From DRUM! Magazine’s March 2017 Issue | By Wally Schnalle
Most of the information in this magazine was created using only the 26 letters of the modern English alphabet. Think about it. An almost infinite number of words in multiple languages are possible by arranging these 26 marks. When we were very young, we were taught this remarkable alphabet along with the sounds each letter makes. Then, slowly, as we pieced those sounds together, we learned to read and communicate through words, both spoken and written.
Now think about all the drumming you’ve ever heard. Believe it or not, barring certain aberrations like triple strokes and “cheeses” (ask a drum corps buddy about that one), the drumming “alphabet” that created all that wonderful music is composed of only five separate elements: the single stroke, double stroke, flam, buzz stroke, and accent. That’s it!
So, if you know and can play these five separate figures, it stands to reason that you can play anything, right? Well, not so fast. The key to unlocking their power is found by varying the way we play them and apply their rhythmic character. Here’s an analogy: Just knowing the 26 letters of the alphabet doesn’t make you a great author — I’m proof of that! You need to develop a masterful vocabulary built out of those 26 letters. Then you must be able to tell a riveting story in your own style. There’s a lot of work to do between learning the alphabet and publishing your first novel.
That’s why this workshop will work on increasing your awareness of these five basic drumming elements, so you can begin to use them to develop your own distinct drumming voice.
THE FIVE ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS
The simplest element is the single stroke in Ex. 1. Typically, we think of single strokes as lone strokes that alternate between the hands. In fact, many rock fills consist of alternating single strokes, and nothing more, as shown in Ex. 2. However, single strokes can also repeat endlessly with just one hand. For example, the ride pattern in Ex. 3 is played completely with the right hand. (In fact, most ride cymbal patterns are merely steadily repeated single strokes.) And we can’t forget the backbeat, the mightiest of all single strokes, which you see in Ex. 3, banging snare backbeats on counts 2 and 4.
Here we need to talk a bit about technique. There are many opinions about how to execute a double stroke as notated in Ex. 4, but at the core of each of these is the “stroke” concept. By playing two single strokes in a row with our right hand we will get two notes that may sound like a double, but aren’t truly a “double stroke.” An actual double stroke involves only one downward “stroke” motion that results in two notes. This involves the use of bounce/rebound and finger control to yield two notes of equal volume. The benefits are many: we can play faster, use less effort, and easily obtain more melodic content when moving around the drum set, as demonstrated in Ex. 5.
It takes both hands to execute flams, as shown in Ex. 6. A flam should sound exactly as it looks on paper, with a little grace note just in front of the main note. Use the tip of one stick to play the grace note close to the batter head, while the other stick tip plays the main note further above the head. Send them both to the drum at the same time and the result should be a flam, in which the quiet grace note sounds just before the louder main note. That is the textbook version used in marching and orchestral playing; however, flams on the drum set can take many forms. They can be orchestrated on more than one drum, and often both notes are played with equal volume. Ex. 7 shows a frequently used intro fill containing a couple of really big flams on the snare.
The Zs on the stems of the notes in Ex. 8 indicate buzz strokes. This stroke most often lives in orchestral playing and New Orleans drumming, but can find a home in many other styles. It’s helpful to pinch the stick a little more firmly to play a buzz stroke, so you can apply slightly more downward pressure as the stick contacts the head. This should result in fast multiple bounces, creating a brief “buzz” sound. You’ve heard it when great drummers like Chad Smith sneak them into a groove, like the one in Ex. 9. Art Blakey also used his iconic buzz roll crescendo to lead into the bridge of a song, like Ex. 10.
This part of the drumming alphabet may be the most controversial. An accented note simply has extra emphasis, which is created by playing it louder than the other notes surrounding it. While you can argue that a single accented note is just a loud single stroke, the difference is created in the execution of the accent. Low strokes yield quiet notes and high strokes yield louder notes. So, when playing a single accent among a group of quieter notes, you must prepare by lifting the stick tip a bit higher just in advance of the accent and then returning to the lower playing position directly after the stroke. It’s somewhat intuitive, but also takes practice to do well and maintain contrast between the accented and unaccented notes. Ex. 11 includes several applications to help you develop proper dynamic control. Accents are a powerful musical tool. Imagine the fill shown in Ex. 12 without the accents — the results would be rather bland, and certainly wouldn’t have the same musical impact. Another typical home for this kind of dynamic contrast is shown in the left-hand snare part of the funk groove in Ex. 13, with several quiet (or ghosted) notes, and a couple loud backbeats. Without dynamic contrast, this would be a completely different groove.
Singles, Doubles, & Accents With Equal Note Values
We see the real beauty of our drumming alphabet by combining these elements into a drumming vocabulary. Ex. 14 shows single, double, and triple paradiddle rudiments, which are arguably the most common combinations of the basic strokes. All of these elements are played at the same rate and with equal note values. Orchestrating them around the drums can yield interesting rhythms and melodies, such as the Mitch Mitchell fill in Ex. 15, which is built around single paradiddles. The paradiddle inversions in Ex. 16 are a great way to develop your drumming vocabulary. Here the rhythm and accent pattern remains the same in each example, but the sticking pattern inverts. Look carefully and you’ll see that the double stroke in each example moves forward by a single sixteenth-note. This helps you work on the accent preparation discussed earlier, in a context that includes single and double strokes. In Ex. 17, the second paradiddle inversion pattern from Ex. 16 is played over a foot pattern and orchestrated between the ride cymbal and bass drum, resulting in a ubiquitous fusion groove. And Ex. 18 shows a Bernard Purdie–style funk groove that incorporates a double stroke in which the accent defines the placement of the backbeat. That’s a skill you can develop using the third paradiddle inversion pattern shown in Ex. 16.
Singles & Doubles With Two Note Values
The flow of your strokes should remain constant in the various patterns in Ex. 19, even while the rhythmic content doubles in speed. Remember, the definition of a double stroke is “one stroke that results in two notes.” So in these patterns we play single strokes for the sixteenth-notes and double strokes for the thirty-second-notes. Therefore, the stroke flow remains the same while the rate of notes doubles. Ex. 20 shows a beautifully orchestrated Dennis Chambers lick using thirty-second-note doubles to embellish a groove using this concept.
Flams, Accents, & Double Strokes
You don’t have to dig too hard to find many examples of flam rudiments, and Ex. 21 contains a very popular one: the Swiss Army Triplet. If you look carefully at the sticking, you’ll see that it consists of overlapping double strokes combined with an accented flam. This creates a very rich rhythmic texture that was exploited frequently by jazz great Tony Williams. Ex. 22 shows how he would orchestrate this pattern between two toms to create a form of drumming harmony.
Learn Your ABCs
The examples in this article offer only a small assortment of the many permutations that are possible by mixing together the five basic elements of drumming. Learn them in as many combinations as possible to develop a huge drumming vocabulary. The result will be a more powerful and expressive drumming voice. Guaranteed!