Playing the Sixes
Part 2: Speed and Orchestration
by Chris Prescott
I often use a baking analogy to describe mastering simple things: The ingredients have to be of high quality in order to produce something that tastes great. If you bake a cake using low-quality or stale flour, the end result won’t be very good. You can decorate the cake with sprinkles and make it look pretty, but it’s still based on something that’s foundationally poor. Rudiments are to drummers what flour is to the baker. If your rudiments are underdeveloped, your musical foundation won’t be solid. Even if you sprinkle your playing with some flashy fills from time to time, the core of what you’re playing is weak.
The most complex rudimental stickings can be reduced to simpler ingredients like flams, singles, and double-stroke rolls. If you make sure you have control of those fundamentals, you’ll be able to combine and reorganize the basics into increasingly complex patterns.
In the previous article (August 2013), I described some of the unique benefits to employing rudiments in your playing. It’s a vast topic, but when teaching the material I tend to simplify the concept into four categories: volume, accent character, speed, and orchestration. Here we’ll examine the topics of speed and orchestration as they relate to the rudiments.
A beginning player may not have enough control over rebounded double strokes to confidently incorporate them into musical phrases. It’s worth spending time to develop strong doubles, because once you do, your speed will increase dramatically. It also becomes less strenuous to play fast phrases, since doubles allow the sticks to do more of the work for you. Even though they can sound fast, rudimental patterns such as paradiddle-diddles contain sections of double strokes that allow your hands to relax.
Rudimental patterns have tempo sweet spots. Try to discover the speed at which each one feels most comfortable and confident in your own playing. Once you identify that place, note the tempo. This should be your baseline for making improvements. Besides pushing to play things at increasingly faster tempos, be sure you work at slower tempos as well. You might be surprised by how difficult and awkward it can be to play certain rudiments in slower phrases. The goal is to expand your comfort zone and make these patterns useful in a wide range of musical situations.
Perhaps the most obvious reason to use a mixed-sticking pattern is to allow for different orchestration possibilities on the drumset. Simply place each hand on a different surface while playing rudiments, and something that sounds interesting will emerge. I remember having this epiphany when I first played paradiddles between the cymbals and drums.
Another practical benefit of using mixed stickings is that they allow you to avoid arm-tangling movements around the kit. Perhaps you need to attack the downbeat at the end of a phrase with your left hand? By throwing a double stroke into what you’re playing, you can easily switch your lead hand to the opposite side.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
The following exercise, which I call Playing the Sixes, illustrates a useful way of applying rudiments in a musical context. It consists of a two-measure pattern in any feel (rock, jazz, samba, etc.) with a fill on beats 3 and 4 of the second measure, comprising two sets of 16th-note sextuplets. Play the fill using the following rudimental stickings.
Single-stroke roll: RLRLRL-RLRLRL
Double-stroke roll: RRLLRR-LLRRLL
Six-stroke roll: RLLRRL-RLLRRL
Double paradiddle: RLRLRR-LRLRLL
In the first installment of this series, we looked at the subtle differences in rudimental patterns when they’re played on one surface. This time around I want to explore some basic ways to orchestrate these rudiments on the drumset.
An easy one to start with is moving the first note of each sextuplet onto a tom, while keeping the rest of the notes on the snare drum. Keep your hands relaxed, and make the double strokes flow comfortably. The snare drum usually has a good response for rebounded notes, especially when it’s tuned to a higher tension.
Now try separating your hands to explore the more melodic possibilities of each pattern. Place your right hand on the floor tom and your left on the snare. This is also a good way to ingrain the sound of the pattern into memory. I’ve added a few accents, to either accentuate the pulse or to emphasize the single strokes, which sound heavier naturally because they can be played using larger arm movements.
Here are a few other fun ways to move the patterns around the drumset. There are endless variations, so make sure to spend some time coming up with your own.
Finally, here’s a series of patterns that use double strokes around the kit. They can be particularly useful when you’re playing at quieter dynamics. Using double strokes also helps you avoid having to cross your arms while moving from the right side of the kit to the left side.
Chris Prescott is a San Diego–based multi-instrumentalist who currently drums for Pinback and the Montalban Quintet. His drum education book, Creative Construction, is available at ccdrumbooks.com.