Variations for Grooves, Fills, and Solos

Rudiments are generally some of the first things we all learn when we start our drumming journey. I found them tedious and boring at first, and honestly sometimes I still do. It wasn’t until I became comfortable with a few of them and started experimenting with their figures in my everyday playing that I finally started to believe that my teachers were actually on to something!

Rudiments can essentially be described as groupings of single and double strokes in different configurations and rhythms. So it’s no mystery that with enough practice, they can become second-nature vocabulary of the language we learn to speak so fluently with our hands and feet.

One of my favorite rudiments is the inverted paradiddle-diddle, which is often commonly referred to as the six-stroke roll. Let’s take a paradiddle-diddle, which has a sticking of RLRRLL or LRLLRR, and shift the first stroke to the end of the figure to get LRRLLR and RLLRRL, as notated in Exercises 1 and 2. Now you have a fun new piece of vocabulary to add to your grooves, fills, and solos.

This rudiment naturally lends itself to a 16th-note-triplet subdivision with all six strokes living in the space of a quarter note. Therefore, in the context of grooves, the six-stroke roll can be quite useful in shuffles. Check out these variations.

Grooves in a duple subdivision aren’t off limits, though. Since duple time is typically based on two-, four-, eight-, and sixteen-note groupings, a rudiment containing six notes can fi t into that space unevenly. This creates lots of space for creativity. Only two six-stroke rolls can fi t into a measure of 4/4, leaving a quarter note of space at the end of a measure. This can create a feel with groupings of three, three, and two notes, or even groupings of three, two, and three notes, as demonstrated in Exercises 6 and 7, respectively.

To incorporate six-stroke rolls in the context of fills, play one (or two, or three) at the end of a phrase. Try starting the six-stroke roll in different places in the bar, filling in any extra space as needed in between the end of the rudiment and the downbeat.

Here’s an example of a six-stroke roll starting on beat 4.

My favorite use of the six-stroke roll is in a 16th-note-triplet subdivision in a soloing context. As mentioned previously, the six-stroke roll naturally lends itself to 16th-note-triplet use.

Adding accents to the two single strokes (the first and last strokes of the rudiment) nicely rounds out the six-stroke roll and helps to anchor the rudiment to the pocket. Try moving those first and last accented strokes to different drums and/or cymbals to mix it up and add color.

If the six-stroke roll isn’t a rudiment you’ve spent a lot of time with yet, do that first. Start slowly on your snare, allowing your hands to get comfortable playing it. Play each stroke deliberately at first, even the doubles. Then start to speed up, allowing those doubles to begin to bounce. Being comfortable with the rudiment will make learning the previous examples very natural. From here, the possibilities are endless!

Pick any other rudiment, spend some time getting really comfortable with it, and see how you can incorporate it into your grooves, fills, and solos. After a while you won’t realize you’re playing rudiments at all.

Kristen Gleeson-Prata plays with the alternative pop group BØRNS and is an educator and freelance writer. Gleeson-Prata plays Tama, Paiste, Remo, and Vic Firth products.