Strictly Technique

Understanding Flams

by Rupert Kettle

The ability to freely and easily embellish rhythmic figures with single grace notes and create “flams,” is to me one of the earmarks of an accomplished snare drummer. Such accomplishment does not always come easily, but the following observations may help those with flam problems, or teachers who have difficulty teaching this elusive rudiment.

Practice alternating flams, fully concentrating on these two points:— Think single strokes (piston-engine motion), for they are the underlying physical movement.

—Follow through, that is, allow the grace note stick to return to the “up” position as the main note stick is on its way down.
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Practice single-stroke patterns, with embellishment, keeping the same two rules in mind. Here are some suggested routines, consisting of four, three, and two-note groups, and combinations of same.
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Finally, practice double-stroke and paradiddle figures, with grace notes included, always keeping the underlying physical motion in mind, and following through.

When reading flam figures in exercise books or in repertoire, the flams are often accented, an unnecessary hinderance. In almost all such instances, edit the accents out. Why? Play the following:
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Hear accents in the second example? Of course you do, because the embellished notes are “heavier,” made “thicker” by the grace notes. But you were not playing accents as such. Often, a composer or arranger will visualize what he hears as an accent and automatically put one in, not realizing that the technical accent of the drummer is not the musical one he conceptualizes. So the thickening is enough. Omit the actual accents.

A word to teachers on giving students incentive to practice flam routines: first, make up and assign a few interesting, more modern applications of some conventional rudiments.
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After a few of those have been learned, demonstrate and write out the “accidental” polyrhythms which occur when such figures are played on two different instruments. In the cases shown above:
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You’d be surprised at the reaction of a pupil in discovering that maybe he’s got some use for flam figures after all. I should here give grateful credit to Jim Chapin, who showed us that little trick in one of his Metronome and International Musician columns of more years ago than I care to remember.

Additionally, a great deal of beneficial flam study may be found by the appropriate placement of grace notes in many ornament free reading exercises. For example, a standard syncopated passage.
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may be enhanced by flamming all quarter-notes, adding to the musical intent by seemingly “sustaining” those notes.
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