Basics

Fundamental Fills Part 5

Part 5: Six-Stroke Stickings

by Donny Gruendler

During the 1960s, Motown drummers such as Benny Benjamin, Richard “Pistol” Allen, and Uriel Jones introduced the six-stroke roll to the masses with their signature opening fills. In the following decade, session ace Steve Gadd expanded these ideas in the fusion arena. Today these fundamental yet sophisticated fills continue to be put to use by funk and R&B drummers such as Stanton Moore and Homer Steinweiss. 

This month’s lesson will help you master 16th-note-triplet six-stroke fills. We’ll start working with these figures on the snare before orchestrating them on the kit. As we move these figures fluidly around the toms and cymbals, many creative doors to additional ideas should open up.

Six-Stroke Stickings
First we’ll get comfortable with playing 8th-note accents on the downbeats and upbeat accents with a shuffle feel. We’ll also connect downbeat accents and upbeat accents. Let’s look at each in detail.

Six-Stroke Stickings 1

Exercise 2 demonstrates how to play accented downbeats within a 16th-note-triplet six-stroke sticking.

Six-Stroke Stickings 2

Here’s an upbeat accent pattern.

Six-Stroke Stickings 3
Exercise 4 demonstrates how to play accented upbeats within the six-note figure.

Six-Stroke Stickings 4Now we’ll connect a downbeat accent to an upbeat accent.

Six-Stroke Stickings 5
When connecting a downbeat to an upbeat, play the first half of the phrase with the sticking RLL, and follow that with the sticking RRL, as shown in Exercise 6.

Six-Stroke Stickings 6

Now let’s work though a series of fill fragments. Although these are written in 2/4, they should be practiced in 4/4 as well.

Six-Stroke Stickings 7

Fill Creation
Here’s a demonstration of how to apply the previous sticking patterns to one-measure fills. We’ll start with the first measure from Exercise 7.

Six-Stroke Stickings 8

Next, set your metronome to 70 bpm with an 8th-note subdivision, and play rimshots for each of the accents while filling in the unaccented notes with the appropriate sticking. To maintain a steady pulse, play quarter notes on the bass drum and beats 2 and 4 with the hi-hat foot.

Six-Stroke Stickings 9

Once you’re comfortable with Exercise 9, orchestrate the accents around the toms. Here’s one possibility.

Six-Stroke Stickings 10
Finally, try replacing the snare or tom accents with hits on the bass drum and cymbals while filling in the unaccented notes on the snare. Continue to play beats 2 and 4 with your hi-hat foot. Here’s an example.

Six-Stroke Stickings 11

Let’s apply this method to another fill fragment. In this instance, we’ll use the fourth measure of Exercise 7.

Six-Stroke Stickings 12

Again, play rimshots for each accent, and fill in the unaccented notes with the appropriate sticking. Play quarter notes on the bass drum and 2 and 4 with the hi-hat foot.

Six-Stroke Stickings 13

Once the previous exercise is comfortable, experiment with orchestration by moving the accents around the toms. Here’s a possibility.

Six-Stroke Stickings 14

Try replacing the snare and tom accents with a bass drum and cymbal voicing while playing the unaccented notes on the snare, as shown in Exercise 15. Continue playing beats 2 and 4 with your hi-hat foot. Repeat this process with each fill fragment.

Six-Stroke Stickings 15

Fill Practice
Once you’ve mastered these concepts, pick any comfortable groove, such as an 8th- or 16th-note funk beat, and practice these fills at the end of a four-bar phrase. Here’s an example using a tom orchestration of the fourth measure of Exercise 7.

Six-Stroke Stickings 16

Here’s a bass drum and cymbal orchestration using the same fill fragment. Repeat this process for each measure of Exercise 7.

Six-Stroke Stickings 17

The number of variations and orchestrations using the fill fragments from parts 1–5 of this series is limitless. But remember that we’re striving to develop authoritative, confident, and consistent fills. Oftentimes in music, simple and clear fills work best. It’s my hope that you’ll apply these options tastefully and carefully when you play with a band. Best of luck!

Donny Gruendler is a Los Angeles–based drummer and president of Musicians Institute in Hollywood. He can reached at [email protected].