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Here’s a road-tested program guaranteed to increase your hand speed. Too good to be true? Only one way to find out.

By Mike Johnston | Photography By Robert Downs

Outside the obviously speed-centric world of extreme metal, the ability to drum fast shouldn’t be your top priority. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t have its place, even if you never play anything faster than a ballad.

For one thing, the faster you can play, the more control you’ll have across the whole tempo spectrum. Who wants to sweat it out at the top of their range every time a rushed chorus fill comes around? Besides, having that speed reserve will only increase your confidence for those moments when the wow factor of a super-sonic tom assault might be just what the doctor ordered. But most importantly, practicing for speed the right way will reap benefits in all aspects of your playing.

This workout is based around the concept of muscle memory. Now, we are all aware of the fact that our muscles don’t have brains, so the term “muscle memory” is a bit of a misnomer. That being said, we also know that when we repeat a motor skill over time, such as throwing a ball or riding a bike, a long-term memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort. This process decreases the need for attention and creates maximum efficiency within the motor and memory systems.

In my experience as an educator I have found that hand speed is not the only issue that holds drummers back from being able to play their rudiments fast. The mental stress of trying to remember the pattern is what tends to slow drummers down more than anything. By playing at a slower bpm for longer periods of time, and focusing on perfect repetitive technique, you will be creating the muscle memory required to play all your rudiments and sticking combinations at a high bpm while remaining calm and relaxed, which is key for good feel.

Below are the Five Focus Rudiments. These are the rudiments that we are going to build your speed on over the next ten days. I have chosen these five rudiments for a very specific reason: When I examine my own playing and the playing of my idols I find that almost every chop, lick, or groove can be traced back to one of these five standard rudiments. Obviously, the world of drumming is made of much more than just five rudiments, but trust me, if you master these you will be well on your way to enjoying some serious freedom and creativity on the kit!

Before you begin, you’ll need a starting reference point for where you’re at with your speed so you’ll know exactly how much further along you’ll be ten days from now. Use a metronome to find out your max bpm on the Five Focus Rudiments. After you have written down your scores, begin the Day 1 Workout on the next page. You can do each workout as many times per day as you like, but I recommend doing it at least twice — once in the morning and once in the evening.

five drum rudiments
The Five Focus Rudiments

DAY 1

Welcome to day 1 of your 10-Day Plan For Faster Hands intensive program. Each workout will begin with you playing our Five Focus Rudiments for one minute each. Remember, muscle memory is the key here so slow down and focus on repetitive perfection.

Warm up with the Five Focus Rudiments for one minute each, at 50% of your max speed.

Exercise 1: 8-4-2-2
The 8-4-2-2 exercise is designed to help you build your individual hand speed. During this exercise you want to pay close attention to the difference between your right hand and left hand. Is your right hand gripping tighter than your left? Is your left hand angled differently than your right? Use your dominant hand to “teach” your weaker hand.

Exercise 2: Paradiddle Accents
The paradiddle accent exercise will increase your muscle memory. By shifting the placement of the accents each measure you are forced to really give every note a great deal of care. Remember, speed will come through repetition and focus, so don’t rush through this. Focus on perfection.

Exercise 3: Flammed Groupings #1
The flammed groupings exercise is designed to help improve your speed on flam taps as well as improve your ability to memorize long patterns. Symmetry between the hands is key during this exercise. You really want to listen, and correct for any difference between your right hand and your left hand.

Note: For each exercise, each day, record your tempo at 60% of your max for 2 minutes, 70% of your max for 2 minutes, and 80% of your max for 1 minute, as well as any notes like right vs. left, soreness, etc.

DAY 2

All right guys and girls, it’s day two. Please don’t lose sight of what we are trying to achieve here. Muscle memory is the name of the game. Resist the temptation to “max out” and keep focusing on playing each and every note with purpose.

Warm up with the Five Focus Rudiments for one minute each, at 60% of your max speed.

Exercise 1: Mixed Meter Doubles
The mixed meter double-stroke warm-up will help you learn to control each and every note. When playing your double strokes at one speed, your hands enter an autopilot mode that is great for overall speed, but overall control can be lost. We want to make sure that your doubles remain perfect as you weave in and out of different subdivisions.

Exercise 2: Paradiddle-diddles And Singles
The paradiddle accent exercise will increase your muscle memory. By shifting the placement of the accents each measure you are forced to really give every note a great deal of care. Remember, speed will come through repetition and focus, so don’t rush through this. Focus on perfection.

Exercise 3: Flammed Groupings #2
This flammed groupings exercise incorporates flam taps as well as groupings of four. The grouping of four gives you a chance to A/B how your dominant hand feels compared to your weaker hand. It’s important that you take time during the slower tempos to look down at your hands and make sure that they are both using the same technique.

DAY 3

Day three is all about repetition. We will be using two of the exercises from day one and one exercise from day two. Remember, our goal is to increase the overall speed of our Five Focus Rudiments, so do not skip out on the five-minute warm-up. Focus on playing each individual note as perfectly as possible.


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Warm up with the Five Focus Rudiments for one minute each, at 60% of your max speed.

Exercise 1: 8-4-2-2
Focal points:

  • Right and left hand evenness
  • Use your dominant hand to “teach” the weaker hand

Exercise 2: Paradiddle-diddles & Singles
Focal points:

  • Listen for the rhythm of the accents
  • Sing along internally to the accent rhythm

Exercise 3: Flammed Groupings #1
Focal points:

  • Use the four-note grouping to A/B your dominant and weaker hands
  • Watch your hands to ensure consistency of technique

DAY 4

Day four brings you three brand-new exercises. We have also bumped up the speed of the rudiment warm-up to 70 percent of max. Remember, the focus of this workout is muscle memory so don’t push yourself. Play at a tempo that you can easily handle and allow your brain and muscles to memorize the rudiment.

Warm up with the Five Focus Rudiments for one minute each, at 70% of your max speed.

Exercise 1: Dynamic Doubles
The dynamic doubles exercise focuses on accenting the doubles on the right for one measure, followed by accenting the doubles on the left for one measure.

Exercise 2: Paradiddle-diddles & Paradiddles
This is a great two-bar exercise that will help you master flowing in and out of paradiddle-diddles and paradiddles. Measure one is right-hand lead and then it switches to left-hand lead for the second measure.

Exercise 3: Accented Singles
The accented singles exercise is simple yet extremely effective. If you want to get faster at single strokes you are just going to have to practice them. The accents will break up the boredom and give you something to focus on. Try to make a huge dynamic difference between your accented notes and your non-accented notes.

DAY 5

Congrats! It’s day five and you’re still going strong. It would be easy to give up now but this is the most crucial point in the workout. This is where the muscle memory will start to take hold and your hands will begin to do the exercises without you even thinking about it. Let’s get warmed up.

Warm up with the Five Focus Rudiments for one minute each, at 70% of your max speed.

Exercise 1: Flammed Groupings #1
Focal points:

  • Right and left hand evenness
  • Work on memorization of patterns

Exercise 2: 8-4-2-2
Focal points:

  • Right and left hand evenness
  • Use your dominant hand to “teach” the weaker hand

Exercise 3: Mixed Meter Doubles
Focal points:

  • Pay attention to controlling every note
  • Crisp, even double strokes

DAY 6

Now it’s time to start pushing yourself a bit. Our five-minute warm-up is being bumped up to 80 percent of your max for the next two days. Be sure to stay as relaxed as possible while playing the rudiments. Your workout for today incorporates two exercises from previous workouts and one new exercise, the paradiddle flam tap combo.

Warm up with the Five Focus Rudiments for one minute each, at 80% of your max speed.

Exercise 1: Paradiddle-diddles & Paradiddles
Focal points:

  • Concentrate on flowing into and out of the two patterns
  • Consistency with each hand leading

Exercise 2: Paradiddle Flam Tap Combo
This is an old-fashioned two-for-one. You can maximize your practice time by combining two rudiments into one exercise. Be sure that the sixteenth-note subdivision stays steady and consistent throughout the entire exercise.

Exercise 3: Flammed Groupings #2
Focal points:

  • Use the four-note grouping to A/B your dominant and weaker hands
  • Watch your hands to ensure consistency of technique

DAY 7

You have dedicated yourself to building your hand speed for an entire week now, and that is definitely something to be proud of. Okay, now back to work. Our rudimental warm-up will stay at 80 percent of your max for today. We will do two exercises from previous workouts as well as a new one, the sextuplet changeup.

Warm up with the Five Focus Rudiments for one minute each, at 80% of your max speed.

Exercise 1: Paradiddle Accents
Focal points:

  • Pay careful attention to each note
  • Make shifting accents consistent

Exercise 2: The Sextuplet Changeup
So far, all our paradiddle exercises have been phrased as sixteenth-notes. This exercise puts the rudiment back into its natural subdivision. It also forces you to maintain focus as it slips one beat worth of alternating strokes in on the downbeat of 3.

Exercise 3: Accented Singles
Focal point:

  • Work toward a huge dynamic difference between accented and non-accented notes

DAY 8

By now the muscle memory has fully set in and we can start working on breaking down your physical barriers. We will be doing our rudiment warm-up at 90% of your max. The workout has also been bumped up by 10% per set to force your muscles to work harder during the home stretch.

Warm up with the Five Focus Rudiments for one minute each, at 90% of your max speed.

Exercise 2: 8-4-2-2
Focal points:

  • Right and left hand evenness
  • Use your dominant hand to “teach” the weaker hand

Exercise 2: Dynamic Doubles
Focal point:

  • Consistency between the opposing hands’ accents

Exercise 3: Flammed Groupings #2
Focal points:

  • Use the four-note grouping to A/B your dominant and weaker hands
  • Watch your hands to ensure consistency of technique

DAY 9

Day nine is the last time we will run through our workout before you test yourself on day ten. That means you need to put in maximum effort today. Maintain a sharp focus during every exercise including the warm-up. I know this sounds cheesy, but care about every single note you play today!

Warm up with the Five Focus Rudiments for one minute each, at 90% of your max speed.

Exercise 1: Paradiddle Flam Tap Combo
Focal points:

  • Maximize practice time with two rudiments in one exercise
  • Listen for consistent sixteenth-note subdivision throughout

Exercise 2: Paradiddle-diddles & Singles
Focal points:

  • Listen for the rhythm of the accents
  • Sing along internally to the accent rhythm

Exercise 3: Accented Singles
Focal point:

  • Work toward a huge dynamic difference between accented and non-accented notes

DAY 10

Congratulations! You just completed an intense 10-day workout that will change the way you approach drumming for the rest of your life, and no, that’s not hyperbole. You now know how important muscle memory is, and how it can make complicated patterns seem easy over time. Next time you want to work out an ostinato with your feet, remember this workout. Instead of trying to “max out” right away, take it slow and focus on repetition. Allow your body to perform the pattern over and over for long periods of time at slower tempos. Then when you try to improvise over the top of it you won’t have to figure out how every stroke with your hands fits with your feet. Your feet will be on autopilot, playing the ostinato without you having to focus on it at all, and your hands will be free to play all the amazing ideas floating through your brain every time your car blinker gets switched on.

five drum rudiments
The Five Focus Rudiments

Speed Test: Final Exam
For each “question” on this test, record the following information: What is your Day 1 speed? What is your Day 10 speed?

  • Single Stroke Roll
  • Double Stroke Roll
  • Single Paradiddle
  • Flam Taps
  • Paradiddle-diddle

This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Drum!