This month we’re going to make the switch to 8th-notetriplet rhythms. Within the sets of three notes, we’re first going to get into the three available two-note groupings. I’ve found that the best way to count triplets is “one-trip-let, two-trip-let, three-trip-let, four-trip-let.” With that, the three possible two-note groupings are “one-trip,” “two-trip,” and so on. Then, when we move it back, there’s a rest on the downbeat (“rest-trip-let”), and then it loops back around to “one-(rest)-let,” “two-(rest)-let,” and so on.
After those first three variations, we’ll do separate exercises for the last two two-note groupings, which occur when you isolate every other 8th-note triplet over two counts. These end up being quarter-note triplets and upbeat quarternote triplets. As usual, the exercises will focus first on the broken-up rhythms played as accents among taps, and then we’ll play the same rhythms with the spaces in between left open.
Instead of a simple alternating sticking, we need to go with a natural sticking so that we can flow into and out of each check pattern. It may seem to be an unnecessary burden at first, but you’ll be glad you learned the proper stickings, since they’ll help you attain rhythmic accuracy going into and out of the check patterns.
As always, be sure to use a metronome, tap your foot, and count out loud, first with all of the notes played and then with just the quarter notes. Be sure to play the exercises with the left hand leading as well, to help you maintain balanced hands and confidence playing with the weaker hand. It’ll take thousands of perfect repetitions to program these rhythms into your musical vocabulary so that they’re comfortable.
The first exercise has an accented check pattern leading into the first three broken-up rhythms (played as accents), with all of the subdivisions filled in as taps. Use the taps to guide the accented rhythms to their correct places. The key to playing the first exercise well is mastery and control over the four basic strokes (full, down, tap, and up). For maximum stick height/dynamic contrast and a relaxed flow, you must know exactly which stroke type is played. To help, we’ve labeled the stroke type over each note (F = full, D = down, T = tap, and U = up.) Don’t be afraid to practice extremely slowly in order to train your hands to play the appropriate stroke types. The exercise is in a 4-2-1 format, where you play four of each variation, then two, and finally one, and repeat it.
Here’s a short exercise for the remaining two two-note groupings: the quarter-note triplet and the upbeat quarter-note triplet. Make sure not to stiffen up on the upbeat quarter-note triplets. Don’t let the counting and mental processing grind you into tension, which leads to dragging the tempo. Just trust your hands to flow through with free strokes.
Now it’s time to play those same exercises at one dynamic level/stick height with the rhythms isolated. The check patterns will flow into the first broken-up rhythm, and the last broken-up rhythm will flow back into the check pattern. Once your free strokes are flowing, let the sticks go over the barlines, as they will want to glide right into the next rhythm. The hard part will be keeping the rhythms accurate in the middle of the bar, as you negotiate the space while your hands stop and start. Learn how to play the space in your head by subdividing the partials that were played as taps in the first exercise.
I recommend playing this exercise with the free strokes flowing up to the greatest stick height that is comfortable and easily sustainable. There’s rhythmic safety in having a continual, flowing motion, so use that to your advantage initially, and later play the exercises at a soft (piano) dynamic level, where more finesse is required.
It’s a good idea to play these exercises on a regular basis. As with our physical playing chops, our rhythmic perception needs to be trained and maintained. Grab your sticks and get comfy!
Bill Bachman is an international drum clinician, the author of Stick Technique (Modern Drummer Publications), and the founder of drumworkout.com. For more information, including how to sign up for online lessons, visit billbachman.net.