I sometimes get the question on how I come up with combinations/melodies/fills around the kit. That’s a tough one to answer, because when I play, I play, and try not to think (in concepts and combinations).
Having said that, there are exercises that have helped me develop dexterity around the kit, and that allow me to move around the drums with more freedom.
Here’s an exercise I learned years ago, but I took it further and “put it through the wringer.”
I take a 4-note grouping (RLRL) and systematically substitute one hand with one bass drum (K), which gives me four variations:
Substituting two hands with two consecutive bassdrums also gives me four variations:
I recommend working on these combinations slowly, until you start to hear the rythmic melody in your head, and your hands and feet can execute the patterns effortlessly, even and relaxed. That’s very important. Don’t worry about speed. Instead, focus on relaxed control and playing “clean.”
Drop your shoulders, don’t hold your breath, and eliminate all unnecessary tension when you practice.
When I first started working on this stuff, I had a hard time staying focused, so I practiced on a practice pad and tapped my feet on the floor. That cut out the temptation to immediately play something else and focus on the basic mechanics of the exercises.
Start playing them as 8th notes first, and step quarter notes on the Hi-Hat.
I find it important to switch between the rates in a very systematic way in order to internalize the ways the rhythms feel in our body and how the melodies sound on the drums.
To get the most benefit from the exercise, play it in different rates, e.g., 8th notes, 8th note triplets, and 16th notes — Mark Guiliana calls this “The Loop:” 8th notes – 8th note triplets – 16th notes – 8th note triplets.
If the pattern is 8th notes, it gets played twice, triplets three times, 16th notes four times.
Time to break out the metronome and start s l o w.
Continue to play quarter notes with your left foot on the Hi-Hat.