Complete independence is something that we all strive for, but it can be very confusing and frustrating to practice. This workout/challenge will focus on what I would consider to be “practical independence.” In other words, it’s designed to build the type of drumset independence that’s required in common situations. I heard Dave Weckl say something recently that really stuck with me: “Even though you may hear the pulse inside your head, that doesn’t necessarily mean the crowd hears it, so it might be a good idea to give it to them.” What I believe he was saying is that sometimes we play things in which the pulse seems obvious, but that’s because what we’re playing is based off a pulse that we hear inside our head. The crowd might not always hear what we’re playing the same way we do, so it’s sometimes good to give the listener a bit of help by keeping a steady pulse with our hi-hat foot.
In this workout, we’ll build toward complete freedom over four different hi-hat pulses. Our options will be quarter notes, upbeats, 8th notes, and splash/closed 8th notes. Each section of the workout focuses on building a specific facet of your drumming, including subdivisions, rudiments, accent permutations, and grooves, against these pulses.
Here are the hi-hat foot options.
PART 1: BASIC SUBDIVISIONS
Begin by playing the basic subdivisions on the snare over the four hi-hat pulses.
We’ve notated the exercise using the quarter-note pulse.
Now split the subdivisions between the right hand on the snare and the bass drum.
Do the same thing using the left hand.
PART 2: RUDIMENT STUDY
Work on each of the following rudiments over the four hi-hat pulses. Again, we’ve notated only the quarter-note version.
PART 3: ACCENT PERMUTATIONS
Now we’re going to progress through various accent permutations using an alternating-hand pattern on the snare.
Begin with single accents.
Now work through all the permutations of two accents in a row.
Here are the triple-note permutations.
PART 4: BASS DRUM PERMUTATIONS
Using the same progression that we used for the accent permutations, let’s begin to incorporate the bass drum, starting with single notes.
Now the double-note permutations.
And the triple-note permutations.
PART 5: GROOVE FREEDOM
To begin getting comfortable playing grooves over the hi-hat pulses, start with 8th-note patterns. Here are four to get you going.
Now try 16th-note grooves.
For more linear-style grooves, try some ideas using paradiddles.
Inverted paradiddles also work very well for developing grooves over the hi-hat pulses.
TIPS FROM FAVES
For additional insight into independence, I asked three of my favorite drummers—Will Kennedy, Todd Sucherman, and Nathaniel Townsley—a few questions on the topic. Here’s what they had to say.
What genres of music did you draw from to develop your independence?
My first love coming up was funk. Sly and the Family Stone, James Brown, and some of the Motown stuff, along with all the offshoots from those funk kingdoms, provided attention to independence, whether I was recognizing it or not.
Later, as my playing opportunities started to broaden, the exposure to African and Latin rhythms and grooves started to become very important. The importance of feel in a funk groove had such a profound effect on me that my desire to fi
nd that similar level of feel in African and Latin genres was life changing. Before you can make a Mozambique or songo groove feel good, you must master the independence required to play it. Once you arrive at that place where you’re comfortable with a pattern and can perform it confidently, you can further discover the feel, emotion, and spirit behind the groove. That’s when you cross over from being a drummer to becoming a musician.
Do you think that there’s a relationship between independence and feel? In other words, does having excellent independence allow you to have a more relaxed feel?
Yes, independence is completely related to your feel behind the kit. Often I have a student play something as simple as 8th notes on the hi-hat along with a basic funk groove and try to apply different accents in the hat pattern. The student works out the independence for a time, and once they get comfortable with it they graduate to the feel, and then the real music begins to appear. Sometimes it happens in a moment, and other times it takes a while for it to get there. But when it arrives, it’s the most rewarding experience for both the student and the teacher.
How much of your practice time do/did you devote to developing independence?
Sadly, I don’t have the time to practice that I would like, due to being on the road most of the year. But when I have completely free practice time, I’ll try to be organized and have some ideas that I wish to explore or improve. One of the keys to independence is to rely on one rhythm and then play other ideas over that. I had a lesson with Jim Chapin many years ago, and after I got the left-hand Moeller triplets down he said, “Now play other ideas with the right hand while sustaining the triplets.” So I let my left hand cruise and focused my attention on the right hand to play different rhythms and motifs. That was a great launching pad, and those types of ideas are still a fun landscape for me to explore. I’ll always be sound driven: What am I looking to hear? Then I’ll figure out where everything falls. I’ll play very slowly to ingrain the motions and sound into my muscle memory, and I’ll play very quietly and maintain relaxation. This is the best way to get something firmly in your wheelhouse so you can play it at all tempos and volume levels.
Does having excellent independence allow you to have a more relaxed feel?
I don’t think so. It just allows you to play more advanced ideas or have better command on the instrument. You can make a simple groove feel relaxed or stiff and choppy, and it’s the same thing with more advanced independence/interdependence ideas—it can feel good or bad. It’s up to the individual to take them into the realm of music. That will always be easier at higher levels of playing when you’ve put in the time. There’s no shortcut, secret, or trick that can substitute for time spent working behind the drums with diligence and focus.
Do you think that there’s a relationship between independence and feel?
The instrument itself is based on independence, so it’s very related to feel. You’re using your feet, your hands, your mind, and your heart. A lot of times, people aren’t relaxed because they’re trying to do things they haven’t practiced. If you practice independence, you can allow yourself to be free in the music without having to worry about being able to execute. You’ll gain confidence on the instrument, and then your mind and your heart can be open, and you can surrender to the music. Then things can happen in the moment that you didn’t even know you could do.
The people that we play for are looking to be inspired. They come expecting you to take them on a journey. This means that you have to be in touch with the mind-and-heart aspect of independence too. They may not understand what you’re doing as a musician, but anyone can understand feel. You can’t go on a journey by yourself and think you’ve achieved something. And you can’t leave people behind just because you have the ability. You have to humble yourself to connect with their hearts and allow their hearts to connect with yours.