As a drum teacher I’ve noticed that one of the most difficult things for beginner drummers is to switch rates, e.g., to go from triplets to 16th notes, and moving between different 16th note variations.
This short exercise is designed so you can play along with me (or the click only), get comfortable with counting, and develop confidence in switching beats while keeping the tempo.
Try to keep a steady quarter note pulse on the bass drum during the exercise.
If you’re wondering about the sticking of some of the variations, you can find them in my PDF Kick Start.
Ps.: I posted both play-alongs in the educational section on my website.
Here’s a cool exercise one of my teachers shared with me, a long time ago:
- You play 14 different 16th note variations on the hi-hat, one per measure, while keeping a continually repeated pattern (ostinato) on the bass drum and snare.
- The bass drum syncopation includes a note on the “a” and “&” of the beat one and two, which makes it more challenging, coordination wise.
- If you struggle with the independence between bass drum and hi-hat, try to play the variations over a four on the floor beat (quarter notes on the bass drum) first, and work your way up from there.
- Focus on clarity, consistency, and groove. Make sure all the notes land in the right place.
- Practice to an 8th or 16th note metronome, to identify where there’s a tendency to push or drag.
- Practice each measure individually before putting them all together in a loop.
For a lot of people this is a hard exercise — it definitely is for me.
Its benefits are many: improved timing, coordination, and being able to stay in the pocket while transitioning between different variations, are just a few that come to mind spontaneously.
Remember: Slow, steady, and relaxed wins the race!
Often, the most simple exercises prove to be the most effective.
I call this one “The Loop.”
Here’s the sequence:
- 2 measures of 8th notes
- 2 measures of 8th note triplets
- 2 measures of 16th notes
- 2 measures of 8th note triplets
It will improve your timing and transitions between the rates.
Practice it with a metronome.
Play it at 60 bpm, or even slower, and really try to feel the s p a c e between the individual notes.
Don’t let the simplicity fool you. Playing it slow is surprisingly hard.
As with almost all exercises and drills, I urge you to focus on clarity, relaxation and control — not on speed. Your speed will increase automatically, once you can play this exercise relaxed, and feel more confident about changing between the rates.
Treat it like a meditation: make time for it, if only 10 minutes a day and allow it to become a habit. You don’t even need a drum kit or practice pad for it. Just play with your hands on your thighs and tap your right foot. Drop your shoulders, focus on your breath, and if you use drum sticks, relax your grip as much as possible without sacrificing stick control.
Note: In the video I play a quarter note Bass Drum, but you can also “march” to the beat and play the Kick on 1&3, and step the Hi-Hat on 2&4.
Remember: Repetition is the key. If you’re new to this, practice a little bit every day, and soon the movements will become second nature as you develop muscle memory.
1.Your foot is flat on the footboard and you play from the ankle.
2. Your foot doesn’t leave the pedal when you wind up, but stays on the pedal throughout the sequence.
3. It’s a very light technique and mostly used at lower volumes. You only need to push down a little bit to set the beater in motion — it’s like tapping your feet on the floor.
There are 3 steps to this technique:
- Wind Up (lift your leg)
- Release (the transition to step 3)
- The Actual Stroke (when you drop your leg)
Step two and three practically merge into one motion: you come down on the ball of your foot and immediately bounce back to release pressure. This is when the stroke happens. It sounds more complicated than it actually is.
Make sure you LIFT your leg, get your heel off the pedal, while your toes stay on the footboard. If you’re having trouble with this sequence, try practicing in socks, or shoes with leather soles.
With the first tap, kick your leg up from the ball of your toes and let your foot naturally roll down to generate the second stroke. (You are no longer actively generating two strokes from your ankle, but only the upbeat. The downbeat happens automatically as your leg drops down.)
To finetune this technique, you can pull your foot slightly back on the upstroke and push it forward on the downbeat. It happens automatically at faster tempos, given you are relaxed and allow your foot to slide on the footboard.
When you learn a new lick or combination, make sure you can play it in different rates, e.g., 8th notes, triplets, and 16th notes.
Some of you asked for sheet music of the 16th Note Variations video. I did NOT write out all the grooves (on purpose – the goal is to improvise!), but here are all the variations on top of a basic beat. Each line is played four times before moving on to the next.
Download Sheet Music
Here’s something I like to practice:
I’m improvising grooves while working my way through different 16th note variations on the hi-hat. I’ve found this to be a great way to come up with new ideas, strengthen my coordination, and improve my timing on the drums. Too often we drummers forget about the endless possibilities seemingly simple rhythms can offer, especially when applied in a creative, groove oriented way. Have fun! – bex out!
This is great exercise to deepen your pulse and improve timing on the drums. I start playing a beat at the downbeat, then move it to the “e” of the beat, then the “+” and the “a.” I’m basically moving through the 16th note grid, using each 16th note as a new starting point.