Obviously our goal when playing music should be to play with emotion, feel and passion, but we also can not lose sight of the consistent space between each of our notes. I have heard many players play and when the energy and excitement builds on stage, they forget about this concept and just let go of the focus and discipline needed. It takes time and a lot of gig hours to learn how to find a balance between emotion and focus.
This is where our years of practice with the metronome come into play. The metronome is a funny thing. It can be very fun to work with, or we can make it a huge chore and defy it forever. The reality of the metronome is this: if you ever want to do any recording or play bigger shows with bigger bands, you need to be able to play with a metronome. I don’t mean just play; I mean make the machine feel like it is part of the groove.
There are so many ways to use the metronome: to play through stick control, practice grooves at different tempos, etc. I have found a great way to use this device and work on several different elements of our playing at the same time. I like to call these kinds of exercises “compound” exercises, as they compound several important things into one lesson.
The concept is this: when we work with the metronome we might find we speed up or slow down going into or coming out of a fill. This is a transition. We also might find that our tempo moves when we go from 1/8 notes to 1/16 notes and back, also another transition. We might find when we move from one sticking pattern to another there is a shift. Again, another transition.
I tell all of my students, “No tempo tantrums. A song shouldn’t be a medley of tempos.” The following exercises work on these areas and then some. The “fill” part is based on the following 1/8 and 1/16 note pattern with the different stickings throughout.
These can be played at a tempo range of 60 to 110. Remember, when we double up the notes (1/16) we also double up the sticking. Once you can play through these at a nice even tempo we will add a two-measure beat in front of each line. This beat is simple but really allows us to lock into the pulse of the metronome. This exercise is not about playing fast; it is about consistency and paying attention to our tendencies in the transitions. Here is the beat:
Stickings 1, 2 and 3 should be relatively easy but going from 1/8 to 1/16 in 4, 5 and 6 might take some getting used to. The idea is to memorize these stickings as they will make up a lot of our drumming vocabulary. Sticking 3 is a paradiddle and 4, 5, 6 are the three variations of this sticking.
Once you can work each line separately, you can play the whole thing as an exercise. Two measures of beat 1, two measures of beat 2, etc. You notice that each line we are now playing is a four measure pattern. I will always phrase in two, four and eight measure patterns as most of the music we play works like this.
Another way to work on this is to shorten the exercise and play one measure of the beat and then just the 1/16 note measure of the stickings. This cuts to the chase and works on one area that might need attention.
We can also start working on combinations of the stickings. Play the two-measure beat and then two measures of 1/16 notes with two different stickings. It will be as follows: the first measure of 1/16 notes will be sticking 3 and the second measure will be sticking 4. Just like this:
You can start mixing and matching all of the stickings together. This will be easier once you have them memorized. The stickings I have used are based on page one of Stick Control (exercise 1 to 8). You can look through the book and find hundreds of other ways to work with this idea. Remember to concentrate on the tempo, watch all of the transitions and have fun. This exercise can be a blast and you will definitely benefit from working on your transitions.
Jayson Brinkworth is a professional musician, educator, author and owner of Music In The House based in Regina, Canada. Find him online here.