Cross Rhythms Using Stone

stick control

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

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Ex. 2 Next, move the right hand to a cymbal (ride, hi-hat, or crash), and play the bass drum with every cymbal note

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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

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Ex. 4 To get a sense of the outline of the phrase, try playing this a few times

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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.

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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

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Ex. 7 Or you can play the beginning of the 3/8 portion

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Ex. 8 Or repeat the end of the 3/8 portion. In this case, we’ll do the RRL sixteenth-note triplet two more times

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Ex. 9 Or any other 3/8 idea of your choice, like a paradiddle-diddle or one of its inversions

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Ex. 10 Or any simple one-beat fill

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Ex. 11 Now let’s put this into a musical context by making a two-measure phrase. The first measure will be an improvised funk groove, and the second will be the exercise

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Ex. 12 You can also try three measures groove/one measure exercise, or two measures groove/two measures exercise.

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With a little reinterpretation, you can put this into an up-tempo (around quarter-note 240 bpm and above) jazz setting. First, you need to mentally convert the 3/8 exercises into 3/4 sixteenth-notes will become eighth-notes, and sixteenth-note triplets will become eighth-note triplets, and so on

Ex. 13 Then, plug it into the 3+3+2 phrase, as follows. Here we are playing alternating eighth-notes on the “2” portion. You can play the hi-hat on 2 and 4 as written, or just eliminate it during the meter-within-meter part. Note that at this tempo the eighth-notes will be roughly even, without the common triplet inflection. Playing the bass drum selectively is recommended here, especially at brighter tempos

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Ex. 14 It is, of course, permissible to do this at slower tempos while swinging the eighth-notes! As a musical matter, be careful about accenting too strongly on beat 1 as you loop back around; you may want to experiment with crashing on/emphasizing the & of 4 of the last measure instead.

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To develop the hi-hat on 2 and 4 during the 3/4 part, play the exercises as in the book, adding the hi-hat as follows

Ex. 15 Now we can begin to extend the phrase a little, using another very common figure

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... or

Ex. 16 Since the phrase ends with a 4/8 instead of a 2/8 idea, it will require a little different approach — simply continue what is called for at the end of the 3/8 pattern, like so

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Ex. 17 Here is how the complete phrase looks

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Ex. 18 With each of the phrases we have used so far, you can also invert them, putting the 2 or 4 at the beginning

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Ex. 19 In this case, you can continue the groove through the first part of the exercise measure

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Ex. 20 From here, you can extend the phrase to four or eight measures, and beyond

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Ex. 21 You can also experiment with moving the right hand (and then either hand) to the toms

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Ex. 22 As you increase the tempo, you can simplify the bass drum part by selectively eliminating doubles/multiples, like so. This is a good idea especially on the up-tempo jazz application

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I highly recommend creating your own phrases, voicings, and variations, as well as just improvising with the concept. After some dedicated practice, I think you’ll notice it coloring your playing in some unexpected ways.