Part 1: Three-Note 16th Groupings

In this five-part series we’re going to develop not only timing and rhythmic accuracy with triplets and 16th notes, but also accent/tap control using the four basic strokes (full, down, tap, and up). To some, the exercises will look simple, but playing them perfectly with great dynamic contrast and a smooth, musical feel is deceptively hard, especially at very slow and very fast tempos.

The first exercise in each part will be played with an all-accented check pattern leading into the chosen rhythms (also accented), with all of the subdivisions filled in as taps. This will help guide the accented rhythm to the correct place and will also serve as a great opportunity to examine stickheight accuracy and dynamic contrast. The second exercise in each part will contain the same accented rhythms, but the taps will be taken away and you’ll play what was the accented rhythm at one stick height and as free strokes.

With all of the exercises, use your metronome and tap your foot. Count all of the played notes out loud at first, and then count just quarter notes. Be sure to get all of the stickings correct, as they are designed to flow and make it much easier to play with rhythmic accuracy. Play the exercises with the left hand leading as well, in order to develop balanced hands and confidence leading with the weaker side. It’ll take thousands of perfect repetitions to program these rhythms into your musical vocabulary. If you find yourself thinking or doing math in your head, then keep repeating the exercise.

In this installment we’re looking at the four different three-note 16th groupings. The first will be “1-e-&.” Then we’ll move the grouping back to “e-&-a.” We’ll keep moving it back to “1-&-a” and finally “1-e-a.” The first exercise, which has the chosen rhythms accented, will be tricky to play, since there are more accents than taps. (It’s usually the opposite.) 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 the patterns extremely slowly in order to train your hands to play the appropriate stroke types. The fastest way to develop coordination is by practicing accurately but extremely slowly. If the full, tap, and upstrokes aren’t played completely relaxed, or if the downstrokes aren’t stopped low to the drum, you will not achieve the desired musical effect. Simply put, if your hands don’t know what’s coming next, then they’ll end up fudging through with either too much tension or a lack of accent/tap stick-height clarity.

Once your hands know what’s coming, be sure to exaggerate the high and low stick heights for maximum dynamic contrast. And don’t pound the downstroke accents. They need to relate dynamically to the flowing stream of accents in the check patterns. The exercise is in a 4-2-1 format where you play four of each variation, then two, then one, and repeat it.

Here’s the first exercise:

Three-Note 16th Groupings 1

Three-Note 16th Groupings 2

Now it’s time to play it all at one stick height with the three-note groupings isolated. The key to rhythmic accuracy will be in the flowing motion of the free strokes. The check pattern should flow into the broken rhythms, and the last of the broken rhythms should flow right back into the check pattern.

With these three-note 16th patterns, one hand will flow smoothly through each check-pattern/ broken-rhythm/check-pattern combo. Learn to trust your hands to flow into the rhythms accurately without too much thought. It’s crucial to play the correct stickings so that the patterns flow smoothly into one another. Also be sure to play the space (at least initially) by subdividing the partials in your head, which were played as taps in the first exercise.

I recommend playing this second exercise initially with the free strokes flowing up to the greatest stick height that’s comfortable and easily sustainable. Then play it at a piano (soft) dynamic level to work on your finesse.

Here are some free-stroke guidelines to keep in mind.

  1. Free strokes start and stop at the same height.
  2. Never pick up the stick; only throw it down.
  3. The back of the stick will never touch the palm of your hand.
  4. Make sure the sticks feel heavy and resonate with a high pitch as you dribble them.

And now for the exercise:

Three-Note 16th Groupings 3

Once you’ve got these patterns under control, it’s time to do them over and over again. It’s not that hard to understand them, but training your muscle memory and ingraining an accurate, musical feel takes time and thousands of repetitions. Get on it, because part two will be here before you know it!

Bill Bachman is an international drum clinician, the author of Stick Technique (Modern Drummer Publications), and the founder of For more information, including how to sign up for online lessons, visit