I first discussed pataflaflas in the May 2015 issue, in an article titled “Pataflafla Builder,” and the material in that lesson was later adapted into my latest book, Rhythm & Chops Builders. This month we’re going to revisit the concepts from that lesson and shift pataflaflas around to different parts of the beat to create syncopated patterns. Doing so can be helpful for developing hand techniques and a great way to develop timing and comfort as the figures shift around each pulse.
The pataflafla is one of the few rudiments in which each hand plays a totally different motion instead of playing identical parts that are offset rhythmically. The leading hand employs what I call the Moeller whip-and-stop technique, and the secondary hand uses what I call the no-chop flop-and-drop technique, both of which are hand motions that are vital to a drumset player. Playing a rudiment with the weaker hand leading usually involves a mental switch, but with the pataflafla there’s a physical learning curve as well.
When examining the pataflafla, you’ll find that the leading hand plays two low taps that immediately precede an accent on the 16th-note counts of “1-&-a, 2-&-a, 3-&-a, 4-&-a.” When practicing this figure slowly, you’ll have plenty of time to play the three consecutive notes (starting on the “&” of each beat) as a tap, an upstroke, and a downstroke using the wrists. However, at faster tempos there’s not enough time to play the upstroke without tension or a rhythmic gap before the accent. So we need to replace the wrist motion with a Moeller whip-and-stop stroke that originates in the forearm. By employing this stroke, you’ll have time to stop the stick low to the drum after the accent and before repeating the process.
This motion will be played in the following manner. First drop the hand and stick with the fingers open for the first tap on “&.” Then lift the forearm while allowing the hand to drop down, and let the stick bump the drum for the second tap (a Moeller upstroke). Finally, throw the forearm down with the wrist limp for the whipped accent. Immediately after the accent’s impact, grab the stick to stop it from pointing down right next to the drumhead. This way the stick is set up to repeat the series of three notes starting from a low tap height. When practicing, exaggerate the lead hand’s whipping technique by playing light taps with the fingers and using large forearm lifts.
The secondary hand plays the rhythm “1-e-a, 2-e-a, 3-e-a, 4-e-a,” with the accent on the “a” of each beat. At slow tempos, playing a high accented downstroke (on “a”) immediately followed by two low taps works well. But at faster tempos there’s not enough time to stop the stick after the accent. Here’s where we’ll have to employ the no-chop flop-and-drop motion so that the accented note can simply drop down to the lighter taps without the stick stopping. I call it the no-chop flop-and-drop because you want to avoid using your fingers to add velocity and presence to the taps after the accent. The tap strokes will not be as low as usual, but they will sound light as they drop down in height sequentially. Because the taps flow out of the accent, avoid hitting the accent too hard. However, be sure to attack the accent from a high stick height in order to get the most out of it.
In this lesson we’ll play pataflaflas with just the leading hand, then with both, then with just the secondary hand, and then with both again before repeating. It’s a good idea to practice this with each hand on a different surface to make sure there’s no change in each hand’s motion. Play each exercise with a metronome, tap your foot, and count quarter notes out loud. Your voice acts as another limb to coordinate, and your ability to count will leave you with better time and groove.
Bill Bachman is an international drum clinician, the author of Stick Technique and Rhythm & Chops Builders (Modern Drummer Publications), and the founder of drumworkout.com. For more information, including how to sign up for online lessons, visit billbachman.net.