Four basic drum set limb coordination tips

Below are four basic and proven drum set limb coordination tips.

1 – Count Aloud and Understand Subdivisions: There is one whole note, two half notes and four (4) quarter notes in one measure of 4/4 time. Wholes and Quarter Notes are both counted “1,2,3,4″ in a steady rhythm. Half notes are counted 1-2. Remember, it takes two half notes to make one measure of 4/4 time. There are eight (8) eighth notes in one measure of 4/4 time. Eighths are counted “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and”, in a steady rhythm exactly twice as fast as you counted the 1/4 (quarter) notes. Double the speed of eight notes are 1/16th (sixteenth) notes, and they are counted “1 e and ah, 2 e and ah, 3 e and ah, 4 e and ah. Counting subdivisions aloud or to yourself while playing helps your timing and understanding of how song structure and basic notation works.

2 – Four-limb coordination daily exercise: The exercise that follows is easier to play if you’re sitting at a drum set, but if that’s not possible, just grab a pair of drumsticks and a metal folding chair and place it on a hard floor. (Any tiled or hardwood floor is ideal.) If you’re using a chair, play on the right chair leg for your cymbal, the left leg for your snare, tap your right foot on the floor for your bass drum, and tap your left on the floor for your hi-hats. Start by playing quarter notes with your right foot floor or bass drum. While your right foot is doing that steadily, play eighth notes against it with your left foot hi-hat or left foot floor. This is two-way coordination. Now play eighth note triplets with your left hand chair leg or stick against the other two ongoing foot patterns. This is three-way coordination. Next comes the tricky part. With your right hand, play whole and half notes on the ride or right leg chair. Evolve that to more intricate rhythms that don’t copy any of the other three limbs’ ongoing patterns. Your four limbs are now playing different subdivisions all at the same time. Cool.

3 – Sight-reading quickens muscle memory: Start with practicing short 1-4 measure coordination-patterns on the drums while reading notated drum chart music. If you do this, you will progress rapidly. It is easy to learn sequences of two or three “limb-combinations” and store them in your muscle memory. Then, when you attempt longer patterns, your muscle memory will help you out and it won’t feel impossible.

4 – Timing is everything: Play along to favorite bands’ and artists’ songs and with a metronome using earphones. Break those songs down into smaller compartments or sections at first. Learn each section at a time before progressing to the next part.


Getting back to basics

“It seems there are too many drummers whose work is of rough-and-ready variety and whose technical proficiency suffers in comparison with that of the players of other instruments.
– George Lawrence Stone

This week I challenged myself as a drum set instructor to then challenge my students to get off the drum set and sit at a snare drum for 45 minutes with a notated book on stick control and rudiments.

Many great drum books came to mind for this lesson, including the legendary “Stick Control” snare drum book I studied as a kid originally published in 1963 by the great George B. Stone. Today, I particularly enjoy teaching  “Reading Syncopation and Beyond” by Joel Rothman published in 2010.

I selected Page 32 from Rothman’s book as a starting point to gauge where my students are at in terms of stick control, dynamics, rudimentary abilities and general knowledge of musical terms, theory and chart markings.

What a shock this lesson came to many of my students, despite me reinforcing the basics at every lesson. I discovered they just are not putting enough emphasis or time into mastering Rudiments, which are the language of drums, as well as sight-reading and basic stick control methods that separate a good drummer from a poor one.

From just one page of Rothman’s book, my students learned how to count most all the subdivisions, got a primer on all musical notation, dotted notes, learned many of the dynamic markings and names as well as repeats, Codas, accents, and crescendos,  and explored different time signatures. From one single page! And you know what? After 5- 10 minutes of hard work and listening, they all started to smile and really enjoyed the refresher course. I made tem not only count the measures where it was displayed, but also the bars where no counting numeration was listed.

If you want to drastically improve and reinforce your own drumming, I highly recommend you taking the time each week to master one page for either of these books. It’s worth the investment in time.

– Tim Kane is a professional drum set instructor, performer and drum circle facilitator.