Introduction To Practicing Around Something
One way to achieve learning a new drum riff or motif is to practice related exercises – not the actual figure itself.
The triple (or 3) stroke roll will be the example used to introduce the method of "practicing around something".
They say that when one enters an institute of higher learning one begins to be aware of "how" they study. In my drum practicing sessions, I have discovered that I learn new things not by constant drilling of the actual beat or fill I want to master, but in practicing figures related to it. I have found this method to be effective in other ways as well, such as combating boredom, opening the mind, and gaining all-around skill as a drummer.
How to Begin Learning the Triple Stroke Roll Physically and Emotionally
It seemed impossible. Yet upon further reflection, I realized that recently I'd been "naturally" leaning that way, for example doing one handed 4-stroke fills on the floor tom.
I drew upon my childhood experience when first learning the double stroke roll. My stick held high, I let it fall on the practice pad for a 3-stroke bounce. Then, I followed with the other hand. I kept the stick grip and hands very loose with the stroke not much controlled, because in the very beginning it is the bounce, and the feel of the bounce which matters most.
I sought to achieve 3 individual goals which made one large whole:
1. Maintain the feel of the triple bounce
2. With each hand
3. While maintaining as much as possible a consistent rhythm
You should be OK with and accept small goals, when learning something brand new.
Half of our problems will be solved if we are patient with ourselves and desire (or at least accept) a humble goal for that particular moment. Cultivating this kind of attitude is extremely important, because it alone can make us not quit playing. It's easy to enjoy playing when we have the skill to be able to play. But, as you already know, then there is the other 85% of our musical life. It is our business to make the practicing enjoyable.
The only road I know toward that is to accept the awkward beginning process, and middle stage of not-quite-there-yet.
Another way of looking at it during the awkward and middle stages, is to suspend having expectations of yourself regarding your ultimate goal. It's a rather tricky balance, because we do want to keep our eyes on the prize. When you're fixing the leaky pipes or bumming out at your day job, that's the perfect time to indulge in mental practice, seeing your beacon-goal shining and beckoning you on. A great attitude too, during practice - but during practice I encourage you to squelch that agitation and impatience which only saddens and frustrates you and prevents you from slowing down and doing the work you know you need to do in order to gain your prize.
Through acceptance, I have found increased enjoyment with those learning stages, and enjoyment of hearing and executing riffs, beats and rudiments done very slowly at the awkward stage, and at mid tempo not-quite-there-yet stage.
Examples of 3 Stroke Figures
Practicing around something means to look at the figure itself in multiple ways. The 3 stroke figure can be written or thought of:
1. In 8th notes like this: (notation example 1 & 2)
2. In straight 16th notes (notation example 1 e &)
3. In triplets (notation example)
4. In a modified drag ruff (notation ex.)
5. An inverted modified drag ruff (notation ex.)
6. A straight 16th note figure ala William Tell Overture (1 & ah)
7. A swung shuffle
Numbers 4-7 above are in the optional category and may be hindrance to executing the even strokes - I list them because one of you out there may only be able to glom onto an optional way of thinking about it.
Practicing the 3 Stroke Figure Itself
Once you get past the awkward bouncing very slowly, begin focusing on control of the bounce - control, strength, authority. Again, follow alternate hands, set the metronome, and do the following, without changing meter, in 4, 8 or 16 bar phrases, mixing it up according to either what begs for attention, what gives you the best feel, and so on:
* straight 8th notes (1 & 2)
* straight 16th notes (1 e &)
Obviously your metronome will have to be set slow enough to be able to hit those 16th notes. It's important in the beginning and middle stages to return to the slow 8th notes as a home base and check-in for that nice bounce feel. Mixing up the rhythms with triplets is almost dogma for me at this point and I do it with practically everything I practice - continually finding it a challenge
(and fun) to maintain a steady meter. (* See bottom "A Personal Note on Metronome, Enjoyment and Distractions")
Practicing the Above with One Hand
For the triple stroke roll, practicing the bounce in triplets is the figure. Practicing with one hand in triplets is akin to sprinting for a long distance runner -- those short bursts of constant drilling should strengthen you. Back off the tempo once you're aware of shoulders, hands or arms becoming distractingly tight.
OK, this is the point where you are getting close to that magical leap into true multiple-stroke rolling. Go for simultaneous increased speed, control and bounce. Practice the actual figure but first make it easy on yourself. Tight surfaces: high hat closed shut with a firm foot, outer edges of your snare or toms. Give yourself a break, check in at home base with your nice controlled bounce feel, then relax and explore your kit alternate hands, hitting outer edges of toms and snare, hi hat, rims, in straight triplets. Enjoy the sounds and flow, no metronome.
One Handed Related Figures
Practice around the three stroke roll using the following figures (remember to also practice each with alternate sticking - ie begin with the other hand):
Alternate Hand Related Figures
Practice around the 3 stroke roll using the following figures:
(I like the first exercise best, for maintaining the exquisite triplet feel, which also contains its own home base for the bounce because it includes double strokes)
* 1 bar phrase in 16th notes: L L L R R R L L R R R L L L R R
* Triplet figure followed by 2 over 3 8th notes (notation example) LLLRL RRRLR
* Triplet figure followed by 1 count 16th notes (notation example) LLLRLRL RRRLRLR
As always, these can be applied to one surface or multiple drums. And, do use your metronome (more than occasionally).
More than occasionally I regularly have what may sound like a hard-core method but oddly find it relaxing and stimulating at the same time to have that metronome on for a long time. Practicing with no break whatsoever for 15 minutes save an occasional bar or two, is a LONG time, but reckon I keep it going for double and more.
There is no way I would do this if I wasn't practicing around the figure in question, nor if I didn't enjoy doing it.
Sometimes when I need a break, but am in the zen of the moment I'll do 8th notes (1 & 2) but leave silent the "&" of the 2nd count, while I swig my beverage, eat chocolate, etc; I find myself doing whether or not using the metronome. Increasingly I will intentionally take a few minutes to practice while I'm distracted with something else (the hardest is talking to the children) - truly this is practicing around something, and done only for short periods. I always recalled venerable Twin Cities jazz musician Jimmy Hamilton relating that when he was learning to conduct "they had you do it constantly" including while he was talking, walking, etc;
When gigging of course there may be many distractions, so it applies.
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About Donna Dahl
Dahl sings regularly with the St. Augustine Latin Mass Choir of South St. Paul, Mn and is a member of MAS (Mn Association of Songwriters).