The Unsexy Fundamentals

I love teaching drums. 

The most rewarding part is meeting new people, watching them progress, and helping them on their journey to become better drummers and musicians.

Yet, I’ve noticed the learning curve is not a linear one.

There are many set-backs along the way, and as an instructor, I often find it challenging to keep my students motivated and inspired. 

When I reflect and look at my most proficient students, I’d say they have two things in common:

  1. A passion and love for drums & music.
  2. The willingness to put in the time and dig deep on the fundamentals. 

Let’s face it, all great drummers have great fundamentals.

What do I mean by fundamentals?

  • timing: knowing quarter notes, eight notes, triplets, 16th notes
  • solid timing within a beat and when transitioning, e.g., going from a beat to a fill-in and back
  • basic coordination between the limbs; bass drum independence
  • playing singles and doubles

There’s more, of course, but these are the big pillars of drum set playing, in my opinion.

Focusing on these things, I believe, will make you a great song and groove drummer.

When I was younger, I played along to music, all the time. I loved Tom Petty, AC/DC, and straight-forward rock tunes. I didn’t focus on crazy fills or drum chops, my goal was to lock in with the band, and play with them, as if I were the drummer on the recording.

I’m convinced that this is the most important drum-practice, I’ve ever done, because it made me focus on my groove and timing, and what it means to play with others.

One problem I’ve noticed is that many of my students want to move on too fast, when they aren’t ready yet, and haven’t mastered some of the basics.

I get it, we watch all these drummers on YouTube or Instagram and we’re inspired and fired up to do what they do.

Problem is, 90% of those drummers have been playing for 30+ years and, therefore, have way more mileage under their belts than the average drum student that comes to learn with me.

I admit, I often struggle with keeping folks motivated, because I can understand and see their frustration and where they want to go.

Learning an instrument, especially later in life, can be challenging. 

So kudos to all of you!

But I keep coming back to The Basics.

A house is only as strong as its foundation. 

Rates & 16th Note Variations

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.

– Beck

Ps.: I posted both play-alongs in the educational section on my website.

 

Get a Grip

Other drummers have asked me about my (default) grip. Just flip a stick and catch it. That’s it: The brilliance of simplicity.

Note: I use a middle finger fulcrum as my “home position,” the index finger comes in to close the hand, add control and pressure, only when necessary (fast doubles, press rolls, etc.).

This allows me to utilize the rebound I get from the drums and cymbals, and to play with the least amount of effort.

#KeepItSimpleStupid

 

Brush It Off

I love playing the brushes.

There’s a meditative, soothing quality to it. Playing brushes can assist you in developing better timing and flow (because of circular/elliptical stroke patterns) — which will also show when playing with sticks.

All time great brush players include Papa Jo Jones, Clayton Cameron, and Jeff Hamilton.

A little history on brush playing, from Mike Tarrani’s website:

Clayton Cameron devotes a segment to the same relationship. The arguments are compelling and valid. However, Mr. Paton cites a deeper source: shoe shine boys who employed their individual rhythms in brushing down their customers with whisk brooms after they shined the shoes. He backs this up with copious citations within the article. He also traces the development and evolution of suitcase drumming in which brushes were used, as well as the importance of barbershops as musical centers of gravity and where some of the whisk broom rhythms were born and evolved. In the latter it appears that Louisiana was particularly important. The irony is the pioneering New Orleans drummers, such as Louis Cottrell, Sr and Baby Dodds eschewed brushes.

If you’ve never tried playing brushes, I encourage you to get a pair and start fooling around with them. You’ve been missing out 😉

16th Note Hi-Hat Variations Loop

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!

 

16th Note HH Var Loop.jpg

Play As You Are – Holiday Discount

For a limited time only you can get my Kindle ebook Play As You Are for $2.99!

unnamedHere’s a short interview by takelessons.com, where we touch on the book.

As always, I remain deeply grateful for your support.

Wishing you all a very happy new year…

Beck

 

 

KICK START – Get Ready To Play!

Aspiring drummers and drum set instructors!

I updated my instructional drumming PDF “Kick Start” (40 pages).

It covers basic reading skills and coordination exercises, and helps the beginning drummer to master her first beats, fills, and gain confidence on the drum kit.

I’ve used it successfully in my teaching practice for almost two years now.

You can work through the material by yourself, but I highly recommend getting a teacher, who can help you understand the basics and fill in the blanks.

You can download it for $9.99 when you click the link below.

Happy Holidays!

– beck

DOWNLOAD KICK START

Rebound Comparison – Practice Pads

 

Testing the rebound/stick response of three different drum pads:

  • Vic Firth 12″ Pad
  • Reflexx CP1 10″
  • E-Pad 12″

I’ve been using all three of them, but if I had to pick one, it’d be the Reflexx Conditioning Pad. Simply because it gives you two rebound options (two sides) to play on, is super quiet, and smaller in diameter.

 

Drumming Videos

 

Here are two simple, yet cool triplet combos: ||:Left Right Kick:|| (Gadd is a master at this!) and then something I’ve heard Bonham do a lot: ||:Left Right Kick | Right Left Kick:||


In this songo improv I play open handed, aka left hand lead (I’m not crossing my sticks), which allows me to get around the kit more easily.


Here’s an Elvin Jones inspired afro-cuban pattern. It has a 6/4 kind of feel, and the hi-hat splashes and tom accents make it challenging to keep balance. I’ll try to follow up with a transcription, soon.


I recently came up with this cool beat:

8th note heel/toe hi-hat splashes over a polyrhythmic double stroke bass drum pattern. 1&A cymbal pattern + snare drum on 2&4.


 

Bass Drum Fundamentals

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.

HEEL DOWN

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.

HEEL UP

There are 3 steps to this technique:

  1. Wind Up (lift your leg)
  2. Release (the transition to step 3)
  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.

DOUBLE STROKES

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.