Jazz Drummer’s Workshop

The Music of the Drums—Part 3

by Barry Altschul

This article will cover two related ideas: How to make the study of drum method books musically more useful, and some technical exercises that can he used to aid this development. There are many different approaches in developing drum technique. Developing your hands, feet, and reading ability is hard work and often boring. However, these skills are becoming more and more a necessity for today’s drummer. There are ways to make your practice more exciting!
Many drummers get bored with drum method books because they’re not learning how to play a drum chart in a live playing situation. Knowing the note values is only a part of chart interpretation. You must learn to flow with the chart. You must read a few bars ahead of where the band is, in order to set up figures. You should not stop to mentally go over a reading mistake. That hesitation causes a lag in the flow while the rest of the band is still playing! You must be creative and play the chart with feeling. Most drum method books do not teach this skill, but here’s how you can use the books to teach yourself!

First, play the books as written. Learn the note values and how to play them. Then play the exercises in the book, playing your bass drum on all the rests, or designate part of what’s written to your bass drum. If you have an eighth-note rest in a sixteenth-note exercise, then play your B.D. twice. Next, play the exercises as if you’re playing in a band. Play the written exercise with your left hand. Keep time on your ride cymbal with your right hand. Play the hi-hat on beats 2 and 4. Play the bass drum on all rests. After you feel comfortable, practice the exercises along with records. You will find that your playing will fit (with slight adjustments) any record, and any style of music, or you can interpret the exercise as if it were a drum solo. Your reading flow will develop by practicing this way. And the time spent with method books will have more meaning. It will be applicable to a live playing situation. Remember, if you make a mistake in your reading, make it LOUD! Make it with conviction and the same intensity and swing you normally play with. This way, the mistake will not affect the flow of the band.

In order for you to play charts in a swinging, relaxed, and creative way, your hands and feet must be at a certain level of technical proficiency and coordination for them to respond the way you want them to. This is an ongoing and often tedious process that combines your musical/drumming concept, the mental process of developing coordination, and the physical process of stretching and developing muscles and reflexes. Here are several exercises I’ve found to be helpful in developing technical proficiency.

Play a roll (single, double, or press). Play the rolls for longperiods of time, alternating between all three. Practice at all different dynamic levels and tempos. Play on your practice pad or drum. Try playing a double-stroke roll on a pillow! You can also try to play a roll on a suspended piece of paper without breaking through it. This helps develop control. Playing a fast single-stroke roll around the drumset is also a good exercise. Count in eighth notes ( I and 2 and 3 and 4 and). Before switching drums, rest on each drum for two whole beats (1 and 2 and). Use different combinations of getting from drum to drum without falling into a set pattern.

Here’s another good hand exercise using a wrist stroke: On a surface that has little or no rebound (such as a pillow), hold your sticks over the surface and strike it once. Snap your wrist back as quickly as possible after your stroke. Bring it back to a full-cocked position with your stick bead pointing towards your shoulder as much as possible. This snapping action is similar to snapping a bullwhip. Practice the following exercises at a moderate tempo. Play one stroke for each beat. Exercise E will be played with a threebeat feel.

A). Right hand – 5 minutes
B). Left hand – 5 minutes
C). RLRL – 5 minutes
D). RRLL RRLL – 5 minutes
E). RRR LLL RRR LLL – 5 minutes
F). RRRR LLLL RRRR LLLL – 5 minutes

These exercises should be practiced at the beginning or the very end of your practice session for maximum results. To make them more exciting and interesting, you can practice while listening to music. Keep the exercises in time to the music. These can also be practiced while you’re watching TV.

Another exercise is to fill a page with straight 32nd or 16th notes, write in your own accents and play the page. Or, you can write out your own two-bar, four-bar, or eight-bar phrases, and then split them up. For example, you might choose to play two bars of time and two bars of drum solo.

To help your coordination and sense of polyrhythms, take the triplet figure:

Jazz Drummers Workshop 1

Play all the combinations of the triplet between your left hand and the B.D. For example:

Jazz Drummers Workshop 2

Next, add the ride cymbal with your right hand, and beats two and four on the hi-hat. The polyrhythmic aspect of this exercise is the playing of 3 or 6 against a 4/4 time signature.

Also, you can take the singles, double-stroke rolls, and the paradiddle and play them in 4/4, switching back and forth from one to the other, making them sound alike. Change these three rudiments into triplets and repeat the exercise. This is good practice for your polyrhythmic sense and control.

These exercises can be used for foot development also. All rolls can be played between your left hand and your right foot. So may all rudiments, drum books, and original ideas. They can even be played with feet only for double bass drum technique. Play the cymbal beat with your right hand while you’re practicing this. The 30 minute wrist exercise mentioned earlier can also be used as a foot exercise.

Make up your own exercises using your own personal concepts. This will help develop your individuality as a drummer. Be careful not to overstrain your hand and foot muscles. Pain is good to a degree, but don’t overdo it! Build up your hands and feet slowly and diligently.

As I mentioned in a previous Modern Drummer article, technique is only a tool in helping you play music. It is not the final achievement. Technique should be developed for your concept. If you hear more than you can play, then that will stimulate you to develop new techniques to play what you hear and feel. Technique for technique’s sake is not musical. Being more musical, and more aware and creative musicians is something we are all striving for.