Speed versus Rhythm

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When practicing drumming exercises (or learning them for the first time) should a drummer start them slowly and build the tempo up gradually until they can play them quickly and smoothly? Or should the rudiment be structured in a rhythmic grid to give the drummer a more contextual sense of how the rudiment fits into the phrase of a piece of music?

A pretty easy question you would think, right?!

Well, I’m not exactly sure if we could get all pipe band drummers to agree on this one. Let’s take doubles for example.  Should they be learnt slowly and built up steadily into an open roll? Or should they be learnt in crotchets, then quavers, then semi-quavers and so on. (And of course quarter notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes etc. for all you numerical folk!)?

Personally, I was taught to start them slowly and gradually build them up in tempo.  This was fun, because as a beginner I could track my progress almost daily and then push myself to go a little faster. Although, there does comes a time where you start to make only incremental improvements as your stick position or technique physically hinders your progress.  This is where the danger comes – a student might get miffed with the rudiment side of things because they aren’t able to go any faster. So what’s the point in practicing them if they don’t see results (or at least this what a lot of students think at times perhaps?).  The other downside to this way of “mastering” rudiments is that the player gains no understanding of time or rhythm. They become a speed demon, but surely this is not a drummers key role?

The other way of approaching it is to start with a very slow tempo on the metronome and start doubles as crotchets, quavers and so on. This is a great way of understanding the value of time and how the rudiments fits into the metric equation.  This is also a good way of learning to play to a metronome (or constant beat) and allows the student to measure their progress with a metronome BPM count.  I guess the downside to this one is that the student doesn’t get the excitement of building the rudiment up steadily into the closed roll.

Frankly, I think both ways have merit. And in fact, I use both ways with students. Some students grasp to one easier than the other. But I feel it is so important for them to be able to play both.  In my Guide to Pipe Band Drumming Volume 1 – I demonstrate both.

You can choose what works for you. Or maybe you have another method? If so, please do share!

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2 thoughts on “Speed versus Rhythm

  1. When a young student plays a rudiment gradually, their objective is to play as fast as possible. Because of this, I have found that the gradual technique allows for students to skip over what I like to call their “Awkward Tempo”. This is the speed between the comfortable slow pace and the faster double or reaching-buzz movement that has been skipped to reach that faster tempo. I typically teach the gradual increase first and then move them onto the clicktrack to cover that missed ground.

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