Utilizing unique sticking patterns can yield plenty of interesting orchestrations on the drumset, especially when those stickings differ in length from a given subdivision. They can also help you feel odd subdivisions when you’re using a particular sticking that does fit evenly within less common groupings.

In this lesson we’ll explore a few sticking patterns within quintuplets and septuplets. Some stickings fit evenly within the groupings and help establish a better understanding of how the subdivision feels, while others are designed to contrast with the pulse to create a polyrhythmic feel.

Exercise 1 demonstrates a common five-note sticking (RLRRL). Practice this on a pad first. Once it feels comfortable, move your left hand to a quieter surface, such as your leg, to leave only the right hand’s rhythm on the pad. The goal is to maintain the quintuplet subdivision while only hearing your right hand’s rhythm.

Be sure to practice this next example, as well as Exercises 3, 5, and 7, on a practice pad to develop this sticking’s dynamic consistency. Try to play it evenly so that you can’t hear a difference between each hand’s sound. Accenting the right hand does sound interesting, but it’s not particularly musical if you can only play the pattern in that manner.

In Exercise 2 we’ll embellish the sticking pattern by incorporating the toms. Placing your right hand on a floor tom and your left on a rack tom creates a great melodic phrase. When practicing this example, imagine that you’re listening to a bass or timpani line.

With most stickings, permutation reveals hidden rhythmic treasures. Exercise 3 displaces the pattern forward by two notes (RLRLR). When first practicing this example, try to avoid hearing it as a permutation of Exercise 1, and treat it as if it’s an entirely new phrase. When it sounds consistent on the pad, try orchestrating it on your toms.

We can also incorporate the hi-hat with ghost notes on the snare to hear the pattern within the context of a groove. Exercise 4 embellishes the RLRLR sticking slightly to create a funky groove between the hi-hat and snare. These types of patterns work best with a wide dynamic range—playing the ghost strokes as quietly as possible will help the accents clearly “pop” out.

Now let’s try these same concepts with septuplets. Exercise 5 demonstrates a common seven-note sticking pattern on the practice pad (RLRLRLL). Treat it the same way as we did Exercise 1, and concentrate on developing dynamic consistency between the hands.

Exercise 6 orchestrates the pattern on the toms. This time, once it’s comfortable, try moving your right hand to different voices around the drumset.

Exercises 7 and 8 explore one of my favorite seven-note stickings: RLLRRLL. First we’ll practice it on a pad, and then we’ll orchestrate it on the hi-hat and snare to create a funky groove. Although it’s not notated, playing this sticking on the toms creates a great melody.

After working your way through the previous examples, go back and explore each of the pad and tom examples with a left-hand lead.

Now that we’ve checked out some patterns that fit evenly within quintuplet and septuplet groupings, it’s time to explore stickings that differ in length from both of those subdivisions. Exercise 9 places paradiddles within quintuplets, with accents on the first note of each paradiddle played on alternating toms. The resulting accent pattern yields a five-over-four polyrhythm.

Treat these examples as rhythmic puzzles. Considering the previous exercise, you might find it challenging to feel each of the tom accents within the quintuplets properly. But the beauty of these exercises is that you’ll have to focus on every partial of each subdivision throughout the phrase, as each partial is accented at various points within the pattern. Most polyrhythms work in this way, with each accent cycling through every partial of the contrasting layer’s subdivision before the figure resolves.

You may also find it difficult at first to confidently feel the quarter-note pulse while playing these polyrhythmic figures, and these final two examples will certainly test that ability. In both phrases, it could be easy to hear the four-note paradiddle groupings as 16th notes, but your goal is to stay in a 4/4 perspective. Use the following exercises to learn how to feel the offbeat quintuplet and septuplet kick and snare rhythms in the same way that you’d feel any placement of a 16th note. Be patient, and isolate any beats that give you trouble.

In Exercise 10, a syncopated bass drum pattern provides an additional challenge. If it’s giving you too much trouble, simply play quarter notes on the kick until you’re comfortable, and then try the notated pattern.

Exercise 11 is written with a simplified quarter-note bass drum pattern. When it feels comfortable, explore your own kick variations. When I was first learning these concepts, I’d get the hand pattern going with quarter notes on my hi-hat foot. Then I’d add in the bass drum notes one at a time until each beat felt comfortable. Eventually you’ll build up to the entire pattern.

If your hands start to feel like they’re playing straight paradiddles with a strange kick or hi-hat pattern underneath, you’re most likely feeling these last two exercises from a 16th-note perspective. To mentally reset, put your sticks down, take a breath, and count yourself back in while focusing on the quarter-note pulse. It also may be helpful to play quintuplet or septuplet singles instead of the paradiddles to reset your mind.

In the previous two exercises, your rhythmic perspective is the most important aspect to develop. Ignoring how you feel these patterns can be a form of negative practice that reinforces incorrect aspects of these concepts.


Aaron Edgar plays with the Canadian prog-metal band Third Ion and is a session drummer, clinician, and author. His latest book, Progressive Drumming Essentials, is available through Modern Drummer Publications. For more information, visit the product page here.