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Stickings Within Stickings
Feeling "centered" while drumming is a vital part of performing. The more centered you are, the better able you are to control time, feel, independence, and all the nuances that go into a successful performance. Obviously, the more endurance and control over your technique you have, the easier it is to achieve that centered feeling. There's no denying that having good chops helps, and there are countless ways to achieve better chops. However, the following concept seems to give me something extra.
"Stickings Within Stickings" is a warm-up calisthetic concept I came up with that has given me some immediate benefits. The basic idea is to play different stickings (single and double strokes, paradiddles, etc.), but play them as accents within unison strokes. For instance, example 1 below would be a simple series of single strokes (RLRL) except for the fact that the RLRL strokes are now accents within a unison sticking (both hands playing at the same time). The idea here is to make sure your hands are hitting exactly together (no flamming), even though one hand is accenting at the same time the other is ghosting. When done properly, this type of exercise not only gives your chops a great workout, but establishing a "center" in your playing.
At first you should start out slowly, playing only unaccented unison strokes and then adding an accent every eight notes, as in example 2a; then accent every four notes as in example 2b; then every two notes as in example 2c. Then go back and play example 1.
Example 3 is doubles (RRLL) applied the "stickings within stickings" way.
Example 4 is a RRRL sticking.
Next, try playing a paradiddle (RLRR LRLL), as in example 5.
You can apply any number of stickings to this concept. By using a book such as George Lawrence Stone's classic "Stick Control" as a sticking combination resource, you should be able to really challenge your chops and give yourself much more facility when playing. The key is to relax and make sure that each hand is doing what it's supposed to be doing. Start by playing each exercise slowly. Make sure the accented notes are loud and the ghost notes are soft. Try to play cleanly and pricisely, and listen to the sound you're producing.
After you've played in unison, go back to just playing some regular singles, doubles, paradiddles, etc. See if you feel more centered, and if your execution is more powerful and open-sounding.
One of the more practical applications of this type of practice is within grooves such as a two-handed shuffle as in example 6.
Another way to apply this technique is to play different counter-rhythms, such as the ones found in exercises 7 and 8.
To take this approach as little further, try playing the accented strokes as dead strokes (pressing the sticks into the head). This gives you a different type of control and a different character of sound. Next, break up these exercises around the drumset by putting each hand on a different drum or cymbal. And why not try these types of exercises while cross-sticking around the drumset?
Eventually, you should get to the point where you can spontaneously create these types of patterns and add them to your playing vocabulary. Be creative and have fun!
Images and Information from Modern Drummer February 1999, pages 134 & 135