BY STEWART JEAN
Last month we discussed specific roles of each limb, now let’s delve even deeper with specific sounds for the snare drum, bass drum, hi-hat and ride cymbal within a specified groove. If you are still struggling to overcome bad habits by not knowing what to fix, putting together those limb exercises with the sound exercises in this month’s lessons can help. Certain sounds and grooves may be easier or harder depending on your experience, but no matter your skill level, try to focus on the sound and the feeling you wake to evoke within the groove.
In this lesson we are creating a general roots-rock sound. This requires a medium-tight hi-hat sound produced by your right hand playing the shoulder of the stick playing at an angle on the edge of the hi-hat with the left foot applying enough pressure on the hi-hat to keep the cymbals slightly rigid. The tempo in the video lesson is 85 bpm, and to maintain a driving feel play the hi-hat with unaccented eighth-notes.
The right foot’s role in this sound is playing the bass drum heel-up with a strong and consistently dead sound. The snare drum is tuned low and heavily muffled to produce a classic rock bshet sound. Your left hand should play the snare drum with the butt end of the stick striking the head dead center, with no rim shot.
For this exercise you can pick any simple groove you want, but the focus must be on producing a consistent sound paired with an equally consistent time feel. In the video lesson we start with a standard rock beat (Ex. 1).
Once that is feeling good at 85 bpm, the first variation to try is to slightly release some pressure with the left foot—30 percent or so—off of the hi-hat pedal to produce a longer and thicker hi-hat sound. Do not change how you are striking the hi-hat, snare, and bass drum. Now, toggle cleanly every two bars between the two hi-hat sounds. This will help expose any flaws in your technique such as improper balance or weight distribution.
As mentioned, the snare drum sound is low and dead but must still have punch. This punch comes from a firm strike with the butt end of the stick. Although you are hitting hard you must not grip the stick tightly with that left hand. Adding a few subtle sixteenth-note ghost notes randomly between the backbeat on 2 and 4 can expose any potential tension issues. Keep the added ghost notes to a minimum and avoid a set pattern of occurrences.
A great way to see if you have any limb independence issues is to funkify the groove a little by adding some syncopation in the bass drum (Ex. 2). Create a 2-bar pattern with freestanding sixteenth-notes (nothing too busy). While playing, check in with the hi-hat and snare drum—are you maintaining the proper sounds?
Finally, add a few open hi-hat notes to the 2-bar groove (Ex. 3). This also serves as a quick diagnostic on your overall balance on the seat and ability to produce specific sounds while maintaining a good groove.
Once that is feeling consistent, sprinkle a few of those ghost notes back in to the mix. Have fun fine tuning your playing!
Stewart Jean is Program Chair for Drums at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA.