|I. Playing Zones (sweet spot)
While the surface of each drumhead makes a pretty large target, the actual playing zones are much smaller. The drums put out the strongest sound if struck two inches from the rim and since tenor music tends to move around the drums a lot, the zones are places as close together as possible to limit the distance the mallets have to travel.
Pictured above are the playing zones for each drum. The red dots show where the right hand plays; the yellow dots show where the left hand plays. As you can see, the path is almost a straight line across the drums and if you look at the drumheads of experienced tenor players, these will be the only spots with any marks on them.
II. Stroke Guidelines
The basis for playing a drum starts with gripping the stick properly. The goal is to get each tenor player playing the same. If everyone grips the stick the same way, and looks the same while playing, we should develop a strong, mature sound as a tenorline. The absolute goal is a beautifully balanced, strong sound.
1. Maintain the grip:
The grip is set up to make playing the drum easier. If you follow the guidelines of the grip precisely, you will improve as a drummer faster than you can imagine. The key is to never sacrifice your grip for anything – to play louder, you think it looks cooler to do it differently, to learn music you neglect the technique so you don’t have to think as much – none of these are good reasons to sacrifice grip, which makes sense because there is never any reason to sacrifice grip. To be very simple, put your fingers where they belong and NEVER LET GO OF THE STICK.
2. Play from the wrist:
While maintaining the grip, you must initiate the stroke from your wrist. If your arm is the first thing to move, this is incorrect. Bend your wrist naturally and turn to the desired height, do not use arm. Then, complete the stroke by returning your wrist to where it started. Do not aid your wrist turn by letting go with your fingers, or by raising your arm. Just let your wrist do the work.
3. Use rebound:
Rebound is a hard concept to understand at first, but is very useful once it is understood. The best way to think of it is like dribbling a basketball. When dribbling a basketball you do not throw the ball down and stop your hand as the ball comes back up to it. Your hand remains in constant motion, moving with the ball, instead of stopping it, picking it up, and throwing it back down. This is the same idea you will use with your stick. You have to let the stick bounce off of the head and come back up into your hand without stopping it, without taking any fingers off the stick. Because of the tight drumhead and weight of the mallet, getting rebound is easier on tenors than any other drum. This being said, you should be able to grasp this concept fairly quickly.
4. Play Hard:
In order to achieve a strong, mature sound, we must play hard using rebound all the time. Play the same way at lower heights as you would at higher heights. Accented notes are exactly the same as unaccented notes; accented notes are just played higher. Really give that some thought because it takes a while to completely grasp that concept.
5. Height of rise consistency:
Height of rise is simply the height that the stick reaches by turning your wrist. It must be consistent in two ways. A single player must be able to reach the same height consistently to develop a mature individual sound. Secondly, each player must be consistent with height of rise in regards to everyone else’s height of rise. Each person must turn their wrist to the same height in order to achieve an overall clean, tight sound. The heights will be 3”, 6”, 9”, 12”, 15”, 18”.
6. Control the opposite (resting) stick:
This has two applications – look and sound. While playing longer phrases with only one hand, the other hand must remain under control and in its position. This is so everyone looks the same, which is crucial in this activity. Also, it will improve the attack of the hand that is resting. If everyone starts from the same position, there is a better chance that everyone will hit the drum at the same time. To sum up, just don’t let the hand that isn’t playing, float out of position.
It is as simple as that. Relax. Relax everything as you play. Relax your body and your mind. If you think too much while you play it will show with choppy, anxious looking strokes. As you play, especially as you get faster, your body will naturally want to tense up. Use your mind to fight that urge because it is the opposite of what you want to do. As you get faster you want to relax more so you can move easier. If you tense up, your hands will slow down. Just relax.
III. Types of Strokes:
There are two types of strokes that we will use to play the drum. These are Legato and Staccato. However, the stroke which will be used the vast majority of the time is Legato.
Legato – There are many terms that go along with the legato stroke. These are rebound, upstroke, and relaxed. It is only achieved by rebounding the stick off of the head without stopping the stick. See Number 3 under the “Stroke Guidelines” section to see how to play a legato stroke.
Staccato – When you play a staccato stroke you will hear terms like downstroke and catch the stick. The only time we will use a staccato stroke is for a darker, more abrupt sound out of the drum. To play a staccato stroke, you project the stick downward through the drumhead and catch it without rebounding the stick. But, like it was stated earlier, we will hardly ever use this stroke.
IV. The Axes of Power
The most direct path will always take the least time and take the least amount of energy. In playing passages around the drum, one must realize that there are two separate motions taking place. Your hands are guiding the mallets along two axes: the X axis and the Y axis.
The X Axis – The X axis is the horizontal axis. Upon this axis the forearms will move the hands around the drums from side to side. The Y axis is the vertical axis. Upon this axis the forearms, wrists and fingers move the mallet straight up and down. Most quad drumming errors are caused by the confusion between these two planes and the lack of maintaining accuracy upon each axis. A quad player should be able to focus on the X and Y axes independently while playing through a phrase.
The Y Axis – The Y axis should be the first priority when playing around the drums. The way to manipulate this axis is by playing a passage on one drum. Some players rely on “around” patterns to get through certain passages. If you can’t play it on one drum, then you certainly won’t be able to play it around the drums with any accuracy. After mastering a passage on one drum, you will be able to play it around the drums with better sound quality, mallet heights and dynamics. A player should be able to focus on the hand’s movement, heights and velocity through the drumheads while playing through any given passage around the quads. The Y axis must not get melded with the X axis in order to play with a consistent quality of sound, good mallet heights and dynamics.
V. Applying the axes to your Stroke
1. One Drum
When playing a passage on one drum, the path of the mallet should be straight up and down. A common mistake is to let the mallet move in an elliptical (oval shaped) motion, especially with the left hand. This can be fixed by watching your hand in the mirror and adjusting your grip to make the mallet move solely along the Y axis (vertically).
2. Around the Drums
When moving from one drum to another, the path of the mallet should be a perfect arc. Below are some guidelines that, if followed, will bring you success in navigating around the drums.
i. Keep height of rise consistent – It is not necessary to change the height of rise to play on two different drums.
ii. Pivot solely from your elbow – do not turn your wrist from side to side to reach other drums, this changes your grip and stroke path and creates an inconsistent sound.
iii. Keep the rest of your body still – you don’t need to throw your shoulders about to play difficult passages. And I promise that it will be easier without the extra movement. Plus you don’t want to look like you are convulsing.
iv. RELAX – this is a common theme throughout the packet because it is so vital to your success as a drummer. It’s pretty simple: if you are tens