Challenging Coordination Variations

Many of us have learned Steve Gadd’s groundbreaking groove to the Paul Simon classic “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” from 1975’s Still Crazy After All These Years. In this lesson, we’re going to take a look at some ways to incorporate Ralph MacDonald’s tambourine part into that same groove. Be sure to check out the track if you’re unfamiliar with Gadd’s and MacDonald’s parts.

There are two ways I’d typically approach this situation. The first uses a tambourine mounted to the left of the set. The second uses a tambourine mounted on the hi-hat stand played with the left foot. Both approaches will demand some changes to the sticking and coordination of Gadd’s original pattern.

Exercise 1 preserves the signature left-foot motion of Gadd’s original beat, but the hands move in a very different fashion from what you may be accustomed to. Be sure to practice this variation slowly.

When using this method, you’ll find that you’ll need to make some quick moves between the hi-hat and tambourine with the left hand, especially on the last two 32nd notes of the second measure. Make sure that the tambourine volume stays consistent throughout both measures. If you prefer to mount the tambourine on your right side, reverse the sticking of the hands while the feet stay the same.

Exercise 2 largely preserves the hand motions and simplifies the left foot to cover the upbeats on the hi-hat pedal.

I found this second method a little more natural to play, and it’s closer to Gadd’s original sticking. Pay close attention to the “e” of beat 1, where the left hand hits the hi-hat right before the left foot closes on the “&.” Remember to keep the hi-hat tightly closed until the instant before the tambourine hits, to avoid getting an opening sound on the “e” of beat 1, which isn’t heard on the original recording.

If you’re playing this song on a gig and would like to incorporate the tambourine, really make sure you have the part absolutely nailed down. If you’re at all unsure on the bandstand, just focus on capturing the essence of the groove and making it feel great.

Happy drumming!

Dylan Wissing appears on albums by Drake, Eminem, Kanye West, Alicia Keys, and Jay-Z, as well as commercials for AT&T, Citibank, Reebok, and Banana Republic. He’s a Modern Drummer Reader’s Poll Nominee (Studio) and lead percussion instructor at For more information, visit