In this article I’d like to take the idea of avoiding crossed hands into the rhythmic field of triplets. Triplet-based grooves have their own special twists and turns. Playing these ideas open-handed can be a serious challenge, one that will greatly improve your skills. The roads less traveled are usually the least comfortable, but they can turn out to lead us to interesting places.
Some of these exercises would be hard to play in a regular cross-handed position. When I encounter things like that, I often choose to learn them open-handed right away so that I don’t have to reprogram myself.
As a warm-up for the grooves presented here, practice the eight triplet exercises below (Examples 1–8), which feature all of the possible rhythmic positions of ghost notes on the snare beneath a shuffle groove on the hi-hat. You can practice these building blocks in any order. You’ll likely notice that your snare drum hand (in an open-handed position) isn’t used to playing ghost notes, so make sure you’re not playing them too loudly. As you practice, consider the following tips:
- Create a strategy for mastering the different patterns. Focus the bulk of your time on the most challenging ones, while polishing those that you can already play comfortably.
- Lower your hi-hat.
- Start slowly and gradually increase the tempo.
- Keep the snare drum notes soft.
- Clearly articulate the dynamic change between accented and unaccented notes on the hi-hat. (Use the wavelike Moeller motion to produce the accents.)
- Keep the triplets even.
Advanced players can also practice doubling the snare notes with soft strokes on the bass drum. (Don’t flam!)
Here are the basic exercises.Once you’re comfortable with those, replace the soft snare notes with the following nine patterns, which feature accents and ghost notes. The challenge is maintaining different dynamic structures (soft versus loud) between the hands. Keep the shuffle going on the hi-hat.For a more musical type of practice, play one bar of a shuffle groove followed by one bar of the exercise. The following example features the fourth accent pattern in bar 2.
These different accent patterns will increase your openhanded vocabulary on the drums. Once you’ve mastered them, you’ll see how much easier it is to play accents on the snare at different points without disturbing the flow of the hi-hat. Have fun, and enjoy the journey!
Claus Hessler, who is based in Germany, is an in-demand drummer in Europe. His book, Open- Handed Playing Vol. 1, is available through Alfred Publishing. For more info, visit claushessler.de.