Time is tight for many of us. If we had unlimited time to shed, we’d probably spend hours behind the kit. But the reality is that life’s twists and turns can keep us busy. Therefore, I try to practice things that exercise multiple skillsets simultaneously.
This approach has served well for many of my students over the years. An exercise that I frequently assign deals with three topics simultaneously: the weak hand, subdivisions, and sight-reading skills. The exercises in this lesson may prove useful to quickly sharpen up these areas of your playing.
First we’ll play a basic 8th-note pattern.Play the cymbal and snare pattern solely with your right hand, altering the sticking so that your right hand comes down to the snare on each backbeat. This leaves a rest on beats 2 and 4 of the ride pattern. The purpose of this is to free up your left hand for some ghost-note madness. Here’s the basic groove.
Next, play through the following exercises using just your right hand to play the hi-hat and snare. Your left hand will rest idly at this point. These grooves are just suggestions for the concepts in this lesson, so track down a book, such as Charles Dowd’s A Funky Primer, to further develop these ideas. This process will develop your reading skills and confidence. Avoid repeating the same example over and over, as that’ll lead you to memorize the pattern rather than read it.
Now we’ll add the left hand to these grooves. Three basic sticking patterns can be applied to simple rock beats in order to keep the left hand strong and agile. We’ll utilize single-stroke rolls, a triplet sticking, and drags. The importance of playing all three of these rhythms lies in distinguishing their differences. Many students play the triplet subdivision incorrectly as a drag. The triplet partials must be evenly spaced, and the left hand starts earlier than you might expect.
Let’s apply the three left-hand patterns to the right-hand cymbal/snare groove from Exercise 1.
Once you’re comfortable with the hand patterns, play them over the bass drum variations from Exercise 2. Try to keep the right-hand backbeats strong while playing the remaining left-hand notes as light ghost strokes. This keeps the pattern from sounding too busy and helps to maintain forward momentum within the grooves.
Once the three hand patterns are comfortable, start combining them. Here are some possibilities.
You can also play shorter sections of triplets and drags to avoid overcrowding the groove. Sprinkling these ideas inside a pattern can be more useful in real-world musical situations. Also, playing shorter runs of triplets or drags is easier, which allows you to play at faster tempos.
Try pushing the feel toward a swinging pulse when using the triplet pattern, and then toward a straighter interpretation when using the drags. It’s important to clearly differentiate between these two versions. An 8th-note subdivision can imply either rhythmic feel within just a few notes.
This practice regimen has proven useful with my students over the years, and I’ve spent a good deal of time with it as well. Noticeable improvement can occur after spending a relatively small amount of practice with these ideas. Now all you have to do is find the time to do it. Get busy, and enjoy!
Chris Prescott is a San Diego–based multi-instrumentalist and is the longtime drummer for the indie-rock band Pinback. Chris has toured with Jimmy Eat World, Rocket from the Crypt, and others. He teaches privately and is the author of the drum book Creative Construction. For more info visit ccdrumbooks.com.