Playing the Sixes
Part 1: Volume and Accent Character
by Chris Prescott
Most of us tackled basic rudimental patterns when we first learned to play the drums. For me, these endless combinations were fun to practice, but I soon wondered why I would choose to play a more complex sticking when I could play a basic single-stroke roll instead. As a young student, the answer eluded me.
Even as I transcribed and learned some of my favorite songs, it seemed as if the fills were almost always based on a series of single strokes. This was not the encouragement I needed to stay on track with my rudimental training. Eventually, though, after my technique had developed a bit, I discovered distinct advantages to using the various sticking patterns.
Since I’ve been teaching for many years now, I’ve had the opportunity to ask my own students to learn these rudimental patterns, and I’ve explained the many benefits. The key to conveying information to students in a way that will ultimately encourage them to practice and assimilate is through demonstrating the usefulness of the material.
I break down the unique qualities and benefits of rudiments into four categories: volume, accent character, speed, and orchestration. In this article we’ll examine the first two topics, volume and accent character.
There’s an inherent quality to the way a single-stroke roll falls on a drum, and it’s different from the more relaxed attack of a rebounded double-stroke roll. If you’re hammering away during the loudest point of a rock tune, playing a series of doubles might not afford the volume or forcefulness you’re looking for, whereas single strokes might fit the bill perfectly. Conversely, if a song is extremely quiet, double strokes might be a perfect choice, because they can provide a great deal of speed without becoming too heavy handed.
The beauty of a rebounded double stroke is that the stick is doing much of the work. Getting the right sound becomes more about harnessing the natural movement of the stick rather than using only your arms, hands, and fingers to produce the sound. Based on these natural mechanical differences between the production of single and double strokes, it makes sense to be able to choose to use a specific rudimental pattern based on the dynamic and mood of the song.
Most musicians aim for control over the instrument, and for drummers that’s often exercised and manifested in how evenly played our patterns are. Strokes can be evaluated for consistency of stick height and how accurately we strike the drum at the intended spot on the head. By focusing on those two elements when practicing, we can actually suppress the natural sound of a specific sticking pattern. While this is great for developing control, I also counter it with the idea that sometimes playing in a less regimented way has its own value. For instance, if you let the single strokes in a rudimental pattern be more dominant, a natural dynamic contour emerges. I suggest you explore the complete spectrum of each pattern, from having all of the notes be completely even to fully accenting the single strokes while the remaining notes are played softly. Every variation has a musical purpose. Each sticking also has an inherent dynamic contour that should be explored and embraced.
Putting It Together
The exercise is designed to quickly illustrate a useful application of rudiments in a musical context. It consists of a two-measure pattern in any feel (rock, jazz, samba, etc.), with a 16th-note-triplet fill on beats 3 and 4 of the second measure.
For the fill, cycle through each of the following stickings/rudiments. (Reverse the stickings if you play left-handed.)
Single-stroke roll: RLRLRL, RLRLRL.
Double-stroke roll: RRLLRR, LLRRLL.
Paradiddle-diddle: RLRRLL, RLRRLL.
Double paradiddle: RLRLRR, LRLRLL.
Six-stroke roll: RLLRRL, RLLRRL.
First, play all the notes as evenly as possible. Always be aware of your stick height and where you’re striking the drumhead. Try to disguise which pattern you’re playing. If someone can tell which rudiment you’re using, then you’re fluctuating too much. Focusing on consistency this way helps build control and dexterity.
To explore the natural dynamic range of each sticking, play through all of them at the same volume. Begin quietly (pianissimo), and increase the volume gradually as you repeat the cycle. Once you reach full volume, take note of where each pattern felt most confident and relaxed. Typically, louder sounds are most easily produced with single strokes, while patterns that employ mostly doubles sit comfortably at quieter dynamics. Each rudiment also has its own tempo sweet spot, so be sure to practice every sticking at a wide range of bpm.
Another approach is to allow one hand to be noticeably louder and higher from the drum than the other. This will reveal the natural patterns within the rudiments, which can lead to some surprising musical results. Make sure to play these rudimental patterns leading with either hand. This brings out another range of musical phrasing options and also helps strengthen the weaker limb.
Now it’s time to let the different rudiments take on their unique dynamic contours. First, play the patterns without any dynamic variation, and then gradually allow the singles to sound heavier. Be sure to stay relaxed and listen to the subtle musical nuances. Take note of the point where each pattern feels most confident and comfortable to play. Here are some exercises to try. There are a million variations. Have fun!
Chris Prescott is a San Diego–based multi-instrumentalist who currently drums for Pinback and the Montalban Quintet. His drum education book, Creative Construction, is available at ccdrumbooks.com.