Strictly Technique

Triplet Gear-Shifter

12-18-24 Exercise, Part 2

by Bill Bachman

This month we’re going to apply two alternate stickings to the triplet gear-shifter exercise. To review, 12th notes are 8th-note triplets (twelve notes to a bar of 4/4). In the exercise, a bar of 12th notes is followed by a bar of 18th notes. The 18th notes (“nine-lets”) are a polyrhythm where three strokes are played on each quarter-note triplet, totaling eighteen notes to a bar. The exercise concludes with a bar of 24th notes, which are known as 16th-note triplets or sextuplets.

The two sticking variations we’ll use are “puh-duh-duh” (RLL) and “duh-duh-puh” (RRL). These funny names, which are onomatopoeia for how the stickings sound, are commonly used by rudimental drummers. The different speeds of the triplets will require modifications in technique, stick height, and touch, and shifting gears from one rate to the next will require a lot of control.

I normally avoid metronome markings intentionally, so that drummers will go as fast or as slow as is comfortable. But for the purpose of describing the different techniques required in this exercise, I’ll use 120 bpm as a reference.

The triplet gear-shifter isn’t a long or complex exercise, but the key to developing great mechanics and muscle memory is playing thousands of perfect repetitions in bite-size pieces. The “puh-duh-duh” sticking consists of a right-hand accent followed by two left-hand taps. When the 12th notes are played in an average tempo range, the technique will be very simple. The accents can be played as free strokes that rebound back up or as downstrokes where you stop the stick low and close to the head. The two left taps will require finger control so you can play them as a “drop catch” diddle. In the drop-catch technique, the first stroke is played from the wrist so that the hand and stick seemingly drop toward the head. The second stroke is played by catching the butt end of the stick in the palm. The catch adds a bit of velocity to the second stroke, which helps to balance it dynamically with the first note.

The 18th notes will require the leading hand to play the accents as free strokes, so that the stick rebounds smoothly, while the low diddles will have to be played using an exaggerated drop-catch technique.

With the 24th notes, the accents will be played the same way, but you’ll need to add a pumping forearm motion to play the diddles, since the wrist would otherwise be strained. Often, the 18th- and 24th-note diddles tend to come in late, so make sure to initiate the doubles right after the accent in order to keep the rhythm smooth and even.
Triplet Gear-Shifter

The following variation uses the “duh-duh-puh” RRL sticking. This presents its own challenges, as it puts the accent at the beginning of the diddle. Using the four basic strokes (full, down, tap, and up), you’ll find that the hands play “down, up, tap” in succession. When you play the 12th notes, there’s enough time after the accent to stop the stick low for the following tap. Making the stick freeze so that it points down toward the drumhead for a split second will set you up to play a relaxed upstroke at a low stick height. This creates the maximum dynamic contrast. After the right hand’s first two beats, the left hand simply plays a relaxed low tap.

With the 18th notes, there will not be enough time to stop the stick low, so you’ll need to compromise on the strictness of the downstrokes. Instead of stopping the stick, squelch some of the rebound in order to set you up at a lower (but not all the way down) stick height. I call this the no-chop flop-and-drop technique. This is a less strict variation of the downstroke, where the fingers simply prevent the stick from rebounding all the way back up but allow some of the accent’s energy to flow into the following tap. You might want to think of this technique as accents where the stick flops a little bit into the following tap. Even though flowing out of the accent requires finesse, maintain a high stick height on the accent in order to maximize the dynamic contrast between the accent and the tap.

The 24th notes will be played very similarly, but you’ll need to add a pumping forearm motion to play the first two diddles; otherwise the wrist would be strained.
Triplet Gear-Shifter 2

Get in many of repetitions of each measure, using the appropriate technique, before putting together the complete exercise. Make sure that your rhythms are precise. The results of practicing all four variations will pay dividends for the rest of your drumming life. Enjoy!

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