This month we’re going to kick off a challenging three-part series on flams. All of these exercises will consist of single flams followed by sets of two, three, and four flams. Then we’ll reverse the order to end up back where we started. There will be different flam placements and transitions to navigate, as well as some rudimental ornamentations for additional challenges. These are really fun to play, and your mind has to stay engaged as you cycle through the progression. The patterns also apply well to the drumkit if you place the inner beats (unaccented notes) on the snare while moving the accents around to toms and cymbals.
The exercises we’re using this time have a tap played between each flam when there are sets of two flams or more, and flam accents are used to switch hands. This will make more sense after you have a look at the exercise.
The two hands play distinctly different parts. One plays the accents, while the other plays a continuous stream of taps and grace notes. The accented hand plays a downstroke when there’s only one flam, and a combination of free strokes and downstrokes when there’s more than one accent in the series. (The last accent in a series will always be a downstroke, in order to set up the hand for the forthcoming low notes.) The real challenge lies in the low hand as it dribbles a smooth stream of grace notes and taps. This exercise will test your single-stroke control at low stick heights. Normally, grace notes are placed ahead of the primary note they’re tied to and are played lower than taps. But in this situation there’s no practical way to make quick rhythmic shifts and alter the stick heights, so all of these notes will flow evenly. The flams will be created by placing the accents just behind the grace notes. (The low hand is in charge!)
Make sure that the last accent per hand is played with a concise downstroke so that the stick freezes pointing down toward the drum. Doing this sets you up for a clean attack of low taps and grace notes.
To develop this exercise with accurate flow, rhythm, and feel, it’s a good idea to separate the hands and isolate each section of the exercise. Try putting your practice pad on a quieter surface, such as a couch cushion, and then play the accents on the cushion and the inner beats (taps and grace notes) on the pad. Doing this will allow you to isolate and analyze the stream of low notes. When you play the exercise perfectly, you should hear low and even 16th notes on the pad.
From there, I like to use a four-part system to isolate the hands and develop control. First, play the pattern with both hands on the pad. Second, move the accents to the cushion. Third, air-drum the accents to either side of the pad. Finally, air-drum the accents directly over the playing area of the pad. (These are called ghost flams.) Repeat these steps, striving for a smooth flow of 16th notes on the pad that are unaffected by the accents.
While it makes perfect sense to think of each piece of the exercise in bite-size chunks, you’ll be better off feeling the quarter-note pulse that runs throughout. Use your metronome, tap your foot, and count quarter notes out loud. Focus on making the “e” and “a” syncopations on either side of the quarter note feel comfortable.
Once you master the basic exercise, try adding rudimental variations such as flam drags, cheeses (flammed diddles), and flam fives (flammed five-stroke rolls). Whenever there’s an accent on a diddle, make sure to accent both beats of the diddle and play them accurately—don’t crush them. Start slowly, and have fun with these!
Bill Bachman is an international drum clinician, the author of Stick Technique (Modern Drummer Publications), and the founder of drumworkout.com. For more information, including how to sign up for online lessons, visit billbachman.net.