Syncopation Revisited 1This month’s Jazz Drummer’s Workshop features some of my favorite applications of the classic Ted Reed book Progressive Steps to Syncopation for the Modern Drummer. Syncopation has been a staple since it was first published in 1958 and is regarded as one of the most versatile and practical drum books ever written.

I first studied from it with my teacher Angelo Stella in 1975, strictly as a snare drum method with bass drum accompaniment. Angelo later had me add the hi-hat on beats 2 and 4 (three-way independence), and eventually I worked up to four-way independence while reading from pages 29–44 (from the original printing). Legendary teachers such as Alan Dawson, Joe Morello, Jim Chapin, Bob Grauso, Ed Soph, and John Riley use Syncopation with their students as a means for developing coordination, dynamic balance, and phrasing around the kit.

The following applications can be used with any of the repetitive one-measure reading materials from pages 29, 30, and 33–36, or from the thirty-two-measure rhythm melodies from pages 37–44.

This first example works great as a warm-up with accents. Apply alternating 8th-note triplets over the written line. Below is example 1 from page 29 interpreted that way.

Syncopation Revisited 2Once you have control of that, try starting with your left hand. Here’s example 22 from page 30.Syncopation Revisited 3Once you have control of the rhythms with your hands, try adding your feet with the following bass drum and hi-hat ostinatos.

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When you have that down, make use of the following triplet sticking schemes with the reading material from

  1. RLL
  2. LRR
  3. RRL
  4. LLR
  5. RLR, RLR
  6. LRL, LRL
  7. RRL, LRR
  8. LLR, RLL

For example, here’s sticking example 1 (RLL) with exercise 21 from page 34.

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Now try sticking example 6 with exercise 28 from page 35.

Syncopation Revisited 7SWING COORDINATION
Below are five ostinatos to experiment with in a variety of ways, by assigning each to one limb and reading the ink with another.

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Here’s ostinato 1 played on the bass drum while you read example 4 from page 33 on the snare.

Syncopation Revisited 10Now reverse it.

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Next, try playing ostinato 2 on the snare while reading example 24 from page 34 on the bass drum.

Syncopation Revisited 12And reverse it.

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Here’s ostinato 3 played on the hi-hat while you read the first four measures of the melody from page 37, broken between the snare and bass drum.

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And reverse it.

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Finally, try playing ostinato 5 on the bass drum while reading the first four measures of the melody from page 37 on the snare.

Syncopation Revisited 16And reverse it.

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As you work through these Syncopation applications, concentrate on the sound you’re producing. Work on each example with a metronome, a drum machine, or your favorite recordings, at a wide range of tempos from very slow to very fast. Also experiment and try coming up with your own variations. Part two of this series will explore ways to use Syncopation in 3/4.


Steve Fidyk has performed with Terell Stafford, Tim Warfield, Dick Oatts, Doc Severinsen, Wayne Bergeron, Phil Wilson, and Maureen McGovern, and he’s a member of the jazz studies faculty at Temple University in Philadelphia. For more info, including how to sign up for lessons via Skype, visit