I got the hint that I had a knack for fast chops ever since my former drum instructor, Joe Morello, nicknamed me Tiger. Although playing fast is a ton of fun, speed is only one essential ingredient in the recipe that adds up to a drummer with monster chops. Control, power, endurance, coordination, timing, knowledge of music theory, and musicality are equally important. So, although we begin this series with one of my favorite exercises for developing speed and control, future columns will contain drills for developing the other essentials as well.
Before we get to the fun stuff, I need to ask you an important question. Are you always loose and relaxed, no matter how fast or how loud you play? If not, you should be. Playing with tense muscles will eventually cause damage, which can lead to serious problems such as tendonitis and carpel tunnel syndrome. If you feel you could stand to be more relaxed when you play,
It doesn’t matter if you use traditional or matched grip, you should always make use of natural rebound when you strike a pad or drum. This is what allows you to play without tension. Here’s how to do it: Hold your stick over the drum so that the tip is anywhere from 1”—18” from the surface (lower levels are used for playing softer and higher levels for playing louder). Using your wrist, throw the stick down toward the drum and your half of the work is finished! Now it’s time for nature to take over as you learn to let the natural rebound of the stick carry it back up to the initial starting position. Sound simple? It is. But many drummers have trouble developing this technique because they have the bad habit of forcibly stopping the natural rebound of the stick first and then physically pulling it back up prior to making the next stroke. This is a total waste of time, energy, and motion! Drummers who play this way are doing twice the work while losing all the benefit of the natural stick rebound.
After you’ve practiced the above technique very slowly and with each hand separately, you’ll be ready to work for speed. But speed without control will only lead to sloppy playing, which is why I designed the following exercises. Practice them slowly with control and precision before increasing your speed. If you find you are getting sloppy at a particular speed, slow down a notch or two until you gain your control back again.
After you’ve studied the written notation below, watch the video above. I demonstrate it at both slow and fast speeds for you.
F = Flat Flams: Play both hands on one drum at the same time
R = Right stick
L = Left stick
When working through these exercises, follow the Drum Key and make sure you are playing perfectly flat flams where you’re supposed to be. Flat flams are executed by striking both sticks on the drum at exactly the same time. However, when applying flat flams to a drum set, playing each stick on a separate drum will give you a better sound.
After playing the exercises through as written, reverse the sticking in the second measure of each exercise so that you are starting with the left stick. This will give your left side an equal workout. Later, you can create your own variations. For example, you can expand on the last two-bar exercise that has you playing groups of three (triplets) in the first bar and groups of four in the second bar, by creating a new two-bar exercise where you play groups of three in the first bar and groups of five in the second bar. Your next exercise would be to play groups of three in the first bar and groups of six in the second bar and so on. The combinations are endless and they all can be extremely useful in your quest for speed