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.
Fellow drummers! Here’s the last video of my short drum lesson on timing/coordination/subdivisons/rates. My playing is not as clean as I want it to be, … I’m still working on these drills and ideas, but that’s what practice is all about. I hope you find the information presented inspiring and useful. Aloha! – Beck
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.
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.
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.
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 😉
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.