Practice Pad Workshop: Crossovers And Crossunders


Crossovers are often steeped in controversy. Is it a legitimate tool for drum set players? Is it just a trick meant for showing off? Why use crossovers when more efficient maneuvers like rudiments are an option? Here we aim to answer these questions through step-by-step instruction. But first, let’s examine what makes crossovers tick.

Over And Under

Crossovers occur when one of your hands passes over the other across the drum set. This is especially helpful for playing a steady flow of single strokes in sticky situations, but can be a challenge in terms of locating your target and avoiding accidental stick clicks and drops. Ergonomics, speed, stick length, and even arm length affect the strike angle and the positioning of your hands as they cross.

As you may have guessed, crossunders are the inverse of crossovers, and involve one hand sliding under the other to strike a drum.


Stewart Copeland has been quoted as saying drummers are not only musicians, but also entertainers who are there to light up the room. As drummers, we often get so caught up in developing an efficient, fluid playing style that we avoid techniques that may require unnecessary movements. However, the sweeping motions of crossovers are dynamic and provide entertainment value for the audience.

Improve Your Playing

Because they present us with so many technical pitfalls, crossovers become a perfect backdrop to develop efficient motion. In his book Beyond Bop Drumming, John Riley notes that practicing crossovers helps increase fluidity and flexibility around the kit. By using them we become hyperaware of the different types of arm motions — up and down, side to side, diagonal, circular, and contrary — and when to best use the shoulders, arms, or wrists. You’ll know right away if you need to fix a motion because with one wrong move the sticks will go flying right out of your hands.

Practicing crossovers may also benefit your timing. Since the motions are more difficult to pull off than non-crossovers, frantic fills may end up landing right in the pocket.

Odd And Even

It turns out that crossovers and crossunders are grounded in the idea of grouping notes. Theodd-number grouping of three, delineated by accents, is explored here, but any odd-number grouping will help prepare you for motions involved in future sections. For these exercises, use alternate sticking, starting with either hand.

Ex. 1 is the base accent pattern for eighth-note triplets. In Exs. 2–3, the accents are displaced by one note, and Ex. 4 is a combination of accent patterns. Exs. 5–8 move to three-note groupings within a flow of sixteenth-notes. Ex. 5 is the primary accent pattern, Exs. 6–7 are displacements, and Ex. 8 is a combination of patterns.

Another common motion found in crossovers uses even-number groupings, such as the four-note groupings found in Exs. 9–12. The primary accent pattern (Ex. 9) and three displacements (Exs. 10–12) are shown here.

For any of these exercises, try placing the accented note on one drum or cymbal and the unaccented notes on a different drum or cymbal to generate some crossovers and crossunders. Then, switch to a different starting point and try it again. Need another challenge? Try the same process starting with your opposite hand.

Two Surfaces

Before we place sticks on two sound sources and really begin crossing over and under, it’s a good idea to consider the math.

Consecutive single strokes with alternate sticking in odd-number groupings allow crossovers and crossunders to travel back and forth in an alternating fashion (one hand followed by the other). In Exs. 13–20, three-note groupings are played as eighth-note triplets. In Exs. 13–14 and 17–18, the snare drum is home base and the hands cross over and under to the floor tom before returning, while in Exs. 15–16 and 19–20, the floor tom is home base and the hands cross over and under to the snare before returning. Your starting position and hand choice help determine whether to cross over or under.

Three-note groupings are also used in Exs. 21–28, but this time as a flow of sixteenth-notes. In Exs. 21–25, each measure is composed of five 3-note groupings, followed by a stray sixteenth (3 x 5 + 1 = 16). Repeating one-measure phrases increases the difficulty, such as when a crossover immediately follows a crossunder (Exs. 21 and 23). Notice that crossunders aren’t used on the & of 1 in Exs. 26 and 28.

Even-numbered groupings of notes, like the groups of four in Exs. 29–32, allow one hand or the other to repeatedly execute crossovers. Exs. 31 and 32 are identical, except that Ex. 31 uses crossovers and Ex. 32 uses crossunders. Make sure your right stick is angled sharply enough to avoid stick clicks in Ex. 32.

A four-piece kit is used to demonstrate the concepts in this workshop, but the same concepts hold true with larger kits. Try following this routine between floor tom and high tom, snare and hi-hat, and ride and snare.

Exs. 33–36 use odd and even groupings all within one measure. Though the sticking is prescribed in the notation, you can choose to start each of these phrases with the other hand.


Applying crossovers to rudiments may seem like an odd pursuit. After all, rudiments, especially those that contain double strokes, are sometimes used to avoid crossovers on the drum set. However, rudiments are fun to play and so are crossovers, and when combined they’re double the fun.

At this point in this workshop, you’ll notice an increase in directions for crossovers and crossunders beginning to appear in the notation. As these motions become more complex, make sure to take it slowly and gradually raise the tempo.


Exs. 37–44 use the following rudiments:

Ex. 37: Double strokes

Ex. 38: Displaced double strokes

Ex. 39: 5-stroke roll, 9-stroke roll, drag

Ex. 40: 5-stroke roll

Ex. 41: Single paradiddle

Ex. 42: Reversed and inverted paradiddle

Ex. 43: Paradiddle-diddle

Ex. 44: Double paradiddle

Even Spread

In Exs. 45–46, neither the snare nor the floor tom are considered home base. Instead, the responsibility is shared between the two drums.

Three Surfaces

In Ex. 47–52, three sound sources are used in an eighth-note triplet flow: snare, floor tom, and high tom. See if you can add four-on-the-floor with your bass drum and chicks on the hi-hat on 2 and 4.

Four SurfacesCrossovers Exs. 53-56 Four Surfaces (16ths)Closed hi-hat is added as a fourth sound source in Exs. 53–56, and the motions get even more challenging.


Adding The Bass Drum

There’s something cathartic about inserting bass drum notes in the midst of crossovers, very much like taking a breath of fresh air. It also serves to leave a little more space between each arm movement. In Exs. 57–59, one or two bass drum notes break up long sixteenth-note phrases into smaller ones, and in Ex. 60, triplets are thrown down in the style of John Bonham.

Make It Groove

It’s ironic that while crossovers used as fills or solo material are often considered unusual, drummers from all over the world play backbeat grooves on the hi-hat in a crossed-over position. In Ex. 61, crossovers and crossunders begin on the & of 2, fused with a more typical backbeat (beats 1 and 2). Ex. 62 is a tribal crossover groove played between snare, high tom, and floor tom.


All of the examples so far have presented crossovers as a linear concept, but they can also be played as layered notes (Ex. 63). Audiences are sure to gaze in wonder at what you’re doing here, because the unusual motions don’t match up with the consistent sound you are producing.

If you open up the flat flams in Ex. 64, they suddenly transform into rolling triplets with the bass drum.

Dennis Chambers’ Cymbal Lick

Though very few drummers can play this lick with the speed, power, and accuracy of Dennis Chambers, it becomes a lot easier than it looks once you get the hang of it. Exs. 65–66 are perfect for big endings and solo flourishes.