Hand Exercises for Rhythmic Accuracy
This month we’re going to kick off a new series on 8th-note and 16th-note-triplet (sextuplet) groupings. Both of these rhythms are common, yet there’s a lot to explore under their surface as we manipulate them with various accent patterns and stickings. The goal is to improve not only your hand technique, but also your rhythmic understanding and comfort level between these figures. You also may start to think differently about six-note subdivisions as we use a straight 8th-note pulse as a common ground throughout each example.
Hugely beneficial both physically and mentally, the exercises will all be in a short-short-long format with equal emphasis on right- and left-hand leads. Count straight 8th notes out loud through each exercise. Counting out loud is very different from simply tapping a foot or counting in your head, as the voice acts like a third limb to coordinate and will be a key element throughout this whole series. Also be sure to set your metronome to 8th notes so that each subdivision is accounted for.
First let’s play the exercise as perfectly even singles using loose rebounding free strokes with the sticks starting and ending in the up position. Remember, do not just grip the sticks and hit the drum or pad—dribble them smoothly, and let the sticks do the work.
Next we’ll add accents to the sextuplets. Play the 8th notes as high, flowing free strokes, and start the sextuplets with downstroke accents followed by low taps. When playing them at slow to medium tempos (about 80–120 bpm), strive to play strict and concise downstrokes with clearly defined stick heights. Think about the downstrokes pointing down towards the drumhead at a 10-degree angle and the loose taps coming up so that they’re just about parallel to the drum or pad. Make sure there’s a complete separation between the downstrokes and the loose and relaxed taps.
Using an American grip, with the hand at a 45-degree angle and the thumb on the topside of the stick, is the most effective approach for concise downstrokes. In this position you can squeeze the back end of the stick into the palm while also holding the front of the stick down with the thumb. By using both the palm and the thumb, you have twice as many ways to stop the stick faster, making it easier to play looser and lower to the drum.
At faster tempos, when there’s less time to execute these motions, simply stop the stick less. Now some of the accents’ energy will flow smoothly into the following taps with what I call a “no-chop flop-and-drop” technique. There’s less impact on the accents since they have to flow into the taps, so you can’t hit them as hard. However, you can hit them high, so be sure to maintain some decent stick height on the accents. The no-chop flop-and- drop technique should also be developed at slow tempos. That technique, along with the strictly separated downstrokes and clearly defined stick heights, are beneficial and can be guided by musical decisions outside the practice room.
Now let’s add accents on the first partial of the sextuplets. This is how most people seem to count or feel these rhythms in their heads. Remember to count 8th notes out loud while playing.
Next we’ll move the accents to the often overlooked offbeats of each sextuplet. Make sure there’s a clear connection between the stroke, voice, foot, and metronome on the accents.
Now we’ll put the previous two variations together. Be sure to use both accents as checkpoints within each sextuplet, and connect them with your voice to bury the metronome.
At this point it’ll be beneficial to go back to the first exercise and see if your awareness and connection to the sextuplet offbeats are stronger while playing perfectly smooth and even free-stroke dribbles. Using both of the accented checkpoints within each sextuplet will help with your rhythmic accuracy and fullness through the end of each sextuplet.
Finally we’ll mix up some accents and upbeat accents within the sextuplets.
Bill Bachman is an international drum clinician, the author of Stick Technique and Rhythm & Chops Builders (Modern Drummer Publications), and the founder of drumworkout.com. For more information, including how to sign up for online lessons, visit billbachman.net.