8 Challenging Independence Ideas

The exercises in this month’s lesson are meant to challenge your concentration, coordination, and independence. Traditionally, each voice of the drumset plays a specific role. In a typical jazz context, usually the snare and bass comp while the ride propels the time and the hi-hat foot anchors the groove on beats 2 and 4. Standard coordination techniques are built around this framework and these sound sources.

To break this traditional mold, begin to shift your conception of ideas from the instrument to your body so that any limb is free to play any part. This approach can expand your palette so that you’ll start to hear and execute different sounds in different places. This is similar to how a classical pianist might cross the right hand over into the left hand’s territory to play in the bass register. These ambidextrous (or ambipedal) approaches can be observed in the playing of many of today’s top jazz drummers, such as Marcus Gilmore, who has set up his kit in both left- and right-handed configurations.

Exercise 1 takes a familiar snare and bass drum combination under the swing ride pattern. In this case, the hi-hat foot fills the role of the lead comping voice. The hi-hat plays a rhumba clave pattern, but you can try playing the rhythms of standard melodies such as Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo” or “Pent-Up House.” You can also improvise your own ideas with your left foot over the other voices’ parts.

Contemporary Coordination Exercises 1

The next example takes this concept a step further by employing a 12/8 bembe pattern on the ride.

Contemporary Coordination Exercises 2

To expand on these ideas, we can switch the responsibilities of the bass drum and hi-hat feet, as demonstrated in Exercise 3.

Contemporary Coordination Exercises 3

The triplets are now played between the snare and hi-hat foot while the bass drum becomes the comping voice. To build up this independence, first play static quarter notes on the bass drum on each beat (Exercise 4) and each offbeat (Exercise 5). The right hand can keep time with quarter notes, the swing ride pattern, or the bembe figure.

Contemporary Coordination Exercises 4

The triplets can also be divided between the kick and snare in a few different ways. Here are some examples.

Contemporary Coordination Exercises 5

Any of the parts can be played with any limb, so mix and match to create your own puzzles to work out. Happy practicing!

Mike Alfieri is a Brooklyn, New York–based drummer and educator. He has a bachelor’s degree in music education from the Crane School of Music and a master’s degree in jazz studies from SUNY Purchase. For more information, visit mikealfieri.net.