Teacher’s Forum

Drumset Applications of The Reed Syncopation

by Robert Breithaupt

Author’s Note: This article is a compilation of exercises by Mr. Breithaupt and two of his advanced students, Karl Ott and Peter Retzlaff. 

Ted Reed’s Progressive Steps to Syncopation for the Modern Drummer, first published in 1958, has been widely used for many years as both a snare drum and drum set method. When applied to the drum set, instructors have developed many unique and provocative methods in which the book may be used. While each teacher who uses the Reed book may have his or her own set of favorite exercises, there are countless ways in which many of the exercises in the text may be conceived.

In relation to drum set teaching, the book proves extremely valuable in three general areas: ( 1 ) recognition and execution of various rhythmic patterns, (2) using the basic rhythmic line against a variety of cymbal patterns to create independence exercises, and (3) utilizing the rhythmic line as a basis for improvisation between the limbs.

For the sake of continuity, only pages 29 through 44 are used in conjunction with the method to be discussed in this article. These are the pages in the text featuring rhythmic figures as opposed to groupings of eighths, sixteenths and triplets which appear in other sections of the book.

The beauty of the Reed exercises is the clarity of the rhythmic line, which is used for all of the exercises. Many drumset methods employ confusing notation systems which make even the most basic patterns appear complicated. By looking at only a one-line rhythmic pattern and playing variations from that pattern, the student improves both his reading and aural recognition of basic rhythms, whether they are played on only one tonality, such as snare drum, or distributed among the appendages.

Below are a number of applications for the book in the styles of swing, Latin, and rock. There are, no doubt, many other ways in which the exercises may be used, and hopefully many individuals may use these as examples to develop other exercises.

Basic Exercise:
(as it might appear in Syncopation)

Syncopation 1


For continuity, the ride cymbal will play the traditional ride rhythm unless otherwise indicated.

Syncopation 2

a. Snare drum plays rhythmic line, bass drum on all 4 beats.

b. Same as (a), but with hi-hat on beats 2 and 4.

c. Bass drum plays rhythmic line, with or without hihat on 2 and 4.

d. Hi-hat plays rhythmic line, with or without bass drum on all 4 beats in the measure.

e. Snare drum and bass drum play rhythm, hi-hat on two and four. (No specific patterns between snare and bass; vary the patterns to create diversity.)

f. Snare drum and hi-hat play rhythm.

g. Bass drum and hi-hat play rhythm.

h. Snare drum, bass drum, hi-hat interchange rhythm, (this creates a “four-way” independence exercise.)

i. Ride cymbal and snare drum play rhythm in unison with hi-hat on two and four and without bass drum.

j. Distribute rhythm at random onto tom-toms, etc. for different voicing.

k. Execute the patterns at a faster tempo with a “straight eighth” ride pattern and a literal application of the rhythms, creating a cut-time feel.

l. In the triplet feel the left hand plays the written rhythm on snare drum and the bass drum “fills in” the triplets. Right hand plays ride rhythm.

Syncopation 3

m. Same as above, except hi-hat fills triplets rather

n. Snare line remains the same, hi-hat and bass drum fill in triplets at random.

o. Ride cymbal plays in unison with the snare drum while the other voices fill in the triplets.

p. Bass drum plays the rhythmic line and snare drum fills in.


Note: Latin rhythms are interpreted with straight eighth note feel unless otherwise noted.

The ride cymbal rhythm may be played in a variety of ways; try an ostinato pattern such as:

Syncopation 4

The bass drum is subject to a great deal of variation, but the traditional rhythms should be used first to obtain the proper rhythmic feel.

Syncopation 5

a. Snare drum plays the rhythm, with cymbal and bass drum patterns. With or without hi-hat on two and four, one and three, or all four beats.

Syncopation 6

b. Same as (a) but with left stick on the rim.

c. Same as (b) but incorporate tom-toms with the rim sound.

d. Ride cymbal plays in unison with the rhythmic line.

Syncopation 7

e. Use continuous eighth note ride rhythm with slower tempos. Also accent the up-beat creating more rhythmic tension:

Syncopation 8

f. Accent the eighth note cymbal in unison with the snare drum line.

g. Any other combination from the swing section, placed in a Latin context.


Note: The exercises are, for the most part, applicable and interchangable between the various styles.

a. Snare drum pattern, etc., with a continuous eighth note pattern on hi-hat or ride cymbal.

b. Same as (a), but with a sixteenth note cymbal pattern.

c. Same as (b) but with an up-beat on the bell of the cymbal.

d. Same as (c) but with the hi-hat opening on the upbeat.

e. Applications of most other patterns into the rock idiom.

It should be assumed that the serious student will practice these exercises with varying dynamic levels and tempos. The possibilities for exercises from this book are countless if the student, no matter on what level, is inventive and open to this type of an approach. It is indeed interesting that a book not necessarily designed for drum set could be the most comprehensive drum set method available if its possibilities are investigated.