Developing The Three Basic Building Blocks Of Drum Chops
By Tiger Bill MeligariPublished March 1, 2011
As an instructor specializing in hand and foot technique for over three decades, I've see drummers of all kinds. Unfortunately, many have poor chops. After I won the World's Fastest Drummer Competition at NAMM, I was invited to host some of the WFD events and the story there was much the same. Most drummers have the "will" but aren't sure of the "way" when it comes to improving their speed. The major reason one drummer is faster than another can be summed up in one word: relaxation. That's the whole key to developing drumming speed. The more relaxed you play, the faster you can play. That’s all there is to it. Saying it is simple but doing it requires practice, lots of practice. But with the proper kind of practice, anyone can develop a great deal of speed. And that’s what this exclusive series of Speed Lessons is all about.
If you’ve been working on my exercises from last month's lesson, your hands should be pretty well coordinated and easily able to switch between playing flat flams (where both sticks hit the drum at the exact same time) and single stroke rolls (where both sticks alternate playing right and left hand strokes). This month we continue our quest for speed by adding exercises that take you further into the development of a swift and smooth single stroke roll. As a bonus, you’ll learn how the same exercises can be used to develop your double stroke and closed rolls. Single strokes, double strokes, and closed rolls are equally important because they make up the three basic building blocks of drumming. Everything you play on the drumset from rudiments to grooves to solos is made up of various combinations of these three basic building blocks.
Important: If you missed my explanation of how to execute the tension-free technique covered in last month’s column or you'd like a refresher, read the following paragraph. If you’re already familiar with this technique, you can skip to the "Video Lesson."
Basic Tension-Free Stroke
It doesn’t matter whether you use traditional or matched grip, the tension-free approach is the same. Hold your stick over the drum so that the tip hovers anywhere from one to 18 inches from the surface (lower levels are used for playing softer and faster while higher levels are used for playing louder but slower). Using your wrist, throw the stick down toward the drum. Your half of the work is finished! Now it’s time for nature to take over as you learn to let the natural rebound of the stick carry it back up to the initial starting position. When you first practice this technique of throwing the stick down and letting it rebound under its own steam, start slowly and practice each hand separately. Then, gradually increase the speed. As your speed increases, you should stop using your wrist and start using your fingers to make the down stroke. At high speeds, the height of the stick should never be more than about one inch from the surface of the drum. Once you become comfortable executing this basic rebound stroke, it's time to apply it to your Speed Lesson.
Before attempting the following group of Ten 2-Bar Exercises, watch the video lesson where I demonstrate them at a slow tempo. Although I'm playing each exercise only once, you should practice repeating them as many times as it takes for you to become comfortable before moving on to the next exercise. This will give your "vamping" hand (the right hand to begin with) a terrific workout. Once you work through all 10 exercises using a right hand lead, repeat the exercises using the left hand lead sticking as shown under the first exercise below. As always, start slowly at first and use a metronome. Once you are able to play each exercise precisely, increase the speed. Write down your metronome tempo in a notebook so you can keep track of your progress. Although you should start by practicing these exercises at a metronome tempo of quarter note equals 80 or slower, you should eventually be able to work them up to speeds in excess of quarter note equals 220 using single strokes. Your double stroke and closed stroke roll speeds should, eventually, be even faster than that.
After you've studied the written notation below, watch the remainder of the video. You'll see the exercises demonstrated at both slow (80 bpm) and fast (220 bpm) speeds.