Part 4: Quarter-Note Triplets
In this fourth and final installment of our Eights and Sixes series, we’re going to move accents around within 8th notes and 16th-note triplets while also incorporating a quarter-note-triplet accent pattern.
When you’re playing quarter-note triplets, it’s beneficial for your timing and pocket if you know where the quarter-note pulse falls within the figure. When played together, quarter notes and quarter-note triplets form a three-against-two polyrhythm. If we dig a level deeper, we can play straight 8th notes against the quarter-note triplets to form three-over-four polyrhythms. Our goal is now to count and feel the straight 8th notes against the quarter-note triplets. This will be helpful when playing slow tempos and will ultimately deepen the well of our rhythmic understanding and musical comfort. As always, it’s imperative to set your metronome to an 8th-note subdivision, tap your foot, and count 8th notes out loud when practicing this material.
Let’s start with a single-stroke sticking and accent the quarter-note triplet within the sextuplet. Be sure to start slow and count the 8th notes out loud as you play along with a metronome. The 8th notes in the first half of each pattern will be played with a high stick height as flowing free strokes, and the sextuplets will start with downstroke accents followed by low taps. When playing the sextuplets at slow to medium tempos—around 80–120 bpm—strive to play strict and concise downstrokes with clearly defined stick heights. Think about the downstrokes pointing down toward the drumhead at a 10-degree angle and the loose taps coming up to about parallel to the drum or pad. Make sure there is a complete separation between the downstrokes and the loose and relaxed taps.
Utilizing an American grip with the hands at a 45-degree angle and the thumbs on the topside of the sticks is an effective approach for concise downstrokes. In this position, you can squeeze the back end of the stick into the palm or hold the front of the stick down with the thumb. By using both the palm of the hand on the back of the stick and the thumb on the front, you have two ways to stop the stick faster and play lower and looser.
At faster tempos, when there’s less time to stop the stick, simply stop the stick less. Now some of the energy of the accents will fl ow smoothly into the following taps with what I’ve been calling the “no-chop, flop-and-drop” technique. There’s less impact on the accents because they have to flow into the taps, so you can’t hit them hard. However, you can still play them with a high stick height, so be sure to maintain some decent height on the accents. The no-chop, flop-and-drop technique should also be developed at slow tempos—both it and the strictly separated downstrokes with clearly defined heights are beneficial and can be guided by musical decisions.
Next we’ll play a few variations with two accents based on the quarter-note-triplet pattern. Again, count 8th notes out loud throughout the following exercises.
Now we’ll apply a double-stroke sticking while maintaining the quarter-note-triplet accent pattern. When you’re playing straight double strokes, there’s not enough time to play a strict downstroke on the first beat of the diddle before the following tap. So we’ll flow into the tap using the no-chop, flop-and-drop technique. Some of the energy from the accent flows into the following tap in a natural decrescendo. Your fingers can help to steer the rhythms, but don’t use them in a way that would support or add velocity to the taps.
Next we’ll invert the double-stroke sticking and add rimshots on the quarter-note-triplet accents. The fingers will now have to aggressively snap the stick into the palm on the second beat of the diddle as the arm drops down for the rimshot to add power to each second stroke. This is best practiced on a rimless drum pad so that you can slap the shank of the stick against the rubber.
Whether playing a rimshot or not, all the diddles will be played with a free stroke and downstroke “alley-oop” technique. Focus on starting every diddle with a high and light free stroke followed by an aggressive downstroke that freezes pointing down with the bead of the stick a half an inch off the drum or pad. The rimshot will create an accent, but don’t treat this variation as a lower tap preceding a higher accented rimshot, as that’s not the context for a smooth roll. The higher-velocity rimshot on the second diddle stroke will be played from a lower height than the free stroke on the first beat of the diddle. The 8th notes setting up the rolls will remain high and loose free strokes.
Now we’ll incorporate a few mixed stickings that utilize triple strokes. We’ll start with a RRRL/LLLR sticking. Only the first note is accented, but because there’s so little time between the accent and following taps, we’ll flow into the softer strokes using the no-chop, flop-and-drop technique. As always, keep your straight 8th-note frame of reference as you count through each accented quarter-note triplet.
Next we’ll use a RLLL/LRRR sticking. The accents should all be played as big, relaxed rebounding free strokes. The technical challenge lies in the finger control necessary for the low triple-stroke taps. Don’t focus on the quarter-note-triplet accent pattern—keep your focus on the straight 8th-note pulse.
Finally, let’s insert paradiddles within the sextuplets. All the previous guidelines factor into the treatment of the accents at different speeds. Be sure to use fingers to support the low and light diddles with a “drop/catch” or low alley-oop technique.
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.