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A Novel Approach to Teaching and Learning Rhythm

In the first installment of this series, I told the story of my personal struggle (as a young person) with learning to read and play rhythms. Later, through the experience of teaching elementary school and giving private drum lessons, I created a method for learning/teaching rhythm that uses the concept of fractions and least common denominator. I spent time teaching my students the building blocks of rhythm (instead of assuming that the students will somehow understand this abstract concept intuitively) and discovered that every student, both young and old, benefited.

Drum students come to me with a wide range of expectations and experiences, but they normally share one goal: they want to learn how to play the drumset. Younger students often don’t see the value in all of this “building blocks of rhythm” stuff. Furthermore, their desire to immediately learn the drumset is often contrary to their parents’ financial reality. A parent might tell their child, “If you practice on a regular basis (and you clean all the bathrooms for the next four years), you’ll earn the right to have a drumset.”

Drum teachers often get caught in the crossfire between parent and student. In my drum book, Drumscapes, I offer a solution that appeases both parties, an exercise called “The Walking Thing.” The Walking Thing can be played on a drumset, but can just as easily be played with a practice pad and tapping feet on the floor. Parents see this as a logical stepping stone to purchasing a drumset, while the student enjoys the sensation of using all four limbs to accomplish a challenging exercise.

The Walking Thing is a great warm-up that combines coordination (and use of an ostinato), sticking practice, and using the Rhythm Chart in 4/4 time (see Part 1) with experience in counting out loud, deciphering notehead locations on a staff (in this case, bass drum, hi-hat, and snare drum), and playing a measure a certain number of times (four repetitions).

Note: Playing the Walking Thing also affords you the chance to focus on efficient technique of your hands and feet.

The Walking Thing

If the Walking Thing is played with both feet at the same time on beats 1, 2, 3, and 4, this exercise is then called the "Hopping Thing."

The Hopping Thing

If one foot or the other (either the bass drum by itself or the hi-hat by itself) is played on beats 1, 2, 3, and 4, then this exercise is called the "Kicking Thing."

Note: This is a great teachable moment to differentiate between the "chick" sound and the open hi-hat sound.

The Kicking Thing

For a greater challenge, a combination of quarters, eighths, and 16th notes is played with an ostinati such as the Walking Thing.

Ostinato example

The next installment of "It's All About Rhythm" will introduce mixing eighth notes and 16th notes within one beat and what this looks like mathematically.


Andy Ziker

Andy Ziker is a teacher and professional drummer in the San Jose, California area. He has authored several instructional books, including Drum Aerobics, Daily Drum Warm-Ups, and Drumset for Preschoolers, and The Jazz Waltz.