This month we’re going old school—with a new twist. What we’re working on is a standard exercise called Irish Spring that comprises swung double beats with smooth hand-to-hand turnarounds. This exercise has been used by rudimental drummers for decades, but here we’re going to add a tag (ending) and experiment with some fill-ins. When it’s practiced correctly, the Irish Spring will not only do wonders for your finger control (which is necessary to play relaxed and powerful doubles) but will also help your shuffle feel become smoother than ever.
The best technique to use for each note in the exercise is the free stroke, where you throw the stick down toward the drum with your wrist and fingers, allow it to hit the head with all of its velocity, and then let it rebound back up on its own—just like a dribbling basketball. If the second stroke of a double doesn’t rebound all the way back up on its own, that means there’s either extra tension in your hand inhibiting the stick’s flow, or the second beat of the double is too weak to bounce up on its own. Underdeveloped doubles are generally stiffly stroked or weakly bounced. The free stroke will help ensure that both strokes of the double are played with high velocity and loose, relaxed hands. Remember that free strokes work only when played perfectly. If you feel as if you’re doing too little work, then you’re probably playing free strokes correctly.
Here’s how the free strokes in the double beat are played. Even at moderate speeds it’s unrealistic for the wrist to play both strokes with the exact same technique, so we’ll employ a technique that uses mainly wrist on the first stroke and mainly fingers on the second stroke. I call this the alley-oop technique. The first stroke is higher and slower and is played mainly with the wrist. The second stroke is lower and is played mainly with the fingers at a higher velocity than the first. Think of the first stroke of the double as a setup for the second stroke.
Adding a slight accent to the second stroke helps you build the finger control necessary to play smooth, open doubles. In most contexts the second beat of the double falls on an upbeat instead of a downbeat. The beauty of the Irish Spring exercise is that the second beat of the doubles falls on the downbeats, which is where you’d accent naturally. Irish Spring is structured in the common 4-2-1 format— play something four times, then two times, then once—with a tag at the end to turn it around so that it starts over on the opposite hand. Each phrase will be played with right- and left-hand lead. The tag is a simple two-bar turnaround. The first bar contains 8th-note triplets played as doubles, and the second bar is the same rhythm with an inverted doublestroke sticking. Make sure to tap your foot and feel the pulse through the entire turnaround.
Now we’re going to play the same exercise, but this time we’ll fill in the missing triplets with the opposite hand. This leaves us with constant 8th-note triplets that should flow the whole way through. The challenge is to make the pattern sound perfectly steady, with no rhythmic hiccups and no accidental dynamic changes due to inconsistent doubles.
Bill Bachman is an international drum clinician and a freelance drumset player in the Dallas area. For more information, including how to sign up for online lessons through Skype, visit billbachman.net.