Entering its 77th year of publication, George Lawrence Stone’s immortal classic, Stick Control, has been parsed and adapted in more ways than anyone can count. But its seemingly endless adaptability and usefulness are what have kept it at the top of the drum instruction cannon for so long. Here are a few practical exercises for adapting Stone’s stickings to the drum set to make cross rhythms (playing in 3/8 or 3/4 during a piece in 4/4).
Also called polyrhythm, polymeter, or meter-within-meter, it’s an advanced, but also very common, concept, occurring widely in all African-influenced music and nearly all music using the drum set. Afro-Cuban clave, the Bo Diddley beat, and the Brazilian bossa rhythm should be familiar examples of it. It is also pervasive in all genres and eras of rock. It has been most thoroughly exploited as a tool for improvisation in modern jazz, perhaps most famously in the playing of Elvin Jones and Tony Williams. Being fluent with it is one means of developing rhythmic flexibility, breaking out of the novice’s typically squared-off approach to playing in 4/4.
We’ll be using the Combinations In 3/8 from Stick Control, pp. 30–32. The obvious first step will be to learn the exercises on the snare drum. I recommend putting your metronome on the eighth-notes at first, and then just on the downbeats as you increase the tempo. Work them up to at least a moderate tempo of around 152 bpm at eighth-note subdivisions before moving on.
Ex. 1 Here are some examples from Stone
Ex. 2 Next, move the right hand to a cymbal (ride, hi-hat, or crash), and play the bass drum with every cymbal note
Ex. 3 Next we’ll put these into 4/4. The first phrase we’ll use is the very common 3+3+2 eighth-note figure
Ex. 4 To get a sense of the outline of the phrase, try playing this a few times
Ex. 5 Try to keep that simplified idea in your ear as you attempt the more complex exercises. It is also an excellent idea to count out loud “1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &” while playing the exercises in 4/4.
Next, we will plug the Stick Control exercises into the “3” portion of the measure, and insert our own idea on the “2” portion. To start, just play four alternating sixteenth-notes
Ex. 6 You could also try playing a sixtuplet