What I see most often in younger drummer is some combination of the hands not having equal skills as well as simply being unable to travel around the drum kit comfortably and it all holding together. Grip and independence are big problems for many drummers.
Now, first and foremost to all else, a functioning and comfortable grip that doesn’t hurt you is essential. Working on your grip by studying snare drum exercises and strengthening your hands are what has to happen if you want to get better. If you doubt the solidity of your grip, ask a drummer you admire about theirs, and keep asking until you see progress. It might be an evolving - changing search as you pursue getting better. Be patient and keep digging until you find something that works for your style of playing. Unless we are in the same room together and you ask me about my grip, I cannot help you, so get out there, get bold and ask people to show you their grip!
As far as independence goes, moving around the kit and playing something that you want to play and not having it all fall apart is a big deal. For now, I’m going to stray away from the usual psychological aspects of drumming and get into the nuts and bolts of my own instruction that I was lucky enough to receive. It will hopefully help you on many levels.
Here goes. First, it should be noted there are many ways to become a musical drummer. It’s possible that a particular style of drumming/music suits you better than another. I can only share my path, which is this. I started playing at 9 years and studied with a local professional drummer, Jack Volk, who was holding down a daily live TV talk show gig in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. He immediately taught grip, reading and rudiments from the beginning. The first bible-like book that helped me was “Syncopation” by Ted Reed. I played each exercise with four on the floor (quarter notes on the bass drum) and rock my high hat heel back and forth so it is playing two and four. Heel on one and three, toe on two and four. Have you seen me play with a shaker in my heel and wondered how I could do that so comfortably? This is why.
I’ll continue in present tense (as your teacher if you will)
Read each exercise with right hand on one instrument (floor tom perhaps?) and the other hand on another instrument (snare drum is good). Play it slowly and get it to where you own it. I mean Own. It. Then play other things in similar vein. Yep, make things up. Play time and then go into the exercise without losing flow and come back to time. Use your imagination to expand the notes musically. Continue until you are fully through the book. Whenever you play, keep the two and four on the hat, and the four on the floor with the BD. Patience is required. For proof of this approach being a successful one, go to any video of Steve Gadd, Steve Smith, Steve Jordan… any Steve that is a pro, Ha! Check out their hi-hat foot. Yep, they are using that heel on their left foot to fundamentally assist their timing and groove. The secret to this book (and another that I’ll mention next week) is what is happening with your feet. You must become automatic with your feet being cement solid, as if another person is playing those 4 on the floors and 2 & 4s.
Q. “Oh, I can play that exercise now, in fact I’ve been playing to records and am jamming great with my band! Why should I take the time to involve my feet with such boring, stupid exercises?”
A. When you get good enough to begin playing with professional players, you will likely have begun to hear microseconds of time. If you want to be able to play with that pro level of timing, you will need your feet to help you through the storms that can happen on the bandstand and in the studio. This book and the next one, when studied this way, will teach you mild versions of independence and most importantly insist that your feet are in the game.
Writing about technical exercises is my least favorite thing to do, perhaps as much as I disliked learning some of those same exercises when I was a kid. But now I am forever grateful that I suffered through them. They are part of my foundation. You are invited to join the party! Next week will be about the book that is pictured here. It is kind of a graduate course to Ted Reed’s “Syncopation” study.
I am very interested to know if this topic is of interest to you and if not. Please get in touch and and comment.