Jazz Drummer’s Workshop
Foundational Studies For Ride Cymbal Technique
by Ed Soph
The accentuation of 2 and 4 gives a feeling of forward momentum, of swinging. Accentuation of the first and third beats gives a feeling of stopping and starting. It kills the flow usually associated with the 4/4 bass line of jazz. It is appropriate when playing two-beat.Going back to our underlying idea of drums being instruments of motion in time, we shall analyze the basic ride pattern and determine a means of physical motion which naturally gives us accentuation on 2 and 4.
First, a word about accents. Accents are not produced by striking a drum or cymbal harder, by using more force, or more tension. Accents are produced by using a stroke, in time, which is larger or longer than a stroke used to produce unaccented notes. A large stroke produces a louder note naturally than a smaller stroke. It’s that simple, that relaxed.
Don’t force the strokes. The very fact that the stick travels a longer distance to the cymbal than it does when playing a tap will produce a louder note, an accent. Automatically, the physical action employed in playing these four notes gives us the accent pattern. Like brushing your teeth, this will become, with practice, a natural, unconscious physical technique. This technique depends greatly on how we hold the right stick (the same applies if you are left-handed) when playing the ride. If you drop your hand to your side and allow it to relax you’ll see that there is a gap between your thumb and forefinger. The thumb is not pressed against the forefinger, yet many of us hold our stick in this obviously unrelaxed grip. That is an older rudimental technique which is not applicable to playing the ride cymbal.
We must hold the stick with this relaxed, open grip if we are to develop the finger control necessary for the smooth articulation of the basic ride patterns. Basically, the stick is held with the French Grip as used for timpani. This grip gives us the maximum use of the fingers and the wrist. This grip also allows a relaxed rather than a rigid fulcrum. The stick is suspended, free to move up and down, between the thumb and forefinger rather than being tightly grasped by them. This allows the development of rebound control. A closed grip kills the natural rebound of the stick off the drums and cymbals.
It is easy to see why many of us fall into the closed grip with the thumb and forefinger pressed together so as to eliminate that gap. The fingers are the last muscles to develop dexterity. A baby shakes a rattle with its whole arm, not with its fingers! Is it any wonder that we were given huge pencils and crayons when we learned to write? Why is a six year old drum student given 3-S sticks?
We play the ride with this open grip, the thumb on top of the stick, the stick an extension of the arm. As we saw in a previous article, it is musically logical in terms of physical motion to play the ride in this thumb-on-top position rather than the back-of-thehand- up position because it facilitates smooth wrist pivots from the cymbal to the snare and the mounted toms. Using our “French” cymbal grip we can say that the taps (T) on 1 and 3 are played close to the cymbal with the fingers. And the strokes (S) on 2 and 4 are played, farther from the cymbal, with a combination of fingers and wrist.
There is one distinct advantage of the open grip. If we were to hold the stick with the closed grip we would find the length of the strokes for the second and fourth beats limited to the upstroke of the wrist. By using the open grip we find that the strokes can be greatly extended. The wrist reaches its maximum upstroke and then the fingers release the stick. In other words, the fingers are pushed out by the momentum of the stick rebounding off the cymbal after playing either the first or third beats. In returning the stick to the cymbal, the fingers, which never leave the stick, bring the stick back into the palm of the hand, and the wrist, from its original upstroke position, completes the downward stroke to the cymbal.
So far we have dealt with the fingers and wrist. What about the arm? We return to the principle of physical action determining how we sound. If we move the arm up and down in conjunction with the strokes and taps of the foundational pattern, we get a jerky and angular pattern, probably with too much emphasis on 2 and 4. There is nothing wrong with this, but it may not be appropriate where a more balanced, smooth and flowing pattern is called for. And we must be able to do it all!
Rather than moving the arm vertically, move it horizontally. There are two positions of the arm: 1) the elbow at rest parallel to the body as it is when we let our arm hang down at our side; 2) the elbow pivoted out and lightly upwards from the body by moving the arm outwards from the shoulder. A bird flaps his wings. We are flapping our elbows!
Many of you will recognize this as a rudimental technique set forth best by Sanford Moeller. This technique uses natural, relaxed movements of the body to produce either accented or unaccented notes. When the wrist is raised for a stroke the elbow wants to pivot in towards the body. Upon execution of that stroke the elbow moves away from the body. Strokes are executed when the elbow is “in.” Taps when the elbow is “out.” We may apply this to our basic pattern:
The arm is “out” on 1 and 3 because this position automatically produces an indirect stroke which, in conjunction with the tap played by the fingers, gives us a softer note. The arm “in” on 2 and 4 produces a direct stroke which, in conjunction with the larger stroke produced by the fingers and the wrist, gives us a louder note, an accent, naturally.
I stress arm motion in a horizontal manner rather than vertical because it is necessary to sustain relaxation, as well as to provide power and speed when they are needed. One cannot play musically with relaxed fingers and wrist if his arm is rigid. The rigidity of the arm will eventually spread to the wrist and fingers. The open grip will suddenly collapse back to the closed grip.
Though the arm moves outward, the stick should remain in the same place on the cymbal as when the arm was “in.” This will happen if the wrist is allowed to pivot slightly inwards as the arm moves out. It is the same principle which a string player uses when bowing. The arm may move up or down, but because of a supple and relaxed wrist, the bow stays on the strings in its horizontal path. We reverse the procedure, but the results are the same; tonal consistency and flowing, rhythmic lines. And just as our vertical strokes (fingers and wrist) become shorter with faster tempos, the horizontal movement of the arm becomes shorter, too. The vertical strokes of the wrist and fingers are analogous to the horizontal strokes of the arm.
Like anything new, this technique may feel awkward at first. Give it a chance. You will probably be using motions and muscles, and perhaps a grip that you have never used before. This technique is not an end in itself. It will, I hope, lead you to logical and musical techniques of your own. If it serves one purpose, it is to get the fingers, wrist, and arm working as a relaxed, coordinated unit in the playing of the ride cymbal. It is a foundation for implication.