Make It Swing 1Part one of my “Make It Swing!” series, which ran in the December 2011 issue, contained excerpts from my book Jazz Drumming Essentials and More. That article was an overview of techniques used to develop a strong swing feel when playing jazz. This article is a follow-up designed to fill any gaps of information in the first part and to fine-tune the techniques set forth previously.

When you use a circular ride motion, as illustrated in the artwork here, there’s limited up-and-down motion. When you play the ride in just one spot, the stick must come up and down as many as four times. With the circular motion, the stick comes downward once, moves across the cymbal laterally, and then comes up on beats 1 and 3. This makes for a smoother sound, and it allows you to play faster tempos because of the lesser amount of motion.

The stick should move in a counterclockwise direction (clockwise for left-handed drummers). This motion consistently brings the stick back to the center of the drumset toward the snare, which is where many fills start.

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The rebound of the stick moving across the cymbal should be controlled with the fingers rather than allowed to bounce randomly.

With the circular motion, the notes are spaced in a way that helps give a consistent and accurate triplet spacing and a flowing feeling to the pattern. You can visualize the cyclical movement, as opposed to an up-and-down motion, where it’s more difficult to develop consistency.

When you’re playing a circular ride pattern, it’s easier to coordinate patterns between the hands and feet, because the ride hand will always be in the same place whenever a specific note is played. For example, when you play a quarter note on beat 1 or 3, the ride stroke will be on the far right point of the cymbal pattern; when you play a quarter note on beat 2 or 4, the ride stroke will be played at the far left point of the pattern.

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In the next exercise, the left hand plays the ride cymbal rhythm on the snare. Think about where each of the snare notes lands along the ride cymbal’s path.

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Exercise 3 shows how the circular ride motion relates to each 8th-note triplet. When breaking it down, count the triplets as “1-te-ta, 2-te-ta, 3-te-ta, 4-te-ta” (pronounced as “tay” and “tuh”). This is a great way to count triplets, because it rolls off the tongue very well.

For the first triplet note on beat 1, the hands will be hitting the cymbal and snare at the same time. When the left stick plays the second triplet note of beat 1 (the “te”), the right stick is moving laterally to the left and should be about halfway to the point where you would play beat 2. When you play the third triplet note of beat 1 (the “ta”), the right stick should be all the way over to the left, ready to play the cymbal on beat 2.

On beat 2, both sticks play together. On the “te,” the ride stick is moving laterally to the right and getting ready to play the “ta.” The ride stick continues moving laterally into position to play beat 3. The entire process repeats for beat 4. Try the exercise slowly, and keep the motion very steady and as smooth as possible.

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Repeat the process with the following 8th-note and 16thnote exercises. Even though the hands no longer play in perfect unison, the ride hand still maintains a consistent position in relation to the snare notes. This will be true with any snare drum rhythms.

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Once you’ve gotten comfortable coordinating the circular motion between the ride cymbal and the snare, play the snare parts with your bass drum instead.

The consistency of motion that we’re discussing is advantageous for a number of reasons. When you practice coordination exercises where you’re reading snare parts against a ride rhythm, or when you’re reading figures in a chart, you will have developed the coordination and muscle memory to play those particular notes against the ride motion comfortably and with a smooth feel. You’ll also find that when you’re playing forms of jazz where the cymbal ride rhythm doesn’t stay constant, the motion and muscle memory will stay with you. I’ve found that even when I mix up the ride pattern regularly, 2 and 4 are still played on the left side of the cymbal. This can be a huge help in situations where everyone is improvising and stretching over the barline. That consistency of motion helps me keep the correct time and meter.

In the previous article, I described a hi-hat technique using the ball of the foot and the heel to get a good strong “chick” sound and to help strengthen the groove. Now we’ll finetune that technique.

To begin, hold the hi-hat cymbals together using the ball of the foot, with the heel raised in the air. Apply a good amount of pressure to hold the cymbals together. Next, bring your heel down to the heel plate on the hi-hat stand. Notice that this causes the pressure on the cymbals to relax. Raise the heel, and you’ll feel the pressure increase again. This pressure is what helps give that strong “chick” sound.

When you use the technique described in the earlier article, don’t bring the heel down lower than the level of the ball of the foot. At most, the heel would be parallel to the floor, with the ball and heel being on the same plane.

In situations where you’re playing the hi-hat with the hands and doing a lot of opening and closing with the foot, a standard heel-down technique would provide more control.

I hope these articles have helped you improve your swing and groove. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me through Modern Drummer (


Mat Marucci is an active performer, author, educator, and clinician. His latest book, Jazz Drumming Essentials and More, is available through Mel Bay. His latest recordings are Live at the Jazz Bakery (Marco) and Why Not? (Cadence Jazz).