Exploring Subdivisions 1Being a full-time drum instructor, it’s my job to make sure my students explore the material that we’re working on in a given lesson as thoroughly as possible. I don’t want them to just play what’s on the page. I want them to see past the notes and explore all of the permutations and variations that a grouping of notes could contain.

I have a saying with my students: “I will give you the blueprint, but you have to build the house.” It’s important for all drummers to understand the difference between just playing something and “owning it,” where you can play a figure or pattern at any speed, at any volume, and in any subdivision. In this article, we’re going to explore the third requirement: subdivisions.

When you look at a sticking or a grouping of notes, it’s easy to assign a natural subdivision in your head. When we see “right, left, kick” we naturally think triplets. But why does it have to stop there? There are a lot of chops hiding inside every grouping of notes, which can be revealed by simply changing the subdivision. It’s an incredible adventure, and one that will grow your drumming vocabulary faster than you ever imagined.

Below are two three-note groupings, one linear and one non-linear. Since these groupings are three notes long, the natural subdivision would be 8th-note triplets, but we’ll also take each grouping through 8th notes, 16th notes, sextuplets, and 32nd notes. I recommend practicing these subdivisions along with a metronome so that you can hear how they create different polyrhythms against the quarter-note pulse.

Exploring Subdivisions 2


Mike Johnston teaches out of the mikeslessons.com facility in Sacramento, California, where he offers live online drum lessons and international drum camps.