Strictly Technique

Following Groupings and Fill-Ins

Exercises for Increased Single-Stroke Control

by Bill Bachman

This month we’re going to work on playing flowing groupings of notes with one hand while gradually filling in the spaces between the notes with the opposing hand. The leading hand will play groupings of two, three, four, and six notes, and each grouping will comprise an accent followed by flowing taps.

The key to mastering these exercises with maximum flow and speed is to train your mind to think about the two hands independently. Focusing solely on the lead hand will make it seem as if you can play twice as fast, since you’re thinking about only half of the information.

At slow or medium tempos, the four basic strokes (full, down, tap, and up) will work just fine with these patterns. What I want to focus on here, however, is the technique required at faster tempos, which is the “no-chop flop-and-drop.”

The no-chop flop-and-drop technique is used at faster tempos because there isn’t enough time to stop the stick low after the accent to play the low taps. Instead, after executing the high accented note, the stick will simply flop and drop down to play the lower taps without stopping its motion. Avoid using the fingers to add velocity to the taps after the accent, since you want the taps to be quieter than the accent. Though the flop-and-drop taps will not be as low to the drum as when you use basic downstrokes and taps, they will have a lighter sound because of their lesser velocity as they drop down in height. Since the taps flow out of the accent, don’t hit the accent too hard, but be sure to start it from a high stick height in order to get the most energy out of it for the taps.

The secondary hand simply fills in the spaces with low taps. These taps should match the lead hand’s taps as closely as possible, which means they might need to be played higher, lighter, and with more fingers than you would normally use when playing with regular taps.

It’s helpful to play these exercises on different sound sources in order to focus on the flow of the leading hand. The lead hand shouldn’t stiffen up when the secondary hand adds the tap fill-ins, or else you’ll have an independence problem that will need to be worked out first. Try putting your pad on a couch cushion; play the lead hand on the pad and the fill-ins to either side on the cushion. This will require some side-to-side coordination as the hands alternate, but the goal is to be able to think of only the leading hand. Once you’re comfortable, put both hands back on the pad without changing your mental approach. It’s also a good idea to sing only the lead hand’s part while both hands play.

Practice each pattern over and over with a metronome, or with music, at a stress-free tempo until it becomes second nature. Watch that the lead hand doesn’t change as you alternate between the check pattern and the parts that include the fill-ins. With these patterns programmed into your muscle memory, you’ll be surprised by how easily they’ll resurface in your musical stream of consciousness.

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In the following sextuplet exercises, I’ve opted to add the fill-ins from the front only, so as not to take up too many pages. Feel free to explore the other possibilities on your own.

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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.