In Chops Builders 15 and 16, we looked at two-hand coordination exercises involving 8th- and 16thnote ostinatos and various 16th-note-based rhythms. This month we’re going to shift into triplet mode. We’ll combine the two most commonly used triplet-based ostinatos—the jazz ride and the shuffle—with a variety of one- and two-beat triplet-based rhythms.
Your hands will be playing with different techniques, yet they will have to remain completely relaxed. The key is to coordinate the hands so that each is seemingly unaware of what the other is doing, yet they’re playing together perfectly without hitting any unwanted flams. Mastering these exercises will greatly increase your vocabulary and will undoubtedly manifest itself in different contexts in your playing.
First let’s look at the jazz ride ostinato, which you most often use on the ride cymbal. Every note in this pattern should be played as a loose rebounding free stroke to maximize flow and to achieve the most resonant stick sound. I recommend using French grip with the ride cymbal hand, since the vertical hand position (with the thumb on top) gives the fingers a wider range of motion and better access to the stick. French grip also lets the stick breathe more, which results in a more articulate stick-click sound.
The stick should be in constant motion within a loose hand; avoid picking it up after each stroke. It may take some time to develop the finger control necessary to dribble the stick so that it pops up by itself.
Now let’s look at the fill-in hand, which most often plays the snare drum. This hand will play the eight triplet-based rhythms using the free-stroke technique. The free stroke is the easiest and best sounding way to play consecutive notes at a uniform volume level (notes with no accent/tap variation). Free strokes are relaxed dribbles of the stick played with the wrist and fingers. The key is to play a relaxed stroke with good velocity into the drum and then let the stick freely rebound on its own back up to where it started. Never pick up the stick! If you find yourself needing to pick it up, either there’s tension in the hand or the last stroke in the series wasn’t played with enough velocity into the drum.
Our triplet-based rhythms consist of all of the possible combinations within a quarter note and within quarter-note-triplet patterns starting on the downbeat and the upbeat. The objective is to coordinate these patterns with the opposite hand’s ostinato, without disrupting the flow. If the lead hand’s motion is affected when you add the other hand, then the flow, timing, and groove will be lost. If the fill-in rhythms are played tightly or inaccurately (creating unwanted flams), feel will be sacrificed. You want to be able to play each of these patterns while observing the hands, making sure they’re comfortable and perfectly in sync.
Practice the following coordination patterns with a metronome (or play them along with your favorite tunes), and don’t go any faster than you can play comfortably using relaxed finger control. Play each pattern for at least five minutes, making sure that there are no flams between the hands before moving to the next tempo. (If you can’t have a conversation with someone while playing these patterns, you’re not ready to move on.)
For part of this practice session, I recommend splitting the hands on different playing surfaces so you can analyze and perfect each hand’s motion individually.
Finally, be sure to switch the hands so that the opposite hand is leading. Whether you think it’s practical or not, learning to lead with the opposite hand will make you a better player when you go back to playing with your normal hand leading.
Now let’s switch the lead hand’s ostinato to the shuffle pattern.
You can play the shuffle pattern without accents, but it’s also common to play it with an accent on the downbeat and a tap on the third partial of the triplet. To get a strong accent immediately following the low tap, you’ll want to play the accents with the Moeller whip stroke. Think of the tap as a Moeller upstroke, where the stick just happens to hit the surface as the arm is lifted and the hand and stick drop limp. Then throw the forearm down, causing the stick to whip back down with high velocity. The arm essentially drags the relaxed hand and stick up and down. The key is to avoid engaging the wrist muscles during this motion, because that will cause excess tension and will make the system seize up.
When the lead hand is on the hi-hats, I recommend playing the tap with the bead of the stick on top of the cymbal and the accent on the edge with the shoulder of the stick. When you’re playing the ride cymbal, the taps could be played with the bead of the stick on the bow and the accents could be played with the shoulder of the stick on the bell.
Bill Bachman is an international drum clinician and a freelance drumset player. His latest book, Stick Technique, is available through Modern Drummer Publications. For more information, including how to sign up for online Skype lessons, visit billbachman.net.