Last month we used flams to create contrast within common time signatures. Flams are some of my favorite rudiments to apply to the drumset—you can create incredibly expressive phrases when you vary the width between a flam’s grace note and primary stroke, from tight and precise to open and loose. You can also vary your dynamics and experiment with the rudiment’s orchestration around the kit. In this lesson we’ll experiment with the flam’s width, condensing its spacing down to a unison note, or flat flam, and using the new rudimental pattern to create syncopated, blast beat–style drumset applications.
Before we start, let’s check out some important flam rudiments that we’ll be incorporating into a practice routine. It’s beneficial to practice these initial examples in a few different ways. First, play them on a pad or snare, and accent every flam. This is an easy interpretation for this rudiment, as the accents give your sticks momentum to utilize within the rest of the figures. The main challenge here is to play all of the unaccented notes at a consistent volume.
Next practice the six patterns without accenting the flams, while making sure that every stroke other than the quieter grace note maintains the same volume. In this variation you want the flams to sound smooth, consistent, and nearly monotone as compared to the other notes.
Once you’ve warmed up with the accented and unaccented variations, try playing the leading note of each flam on a tom. This orchestration sounds especially interesting with the pataflaflas and flam paradiddles. Voicing flams in this way will add another element of arm motion to the exercises, so it will likely take some additional practice to keep all notes as dynamically consistent as they were without the extra movement involved.
The Flam Rudiments
Exercise 1 demonstrates flam singles, and the same hand will lead each flam on both beats 1 and 2. In Exercise 2 we’ll play flam paradiddles, and the flam will alternate from a left- to right-hand lead between beats 1 and 2.
Exercises 3 and 4 explore flam taps and pataflaflas, respectively. To play the pataflafla cleanly, spend time meticulously practicing the placement of the alternating flams. If the phrasing isn’t clean, the dynamics may suffer as well.
In Exercise 5 we’ll play Swiss Army triplets, and in Exercise 6 we’ll play alternating flam triplets. The flams are led with the same hand when playing the Swiss Army triplets, while they alternate when playing flam triplets.
Once you’ve warmed up with the previous examples, it’s time to dive into the exercises. These next sequences are written as blast beat–style rudimental drills. We’ll condense the width of each flam to become unison flat flams that are played on the snare and cymbal stack. Each exercise attacks four different flam rudiments. The phrases flip their stickings on repeat, resulting in eight total variations per example. Also, both exercises incorporate polyrhythmic phrases. Be sure to review last month’s lesson if the polyrhythmic groupings trip you up. In this context, having a right- and left-hand cymbal stack is ideal, but you can use the hi-hat or any voice on either side as long as each hand gets its own sound source when playing the notated cymbal figures.
Work through these exercises slowly with just your hands at first. Concentrate on the mechanics of each motion before adding in the feet. You could also play the sequences on a practice pad without the bass drum and experiment with the spacing between the grace note and primary stroke of each flam as well. These are equally great hand exercises on their own.
Also, pay attention to your dynamics on the snare. You want the snare to sound unaffected by the cymbal pattern—try to maintain a monotone dynamic, as mentioned earlier. It’s difficult to keep the tone of these varied sticking patterns consistent while also incorporating a cymbal and double bass, but that’s the challenge.
In Exercise 7 we’ll play a phrase that’s based on an 8th-note triplet subdivision. In the first measure of Swiss Army triplets, the right hand plays the primary note of the flam on a cymbal stack before moving immediately back to the snare for the second stroke of each beat. In the second measure of flam paradiddles, the first flam lands on the downbeat, the second lands on the second partial of beat 2 with your left hand, and the final flam falls on the last note of beat 3 with your right hand again. This results in a three-over-four polyrhythmic phrase. Bar 3 begins with a left-hand lead with alternating flam triplets. The last measure of the phrase incorporates flam taps within 8th-note triplets, creating two three-over-two polyrhythms. The sticking reverses on each repeat.
Exercise 8 employs the same approach as Exercise 7, only this time within a 16th-note subdivision. The Swiss Army triplets in measure 1 and alternating flam triplets in measure 3 outline four-over-three polyrhythms. The pataflafla pattern in measure 2 is my favorite of all the examples, but it’s also arguably the most difficult to execute cleanly. Concentrate on the positioning of each voice, and make sure they’re aligned. Bar 4 concludes with flam paradiddles, and the sticking reverses on repeat.
Each bar from these sequences can function as a musical embellishment or groove within an extreme metal context. Don’t be too concerned with speed in these examples. Blast beats are generally meant to shred, but don’t sacrifice productive practice just to achieve faster tempos.
Treat these as technical exercises to build your ability to place flams anywhere within a given subdivision, regardless of the sticking. Mastering the transitions between each measure will help improve your ability to unleash these figures at will. And experimenting with the width of your flams can result in a more thorough understanding of the rudiment and an ability to express its spacing purposefully.
Aaron Edgar plays with the Canadian prog-metal band Third Ion and is a session drummer, clinician, and author. His latest book, Progressive Drumming Essentials, is available through Modern Drummer Publications. For more information, visit the product page here.