Practicing unison exercises is an excellent way to determine the accuracy and precision of your four limbs as they function together. Like links in a steel chain, the sturdiness of your groove depends on the strength of your weakest limb. Working on exercises like the ones contained in this column can help alleviate very common tendencies, such as unintentional flams between the limbs.
In order to play accurate unisons, each limb should move with a natural, flowing motion and from a consistent stroke height. To analyze the motion of your limbs, try placing a mirror to the left of your drumset so that you can clearly see how your hands and feet are interacting with one another. Practice these exercises with a metronome or drum machine so that you can focus on keeping your timing, while also making sure the stroke velocity remains consistent from measure to measure. The goal is to strive for a balanced blend between your limbs.
Let’s begin with the following ride cymbal and hi-hat accompaniment pattern.
Next, add the bass drum and then the snare to the mix. Remember to focus your attention on keeping the quarter notes completely in sync.
Now let’s continue playing unison quarter notes with the ride cymbal and hi-hat while alternating between the following nine patterns on the snare and bass drum.
Once you have control of those exercises, vary the ride pattern using these six rhythms.
To develop total dynamic control, practice each of the exercises using stroke levels that progress from very close to the instrument (1″ to 2″ stick heights) to 18″ off each surface. Then repeat each example four, eight, or sixteen times, incorporating the following crescendo and decrescendo approaches.
If this is your first time working on unison exercises, be patient with your progress. Most students spend a great deal of time working on layered ostinato-style exercises but often neglect unisons. Also try experimenting with your own patterns. You can substitute just about any rhythm for each written quarter note and work through the exercises using the same methodology. Have fun!
Steve Fidyk has performed with Terell Stafford, Tim Warfield, Dick Oatts, Doc Severinsen, Wayne Bergeron, Phil Wilson, and Maureen McGovern, and he’s a member of the jazz studies faculty at Temple University in Philadelphia. For more info, including how to sign up for lessons via Skype, visit stevefidyk.com.