This month we’re going to focus on the four different single 16th notes, which are “1,” “e,” “&,” and “a.” Playing just one note may seem simple, but it can be quite a challenge to isolate “e” and “a” and play them accurately and in the pocket where they feel great.
The exercises will focus first on playing the single 16th notes as accents among taps. Then we’ll move on to playing the rhythms with the spaces between them left open. The exercise with the accents and taps won’t be too challenging to read, but it can be difficult to play using the perfect stick heights. Strive for high, strong accents and low, light taps, and make sure they are perfectly matched between the hands.
The second exercise will be more challenging, as there’s a lot of space between the notes, and there’s a lot of starting and stopping of the sticks. Playing these exercises with perfect rhythmic accuracy, great dynamic contrast, and a smooth musical feel is deceptively hard, especially at very slow and very fast tempos.
It is crucial to play these exercises with a metronome while tapping your foot and counting out loud. Most musicians hate counting out loud, as it’s a humbling test of rhythmic understanding, coordination, and comfort, but I strongly encourage you to try it. It’ll make a big difference in building your internal clock. First, count all of the notes played out loud, and then count just the quarter notes. If you can do this with a natural flow, then you’ve truly integrated the rhythms as part of your vocabulary.
Be sure to use the correct stickings. Some of them will flow into and out of the check patterns smoothly, which makes it much easier to play with rhythmic accuracy. Also, be sure to play the exercises with the left hand leading, to help build balanced hands and confidence playing with the weaker side. And play the patterns at all tempos.
The first exercise has an accented check pattern leading into the four rhythms played as accents surrounded by 16th-note taps. The taps will help guide the accented rhythm to the correct placement. You must know which stroke type is coming up next (full, down, tap, or up), or else you’ll become “tongue tied” and play with either too much tension or a lack of accent/tap stick-height clarity. To help, we’ve labeled each stroke type (F = full, D = down, T = tap, and U = up). Exaggerate the high and low stick heights for maximum dynamic contrast, but avoid pounding the downstroke accents into the drum. They need to relate 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.
Now repeat the same concept without the taps placed between the one-note rhythms. The check pattern will flow directly into only the first two rhythms, and the two last rhythms will flow back into the check pattern. For those, simply let the sticks glide over the barline and land on the next note. The challenging part is negotiating the dead time between the rhythms, where you’ll have to start and stop the stick at just the right time in order to play the next subdivision accurately and in the pocket. You have to learn how to “play the space” in your head by thinking of all of the 16th-note subdivisions.
At this point we’ve covered all of the possible one-, two-, and three note 16th-note rhythms that occur within the space of a quarter note. For the final two parts, we’re going to shift to triplets. Until then!
Bill Bachman is an international drum clinician, the author of Stick Technique (Modern Drummer Publications), and the founder of drumworkout.com. For more information, including how to sign up for online lessons, visit billbachman.net.