drum parts, it’s important to first understand the types of grooves and patterns that other drummers play. So learn to transcribe drum parts in order to strengthen your listening skills and analyze what you hear. It’s a great way to get a free lesson from a drummer you may never meet.
5. TRIPLET TORTURE
There’s more than one way to play a triplet. The most common sticking drummers use to play accented triplets is to simply alternate the hands and accent every third note (Ex. 11).
But have you ever tried to play accented triplets with double strokes, like the challenging sticking in Ex. 12? To do this well, aim for low taps about an inch or two above the head, and with the sticks pointing as close as possible to 90 degrees for accents. You have to use down- strokes on counts 1 and 3, which are also often referred to as “control strokes” (since you can’t let the stick return naturally, and must instead stop its rebound to play the next soft tap). Use upstrokes for counts 2 and 4, when you play the ah of 1 and the ah of 3 low, before lifting the sticks quickly to play the next accents. Learning this challenging pattern will do wonders for your ability to execute dynamic changes.
Ex. 13 is an eighth note triplet rhythm alternating sticking will help you play triplets with either hand and then switch back to the straight eighth-note time feel. This can be challenging to do accurately, and can easily turn into the common error shown in Ex. 14, in which every stroke is triplet-based.
Ex. 15 is much harder. It incorporates Ex. 13 into the first measure, then shifts the pattern an eighth-note later, so the triplets now begin and end on &s. I added a bass drum part that you can either play or use as a visual reference to see how the triplets flow over the underlying pulse. If you get this exercise down, you will increase your perceptual abilities, which eventually will improve your timing and understanding of complex rhythms. On a purely practical level, mastering these upbeat triplets can lend more authenticity to your Latin fills. The last two exercises are also interesting. Ex. 16 requires you to accent every fifth note of groups of triplets. Since you’re alternating your hands it takes two measures to repeat. Ex. 17 is much harder since this one is based on quintuplets with accents on every third note, creating a 5:3 polyrhythmic idea.
Think of polyrhythms as two different note subdivisions that occur simultaneously without obviously being based upon each other.Quarter-notes and eighth-notes aren’t polyrhythmic because the eighth-note is played exactly twice as fast as the quarter-note, fitting evenly within the metric framework.
However, a quarter-note and a quarter-note triplet played at once create a polyrhythm, since the quarter-note triplet is moving 1.5 times faster than the quarter-note. This 3:2 relationship is probably the simplest polyrhythm, so let’s start with it. However, as simple as this polyrhythm may be, it will give you a glimpse of the vast and complex possibilities these rhythms offer as you subdivide them. In fact, referring to any polyrhythm as “simple” maybe an oxymoron.
First, play hand-to-hand triplets both with and without the accents (Ex. 18). Next, tap your foot on the quarter-notes (Ex. 19). Then accent the right hand notes (Ex. 20). At this point, you’ll begin to hear how the eventual polyrhythm sounds and feels. We omitted the left hand notes for Ex. 21 so you can hear the two isolated parts. Listen to how they begin together, then cycle over each other, creating two separate note speeds.
Another way to practice this is to play the snare part with your right hand (RH) and the bass drum part with your left hand (LH). If we approach Ex. 21 this way, your hands play together in a flat flam and then play RH LH RH. If you aren’t sure of the timing of these notes try saying 1 2 3 4 5 6, emphasizing the counts in bold. Count 1 is both hands together, 2 is a rest, 3 is your RH, 4 is your LH, 5 is your RH, and 6 is another rest. Once you understand the rhythm it may be helpful to say “both, right, left, right“ as you practice this. You should also reverse hand assignments to learn the pattern with the 3 on your left hand and the 2 on your right hand.
Ex. 22 is the same as Ex. 19, but the beaming suggests we’re now thinking of the pattern from the quarter-note triplet perspective (Ex. 21) and dividing that rhythm in half. While thinking of the pattern within the framework of quarter-note triplets, we can divide those subdivisions into thirds (Ex. 23), fourths (Ex. 24), or fifths (Ex. 25). We can continue this way creating some very difficult and complex rhythms. You can also think of Ex. 24 as sixteenth-note triplets accsented on every fourth note.
To accurately play the last three patterns (Exs. 23–25), you’ll need to have a firm grasp of the relationship between the quarter-note triplet and the quarter-note. More difficult patterns become possible once that’s clear. You should also play these exercises with different stickings. For example, the five-note groupings in Ex. 25 could be played Rllrl or Rlrll instead of alternated single strokes.
7. 3:2 RUDIMENTS AND GROOVES
We’re going to use the 3:2 polyrhythm in Ex 26 as the basis for a number of rudiments and grooves. Be sure to count these exercises out loud and, once that feels easy, add the bass drum notes.
Ex. 27 takes a polyrhythmic approach to the flam accent rudiment, since we’re going to use the sticking of a flam accent played at the rate of quarter-note triplets. Exs. 28 and 29 move the accent to different parts of the polyrhythm, which you may find more difficult. Ex. 30 does the same thing with the flam paradiddle, but since the flams occur every four notes of the quarter-note triplet, they appear at whole- note triplet intervals. If you’re a little confused at this point, don’t sweat it — that means you’re completely normal.
Ex. 31 takes the quarter-note triplet and subdivides it into sixteenth-note triplets. By using paradiddles with strong accents and lighter inner notes, we create a new rhythm of sixteenth-note triplets with quarter-note triplet accents.
We can also use polyrhythms to create grooves and imply tempo shifts (metric modulations). Ex. 32 moves the 3:2 pattern to the hi-hat and bass drum. Next, add ghosted snare notes with a strong accent on count 2 (Ex. 33), which creates an interesting sounding 3:2 groove. Exs. 34 and 35 offer some additional patterns that you may find helpful. Ex. 36 adds snare backbeats to Ex. 32, and Ex. 37 spaces the snare notes farther apart to create a groove that feels slower. Exs. 39–41 are similar, but use a rock shuffle bass drum pattern underneath the modulated hand patterns.
8. RUDIMENTAL TORTURE
Most drummers realize their hands can become a lot better. Since rudiments are the calisthenics of drumming, improving your rudimental fluency is one of the best ways to raise your skill set. If you haven’t worked on rudiments in a while, take these patterns slowly. Go for quality first; then speed.
We begin with Ex. 42, which is a seven- note accent pattern that shifts the lead hand halfway through. This should become obvious when your hands sound different from each other. Your goal is to maximize the dynamic contrast between the loud and soft notes.
From this basic pattern we gradually add a variety of rudiments designed to make you cry and generally humiliate you. So I suggest you practice these in private.
Exs. 43–47 use a variety of diddle and buzzes to create different effects. Try to keep the sound of each half of these patterns identical to the others. Exs. 48–50 use a variety of flam combinations that can be quite challenging. Exs. 51 and 52 use the hybrid rudiment known as a “cheese,” which is a flammed double- stroke. Ex. 53 is very challenging and requires a lot of control, because you have to play buzz strokes immediately following the flams. Ex. 54 is easier and uses paradiddle-diddle and para- diddle taps to outline the accent pattern. You may to try accenting the taps at the end of each rudiment too. And Ex. 55 has triplets with accents front and back to create both dynamic and timing challenges.
If these aren’t hard enough, try tapping your foot on eighth-notes so that the second half of each measure shifts to the upbeats. For a greater challenge, tap your foot on quarter-notes. The patterns will seem to continually shift earlier in the pattern. Of course, use a metronome. Marching snare drummers eat stuff like this for breakfast while juggling their sticks.
9. CYCLIC DISPLACEMENT
Cyclic displacement has been around for quite a while in different forms. Progressive rock great Gavin Harrison refers to the technique as “overriding” and drummer Danny Carey used the technique in Tool’s song “Eulogy.” This technique superimposes one pattern above another to create a polyrhythmic effect.
In these examples, we take two snare and bass drum patterns and superimpose three different cymbal patterns on top of them. As you’ll find, this creates some very challenging coordination patterns.
The first two grooves in Exs. 56 and 57 will help you get used to accenting every third sixteenth-note above back beats.Thenext two patterns in Exs. 58 and 59 remove the unaccented notes, leaving a dotted eighth (or every third sixteenth-note) cymbal pattern. For the last two beats we substitute a shuffle pattern that shifts over the bar lines in Exs. 60 and 61. These have a slightly hypnotic quality as the beats cycle over one another. To make these grooves even more challenging, try longer 4/4 patterns so the cycles double in length.