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Serving drummers and percussionists since 1996.

The first question I am asked by young students is how they can improve their hands as quickly as possible. It's usually asked in that raw naivete that wrongly drives much of the interest in "sport drumming," but it's a good question regardless of intentions.

One of the best ways I know to do this is to grab a metronome and work out of a grid system. Grid systems are exactly what they sound like: Systematic grids that attempt to capture the totality (sometimes referred to as permutations) of a specific phrase. They are typically a series of continuous notes -- eighths, eighth-note triplets and sixteenths most commonly -- with accents that shift to provide emphasis and challenge the player's control. A single grid can have hundreds of applications depending on the player's knowledge of the rudiments and creativity.

The primary benefit of learning through grids is the systematic demand for control and discipline. A secondary benefit is they introduce beginner and intermediate level players to over-the-bar phrases, and train the ear to a better understanding of meter in general. Play these well and your sense of time and control will exponentially improve!

Below are two grids I have used for more than 20 years. Here are some beginning ideas on how to apply these grids:

  1. Play alternating strokes right-hand lead
  2. Play alternating strokes left-hand lead
  3. Play all the notes on the right hand
  4. Play all the notes on the left hand
  5. Play a drag in place of the accent
  6. Add a drag after the accent
  7. Play double-strokes over the unaccented notes (these double strokes should be twice the value of the notation)
  8. Play a flam in place of the accent
  9. Play a flam in place of the accents and add a drag over each flam
  10. Impose double strokes over the grid (i.e. double strokes as single strokes, including the accents even when they come on the back end of a double stroke!)
  11. Impose paraddidles over the griddles (again, accents still required regardless where they fall)
  12. Play the gride on one hand while playing your favorite clave rhyhtm as a rim click on the other hand
  13. Make up your own rules!
16th-note pattern 1 (Groupings of 4s and 5s)
12/8 eighth notes (Groupings of 3s and 4s)

Some things to keep in mind as you work on these:

  • START SLOWLY. Even if you can whip through these exercises at 144 BPM from the start, the benefit is in the applications, not the speed at which you can play this. These exercises about mastering control, not speed. Make your strokes fluid, relaxed, comfortable. The high-end result will be improved endurance and execution.
  • Learn the pattern before advancing. Hearing it is tantamount to execution.
  • These are best practiced while keeping time with your left foot on your hi-hat, bass drum, or both! But a foot should always be keeping time, even if it's just tapping on the floor. It's very important to hear these patterns played against the pulse, whether it be quarters or eighths.
  • Make sure there is a sharp distinction between your accented and unaccented notes. Accents should *snap* and the unaccented notes are mezzo piano, just a step above grace notes. You won't benefit without this understanding. However, avoid exaggerated whipping action for the accents. Keep your arms comfortable by your side, your fingers loose, and your hands in a relatively stable position at all times.

Matt Self

Matt Self is a freelance writer and drummer in Phoenix, Arizona. His articles have been published in over 100 magazines and newspapers. He has been a working musician in Arizona since 1989.

Matt has been an active Drummer Cafe community member since March 2002.