So let’s begin with perhaps the most obvious starting point; the hands. This is the one element of this feature that can be heavily influenced by technique, so if you feel that things are uncomfortable and tense and you’re hitting a wall in terms of tempos it could be a sign that the technique side of things could use some attention. If that’s the case any good tutor should be able to offer some help and direction.
We start things off with a classic paradiddle based exercise, which the great Jim Chapin would often use. It features a combination of 6/6/4, with the sixes being made up of double paradiddles and the four being one half of a paradiddle. The half paradiddle means the sticking switches hands in each bar. It’s an effective and more demanding combination of the individual stickings and is excellent for building dexterity between the hands.
One of the key points in developing relaxed speed with the hands is beginning to utilise the fingers. Example 2 is an effective way of playing gradually longer bursts of notes using just the fingers. It begins with three notes per hand, then six, then nine, and finally 12, with the lead hand playing 10 repeats before moving up the next group. From a technical standpoint one thing to look out for is trying to keep the wrist and hand static so that all of the movement of the stick is done by the fingers. To achieve this the example will need to be played above a certain tempo, almost like the tick-over point of an engine.
It’s certainly true that most of us have at some point tried to develop single-stroke rolls speed by playing alternating single-strokes from super-slow to teeth-clenchingly fast. And whilst this can be an effective way of developing speed, always leading with the same hand means there can be an imbalance. The following combinations could be regarded as the 7, 5 and 3-stroke ruffs and involve the single-strokes moving hand-tohand. On paper they look simple enough, but they can be deceptively challenging to play comfortably and at speed. However, once mastered the synchronising of single-strokes should feel much easier.
This four-bar exercise is one that Simon Phillips sometimes breaks out at drum clinics and it is particularly excellent for developing speed and stamina. It starts off straightforward enough with a bar of single-strokes, then a bar of double strokes. Next comes three notes per hand but notice how, in bar 3, this becomes syncopated, meaning we begin the groups of four notes on the last 16th note of bar 3. The left hand then plays the last 16th note of bar four and the first note when the exercise repeats, causing it to switch hands each time.
Our final exercise for the hands has four parts or, rather, interpretations. Essentially, we have four different ways of interpreting the dotted quarter-note based two-bar figure in Example 5.
First we play it as accents in single-stroke eighth-note triplets. Next we double the unaccented notes. The next example uses a six-stroke interpretation, while the final example will sound the same as the double-stroke one but instead uses single-strokes. It should be made clear that each of the interpretations will have a different maximum tempo as the technical demands are very different but with a little work they should really push the speed and fluency with single and double-strokes.