12-18-24 Exercise, Part 1
This month we’re going to challenge your hands by playing triplets as 12th notes, 18th notes, and 24th notes, with and without accents. (We’ll use two other stickings in the second installment.)
First let’s define these rhythms. The 12th notes are simply 8th-note triplets (there are twelve in a bar of 4/4). The 18th notes, or “nine-lets,” are a polyrhythm comprising triplets played over two quarter-note triplets (this totals eighteen notes to the bar). The 24th notes are 16th note triplets (sextuplets).
The four variations we’re playing in these two articles have their inherent challenges. Each requires modifications in technique, stick height, and touch. I normally avoid metronome markings in lessons so that students can choose tempos that work best for them. But for the purpose of describing the different techniques required here, I’ll use 120 bpm as a reference.
While the exercise is short and seemingly simple, it will be quite difficult to play perfectly and will program a lot of very useful technique and muscle memory that can be applied in many different areas of drumming.
Variation 1 is played as straight single strokes. Each stroke should be a free stroke, where the stick rebounds on its own to the same height as where it started. Never pick up the stick or let the back of the stick touch the inside of the hand (both are signs of extra work and tension in the hands). The sticks should feel heavy and resonate with a loud, high pitch as you dribble them.
The 12th notes should be played with an almost pure wrist turn and a little help from the fingers. The 18th notes will require more fingers, and the 24th notes will most likely have plenty of finger control involved. (Note that these wrist/finger ratios are not definitive formulas. Go with what’s comfortable, and remember that more wrist equals bigger strokes equals more power.) Expect the stick heights and velocity into the drum to decrease incrementally as the note rates increase.
Make sure that you feel the opposite (non-leading) hand land confidently on beat 3 in the bar of 18th notes, and be careful not to round off the metric changes as you transfer from bar to bar. Also, don’t cheat by adding mini accents to help you find the pulse. Try to make the rhythms feel smooth, and lock in with the metronome. You want to dribble the sticks at a uniform height without losing your place in the rhythms.
The following variation is the same rhythmically, but now we’re adding accents to the beginning of each triplet. The 12th notes will use the four basic strokes (full/free, down, tap, and up). If you separate the hands, you’ll find that each plays a repeating sequence of “down, tap, up.” Interlaced, the alternating hands play “down, up, tap, down, up, tap.”
The most important stroke to get right is the downstroke. Think of my catchphrase downstrokes point down in order to help you remember to stop the stick pointing down and low, right next to the drumhead. Doing that sets you up to play the following tap or upstroke relaxed and at a low height for maximum dynamic contrast. Avoid hitting the accents hard. Just let the stick’s velocity from the higher starting point create the accent. All of the low notes (taps and upstrokes) should be played with relaxed hands, where the stick feels heavy and resonates freely.
The 18th notes will be played similarly to the 12th notes, but since there will be less time available to stop the stick low before initiating the following low tap, you’ll need to compromise the downstrokes and the low stick height of the taps. With this less strict variation of the downstroke, the fingers simply prevent the stick from rebounding all the way back up and allow some of the accent’s energy to flow into the following tap. You may want to think of it as accents where the stick flops a little bit into the following tap.
For the 24th notes, there won’t be enough time to use the wrist to lift the stick, so you will now have to compromise on the upstroke. To do this, use the Moeller whipping technique. Without writing a treatise on the Moeller technique (check out my book Stick Technique for that), the essential idea is that the stick is whipped from the forearm rather than played by the wrist. Here’s the short explanation: Pick up the forearm while leaving the hand and stick hanging limply, and then throw down the forearm. This results in the hand and stick rotating up, relative to the forearm, for a split second before getting whipped down toward the drum at high velocity. You can also think of it as the forearm dragging the lazy hand and stick up before whipping the stick back down toward the drum. Make sure that the wrist stays completely relaxed. Any tension there will ruin the flow of the whip. After the accent, the stick will flop into the following tap, which is why I call this combination the Moeller whip-and-flop technique.
Here’s the exercise.
I suggest that you get in many repetitions of each subdivision, using the appropriate techniques, before practicing the entire exercise. This routine will pay dividends for the rest of your drumming life. Master it, and get ready to mix up the stickings in part two!
Bill Bachman is an international drum clinician and a freelance drumset player in the Dallas area. For more information, including how to sign up for online lessons through Skype, visit billbachman.net.