This month we’re going to focus on the six different two-note 16th-note groupings. We’ll begin with “1-e,” and then we’ll move it to “e-&,” then “&-a,” and finally “1-a.” After those first four variations, we’ll do a separate exercise for the last two two-note groupings: “1-&” and the ever-tricky “e-a.” As in part one of this series (March 2014), the exercises will first focus on playing the rhythms as accents among taps, and then we’ll play the rhythms with the spaces between them left open.
The first exercise, with the accents and taps, will most likely be easier to play than the three-note exercise from part one, but the second exercise will most certainly be harder this time, since there’s more space between the notes. As always, play the exercises with perfect rhythmic accuracy, great dynamic contrast, and a smooth, musical feel, which can be especially challenging at very slow and very fast tempos.
Be sure to use your metronome and tap your foot while playing the exercises. Begin by counting all of the notes out loud, and then count just the quarter notes. Be sure to use the correct stickings, as they will flow naturally and make it much easier to play with rhythmic accuracy. Play the exercises with the left hand leading as well, to help maintain balanced hands and to build confidence with the weaker hand. It’ll take thousands of perfect repetitions to program the rhythms into your musical vocabulary so that you feel them comfortably. If there’s any thought or math going on in your head while you play, then keep drilling the exercises. If you’re not totally comfortable playing something, you can’t expect anyone else to be comfortable listening to you play it.
The first exercise has an accented check pattern leading into the first four broken-up rhythms, played as accents, with all of the subdivisions filled in as taps. The key to playing this first exercise well is mastery and control over the four basic strokes (full, down, tap, and up). We’ve labeled the stroke type over each note (F = full, D = down, T = tap, and U = up). Don’t be afraid to practice each pattern individually and extremely slowly in order to train your hands to play the appropriate stroke types. If your hands don’t know what’s coming next, they’ll get “tongue tied,” and you’ll end up playing with either too much tension or a lack of accent/tap clarity. Exaggerate the high and low stick heights for maximum dynamic contrast, and avoid pounding the downstroke accents; they need to relate to the flowing stream of accents in the check patterns. (Remember that a downstroke becomes a downstroke only after you hit the drum.) The exercise is in a 4-2-1 format, where you play each variation four times, then twice, then once, before repeating the entire exercise.
Here’s a short exercise for the remaining pair of two-note groupings (“1-&” and “e-a”). Make sure not to stiffen up on the “e-a” hand. And don’t let the counting and mental processing cause tension, which leads to dragging the tempo. Just trust your left hand to flow through, using relaxed free strokes.
Now it’s time to play the same exercises at one stick height, with the two-note groupings isolated. In most cases the check pattern flows right into the grouping rhythm, and the grouping rhythm transitions smoothly back into the check pattern. Use free strokes, and let the sticks glide naturally over the barline at those points. (Be sure to use the notated stickings.)
The hard part with these exercises will be keeping the rhythms accurate in the middle of the bar as you negotiate the space while your hands stop and start. Learn how to “play the space” in your head by subdividing the partials, which were played as taps in the first exercise.
I recommend playing these exercises in such a way that the free strokes flow up to the greatest stick height that is comfortable and easily sustainable. These continual, large motions will make the rhythms flow better, so use that to your advantage initially. Later, play the exercises at lower dynamic levels, where more finesse is required.
It’s a good idea to play through the exercises on a regular basis. Just as with your more technical playing chops, your rhythmic perception needs to be trained and maintained. Plus, these exercises are downright therapeutic!
Bill Bachman is an international drum clinician, the author of Stick Technique (Modern Drummer Publications), and the founder of drumworkout.com. For more information, including how to sign up for online lessons, visit billbachman.net.