Part 3:Triple Strokes
This month we’re going to finish the Fours and Sevens in 7/8 exercise by playing it with triple strokes. As with double strokes, the key to playing high-quality triple strokes is finger control. The challenge is to play all three beats at equal volume, and you do that by using the fingers to add enough velocity that the second and third strokes are dynamically balanced with the first. Mastering this exercise will do wonders for your finger control and your triple strokes, which will show up in many contexts outside of the triple-stroke roll.
When you play the triple strokes in the exercise very slowly, all three notes should be executed as free strokes made mainly from the wrist, with the fingers opened up somewhat from the palm. Opening up the fingers allows the stick to breathe and gives the fingers the opportunity to add a bit of additional velocity to the strokes. Make sure that each stroke is played with high velocity down toward the drum, so that there’s enough rebound for the stick to pop all the way back up. The wrist and fingers should be relaxed enough to avoid inhibiting the rebound.
At medium tempos, you’ll need to start using the alley-oopoop technique, where the first free stroke is played mainly with the wrist and the second and third free strokes are played mainly with the fingers. Think of the first wrist stroke as the setup throw and the second and third strokes as dribbles from the fingers. Immediately after playing the third stroke, the wrist and fingers should relax so that the stick can rebound up by itself. Remember that with free strokes we never pick up the stick—we only throw it down, just like dribbling a ball.
At slow to medium tempos, it’s crucial for the development of finger control to play the triple strokes so that the third stroke has enough velocity for the stick to rebound back up and that the hand is loose enough to allow the stick to rebound freely. If the third stroke isn’t popping back up on its own, you’re most likely not developing the all-important finger control necessary to play great triple strokes at any tempo.
At faster tempos, it becomes nearly impossible for the fingers to accelerate all the way to the third stroke and then immediately let off in order to let the stick rebound up, so at this point the third stroke of each triple will be played as a downstroke. Think of the first wrist stroke as the setup throw, the second as a dribble from the fingers, and the third as a slam-dunk from the fingers where the stick is pulled into the palm (aka “the brakes”). The process of squeezing the stick into the palm also serves to add velocity to the third stroke so that it can balance dynamically with the first. Just be sure that the stick hits the drum before you apply the brakes.
Take the time to get in thousands of perfect repetitions of this exercise, to achieve the proper muscle memory. And be sure to use a metronome. I recommend beginning at slow tempos and having the stick start and stop past vertical in order to ensure that the fingers are opening up to play the stick instead of simply holding the stick and adding unnecessary tension. Check that the triple strokes don’t decrescendo and that every note speaks with equal power. As you work yourself up to faster tempos, lock into the 8th-note primary stroke motion so you can feel the hands alternating 8th notes as they throw down the triple strokes. If you find yourself crushing the notes to where they start to sound like buzz strokes, lighten up the pressure into the drum and make sure you’re not starting the first stroke too high or playing too hard, which makes it that much more difficult for the third stroke to match. It may also be helpful to use a slightly turned American grip or a thumbs-up French grip instead of a palm-down German grip, since so much finger control is necessary.
Once you’re playing this triple-stroke version well, try linking it up with the single- and double-stroke versions. Making them sound as close to the same as possible will most likely prove to be quite a challenge.
Bill Bachman is an international drum clinician and a freelance drumset player in the Dallas area. For more information, including how to sign up for online lessons through Skype, visit billbachman.net.