Here is an exercise I’ve been using to help me work on my uptempo ride technique. Using this method, rather than randomly speeding up and slowing down to work on your speed, you’ll have a way to systematically and gradually move in and out of the uptempo pattern while maintaining a pulse. By doing so, you can work towards a specific tempo goal for your uptempo ride pattern and take methodical steps to get there, while simultaneously working on your groove. Sound confusing? Let me explain.
The exercise starts at one specific tempo, and ultimately doubles it (that is the uptempo part). On the way to doubling the original tempo, you superimpose six over four so you have a middle step tempo wise to getting there. Once you get comfortable moving back and forth between these three versions of the ride pattern, you’ll have a useful tool that allows you to get some rest from the uptempo pattern. The exercise will also allow you to hear how your phrasing and articulation sound at three different tempos that are all based mathematically on the original “slow” tempo.
I usually use a metronome when I work on this, and I suggest you do the same. The trickiest part is the superimposition of six over four. The way to think of this is to use quarter note triplets as the new pulse and then use that quarter note triplet pulse to play the ride pattern. You’ll see that pretty clearly in the PDF of the exercise. When you get to the uptempo portion, you’ll see that it is written as sixteenths, which is the “correct” interpretation of the phrase at a faster tempo (ie…bpm of at least 280).
In order to get started, figure out your current maximum tempo for the ride cymbal pattern and divide that number in half. That will be your beginning tempo for the exercise. Here is the PDF of the exercise for you to download and take to the practice room: Uptempo Ride Exercise 1 PDF
By the way, I got the idea for this from a ride cymbal exercise that John Riley included in his DVD, “The Master Drummer.” In his exercise, John starts with the ride pattern and works up to a quadrupled version of the time….great exercise….and a great DVD.
I went to a drum lesson on Monday. It had been six months since my last one, which felt like a long time to me, especially since I’ve been spending almost all of my practice time on a single skill: my jazz ride cymbal technique.
My first lesson with my teacher–the great John Riley–was in January of 2010 (for more on this, see my previous post, “How To Blaze The Ride Cymbal”), and this lesson on a Monday in May of 2011 was my fifth on the topic. We’ve talked about a lot of great drumming topics, but my focus has been the ride cymbal. Ride, ride, ride. After all, what makes the groove happen for a jazz drummer? Yup. What’s more important than the groove? Right, nothing. What is the thread through history that links great jazz drummers? I would argue that one of the most important skills…perhaps the most important…is a swinging ride cymbal groove.
After showing my teacher where I was at with this method, it was clear that I had made significant progress towards my goal. My motion looked good, my triplet phrase was solid, and I could play faster more easily (we’re talking 300 bpm’s plus….the ultimate goal being quarter note equals 350). And yet, there was still one little tweak I could make that would make my technique even better, which I have already started to work on and which I feel is going to make a difference. In fact, I think it might be the last piece of the puzzle. This little detail? My pinky and ring finger were sometimes coming off of the stick when the stick bounced up from the drop motion that occurs on beats “two” and “four.” By letting my fingers come off the stick, I am losing some control and some efficiency from the method, which is all about fingers creating those last two notes (the “let” and the “one” or the “let” and the “three”).
I have spent several hundred hours working on this. Yup. You read this correctly. Several hundred hours, and I need even more to get this the way it needs to be. “Several hundred hours!!??” Is what I imagine some readers might be thinking, “is this guy insane!!??” Or do I just suck? Or both.
Well, you might question my sanity based on my career choice. I’ll give you that. But what we’re really talking about here is achieving a high level of musical skill, and what is required in order to do so.
In fact, I questioned my ability and sanity too. So when I saw John for my lesson, I explained how hard I had been working and where I was at. I was concerned about how much time I had spent because I couldn’t play at 350 with ease yet. One part of me thought I should be doing this perfectly at any required tempo by now. I’d already spent so much time and worked so hard. But when I explained my regimen and demonstrated where I was with the technique, he didn’t bat an eyelash, he didn’t tell me I was not making enough progress, or ask me what the hell I’d been doing with my time. In fact, he acknowledged that I was allocating my efforts correctly, and pointed out the thing he noticed (see above) that I could improve. So, OK, I thought. I’m not screwing up. This stuff just takes time and patience.
So, to the point, acquiring the skill to play an instrument well takes a lot of hard work over a long period of time and the help of a good teacher for guidance. I am lucky that I have the help I need to get me where I want to go, but none of that would matter if I wasn’t willing to put in the hard work.
Patience. That is key. You’re building something and it takes time. For a couple of years, I lived in an apartment building on the water’s edge in Queens, in a little neighborhood called Long Island City. There was a lot of development going on there, and right outside my window was a large empty lot. A few months after I moved in, they started building another apartment building there. For most of the time that that building was going up outside my window, I was going to my drum studio every day, practicing. At the time, I had figured out a way to fund myself so that I could practice 35 hours a week…..it was my job. I was working on something, trying to get my skill level higher. I was trying to become a better drummer….I was building my own structure of drumming skill. It took about two years for that building to go up and I practiced about 4,000 hours during those two years. Every day when I came home I would think about how I was building my drumming skill just like they were building that apartment complex. Now, I may not be as good as I want to be, but I’m on my way. And it’s all because of patience and practice.
RIDE CYMBAL TECHNIQUE: MY OBSESSION
Since I’ve been obsessed with jazz ride cymbal technique for the better part of a year, I thought I should write and talk about the little journey I’ve been taking. This year alone I spent several hundred hours working on this technique (at least 400). I’m embarrassed to mention how many hours I spent prior to this year working on ride cymbal technique using a method that I now believe is absolutely not the best method.
DISCOVERY OF A WEAKNESS
Early this year, sometime in mid to late January 2010, I took a lesson with John Riley who pointed out to me that my jazz ride cymbal technique could use some improvement. I could play tempos ranging from slow to about 300 bpm, but i was working too hard, I was using a lot of Moeller technique (which I now believe is unnecessary and even incorrect) and although deep down I suspected that something might be missing from my method, I wasn’t sure what.
THE PROBLEM WITH MY ORIGINAL RIDE TECHNIQUE
As I mentioned, John zeroed in immediately on my ride cymbal technique as a place for improvement. What was I doing wrong? Well, let me explain to you what my technique was like when we met.
My original technique was based on french grip, with my fulcrum clearly between my pointer finger and thumb. The fulcrum was as loose as it could be to allow the stick to bounce. I was using a wrist throw to launch the stick towards the cymbal on beats two and four, and the ensuing two notes of the ride cymbal pattern (the skip note and then the following downbeat) were created solely from the bouncing of the stick following the wrist throw. It actually sounded pretty good. But there was a lack of control and there was a strong accent on two and four. There was also an upper limit to how fast I could go. There were tracks I heard that were faster than 300 bpm and no matter how hard I worked, I could not get this technique to get me past quarter note equals 300. Plus, I was working pretty hard to achieve 300 bpm….swinging my arm using Moeller….pumping away….something was not right.
The control issue was an important limitation to this inferior technique. Because I relied completely on bounce for the skip note and the following downbeat within the ride pattern, I was a slave to gravity. This was particularly an issue at slower or mid tempos. At those tempos, the phrase is king. If the triplet phrase is not perfect, the pattern will not swing as hard as it should. Well, how could I control the phrase properly? Impossible with the old method.
In addition, the quarter note pulse, so important for the feel of the music, gets undermined by the strength of the two and four accents that are generated by the wrist throw. JR pointed out to me that the method we’re about to examine below takes care of all of these problems: control of the phrase, quarter note pulse and speed.
HOW THE CORRECT TECHNIQUE WORKS
If you’ve heard Tony Williams, Buddy Rich, Art Taylor or many other great jazz drummers blaze at speeds faster than 300 bpm you’ve no doubt thought, “how the hell can they play that fast!!!???” I know I did. OK, well, here’s the answer. Check out this video below. This is the technique John showed me and it works. I promise you it works.
See how it works? Doesn’t it make sense? I sure wish I knew about this technique earlier. It took me most of my practice time this year to really get this together. I completely threw my old method out the window and started from scratch using this technique.
TIPS ON GETTING THIS TECHNIQUE TO WORK FOR YOU
Here are several thoughts to help you on your way to mastering this technique.
PRACTICE BOTH SLOW AND FAST.
As you probably know, at faster tempos, the ride pattern will flatten out and be played more like eighth notes than like triplets. Therefore if you spend too much time practicing only really fast….because you are obsessed with the speed at which you heard your idols play the ride cymbal (this is where I was at: obsessed with being able to blaze!!), your triplet phrase could suffer.
Let me explain. Below the “blazing” tempos, the ride cymbal swings when it is played as a triplet phrase. But you need to practice that phrase to lock it in and be able to play it thoughtlessly. I spent too much time practicing the fast tempos and my slower tempo pattern suffered because of it. I remember going back to see John and although I had made real progress with the technique and the correct motion, fulcrum (or lack of fulcrum….there really is no fulcrum in this method) etc…. the mechanics were on their way, but the triplet phrase had become tight at the slower tempos because I had spent so much time working on speed and not enough time working on the correct, swinging triplet feeling phrase that you need at the mid to slower tempos. Don’t make my mistake! Spend equal amounts of time working on both slow/mid and fast tempos.
BE VERY PATIENT
Of course, spend as much time practicing as you can, but progress will be made over time through systematic and consistent practice. Stay really relaxed, make sure your arm hangs loosely from your shoulder and stick with it. Remember, it took me a year to get this where I wanted to get it. (OK, well, I’m still working on it, but I can play 320 bpm for extended periods now and that should get me pretty far…..I still am struggling to play 350 consistently and for extended periods….I can play it, but I can’t keep it clean and hold it for 15 minutes……)
USE YOUR FINGERS AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
One thing that took me a while to understand is that your BACK fingers….your ring finger and your pinky….are strong! Use all of your fingers in conjunction with each other and don’t ignore these back fingers…..this will help you greatly.
YOU DON’T NEED MOELLER FOR THIS TECHNIQUE
I was under the impression that you need Moeller to get a fast ride cymbal beat to blaze. Look at the video. Do you see any Moeller here? I don’t! You don’t need it. It’s all wrist and fingers and a little arm.
THERE IS NO TRICK!
There is no trick and there is no mental game to play to help you with this. Nothing but hard work using the correct technique will get you where you want to go on this. Just work. Plain old hard work.
The last thing I want to say is that if you are serious about moving forward as a jazz drummer, go see John Riley. He is the best teacher I’ve ever had. Not to mention he is a wonderful player. If you haven’t heard him play please do so asap….sick.
That’s about all I have on this right now. I will keep you posted as I progress….the next monster I have to conquer is the blazing five note patterns a la Tony W. I’ll let you know how that goes!
I hope this is helpful. If you have any questions please feel free to ask. You can get this to work for you….just go for it.