Few topics are more subject to debate among the drumming community than the Moeller technique. This column isn’t meant to teach you right from wrong. Instead, we’ll elaborate on how Jim Chapin taught the technique. Jim was a master of the Moeller technique, and he learned it directly from its greatest promoter, Sanford Moeller. I feel honored and blessed to have gotten to known Jim during the last twenty years of his life. He had such a vast knowledge of stick technique, and I’m forever grateful to have studied with him.
In this lesson we’ll talk about some frequent misunder-standings regarding the upstroke and downstroke mechanics of the Moeller technique and the related reaction of the stick. We’ll also go over a few terms Chapin used to describe the stick’s motion.
Chapin and Moeller looked at the movement of the hand to indicate the up or down motions. Neither of them wanted the stick to be forced down—only the hand would move down on each downstroke. The tip of the stick should not freeze in the down position, but instead react freely without any tension in the player’s hand. Both teachers wanted the stick to rebound in the most relaxed way. They wanted the tips of the sticks to literally fly back, and Chapin described this motion as “flying tips.” Only by allowing the stick to move could they see the potential for the Moeller technique’s pumping motion. From there, it’s a question of how much of the stick’s rebound, or “fly-back,” do you allow for, which mostly depends on the tempo and volume.
There are two different ways of looking at up and down motions. One way is to observe the stick and let it be the reference for the stroke. The Gladstone technique, which was named for the great Radio City Music Hall percussionist William D. Gladstone and taught by George Lawrence Stone and his master student Joe Morello, is the best example for this first category.
However, the movement of the hand at the time of the hit can also indicate upstrokes or downstrokes. And when you start applying some of the Moeller technique’s motions, this perspective makes much more sense.
In the following series of exercises, which are taken from my DVD Drumming Kairos, the goal is to have the stick fly back in a controlled way. The key to mastering the exercises is understanding that the triplets on beat 4 make it necessary to reduce the height of the stick compared to the straight 8th or 16th notes. Once you have an idea of how much more closed your hand should be in order to achieve the intended subdivision, you’re set. Your stick will bounce back less in your hand when it is in more of a closed position, and the strokes you play will be closer together. With the exception of Exercise 1, left-hand strokes are written below the line while right-hand strokes are written above the line.
Exercise 1 can be played with five different stickings: right only, left only, unison flat flams, right-handed flams, and left-handed flams. Exercises 2 and 3 expand on different rhythmic possibilities. And Exercise 4 features quiet and loud strokes that are played at the same time between both hands. In Exercise 4, make sure there are no flams and that you don’t force the stick to stay down. (Remember the “fly back” action that Moeller and Chapin stressed.) Be aware that the height of the stick isn’t the only thing that creates a loud or soft stroke. The speed of the tip of the stick at the moment of contact is also a factor.
If you’re familiar with Moeller’s concepts, Drumming Kairos will help you decode and comprehend his system. I also highly recommend Chapin’s video Speed, Power, Control, Endurance, which is an indispensable tool when it comes to understanding the Moeller technique.
Jim Chapin used a system of dots and triangles to indicate upstrokes and downstrokes. He adapted the strategy from Sanford Moeller, who was—as far as I know—the first to use symbols to indicate up and down motions, in The Moeller Book: The Art of Snare Drumming. As explained in The Moeller Book, white symbols were used to indicate right-hand strokes, and black symbols were used to indicate left-hand strokes.
Claus Hessler is an active clinician in Europe, Asia, and the United States. For more, visit claushessler.com.