Independence Exercises!

Oh man. It’s time to talk about every drummer’s favorite aspect of practicing: developing limb independence! You know when you sit down at the kit after a hard day and you just can’t wait to tear into some slow, methodical, awkward grooves?

Listen, I’m sorry, I don’t like writing about this stuff as much as you don’t like practicing it, but if you want to unlock your full potential as a drummer, you will unfortunately have to put some time into independence studies.

I’m underselling it tremendously and I probably shouldn’t immediately try and discourage you from learning this stuff, so I’ve tried to include some grooves that are actually fun and sound half decent.

Independence is essentially being able to confidently control each limb, regardless of what the other is doing. A good way to approach that is to tackle the conventions of standard rhythms, like how we’re used to the kick and snare landing on 1 & 3 and 2 & 4, respectively.

This simple exercise is for players who are completely new to this kind of thing. You might be surprised at how difficult it can be to move the kick drum to beats 2 & 4 – it kind of feels like those few episodes of Friends in which the titular friends swapped apartments – just awkward and wrong.

This classic way to play this kind of groove is to get the feet working first. Play through a few bars of foot quavers, then add hands. It’s irritating and tricky, because the groove starts on the left foot, which will mess with your brain from time to time.

This is one of the fun ones and it’s a take on a mambo feel that I had to learn for an exam many years ago. As with the last example, it helps to get the feet going first before you add the hands into the equation. Oh, by the way, 200 BPM is pretty much the minimum tempo goal you should have for this groove.

Mambo grooves are great for breeding limb independence because of their in-built traditions. In mambo, you’ve always got the feet keeping things steady, while the right hand tends to play a version of a classic Latin rhythm on the ride bell. It’s one of the few genres where the snare rarely takes centre stage, which makes a nice change.

My old tutor once gave me a crash course in limb independence by telling me to “play a triangle and a square,” which was confusing, because we were scheduled to be studying drum kit, rather than percussion (also, there’s no such instrument as a square). He clarified that I was supposed to play single strokes around the kit in a confusing rhythm that would overlap from time to time.

So, “triangle” meant snare, high tom and hi-hat, while “square” meant snare, high tom, mid tom and floor tom. Obviously, there’s only 7 beats there, so constant single strokes means each hand won’t consistently hit in the same order. It’s somewhat difficult to verbalise, so I’ve attempted to notate it.

To restate, the left hand plays a triangle while the right hand plays a square and hopefully that makes a lick of sense to you now.

This is one of those exercises that really has no place in a song or piece of music, but exists merely to train your brain. Even when played perfectly, it sounds pretty bad, from a music appreciation stand point.

Okay, I’m really, really, really sorry about this one and hey, if you want to skip this exercise entirely, that would be perfectly acceptable. It’s a waking nightmare, there’s literally no other way to look at it. I had to learn this rhythm as part of a rudimental study a few years ago and I wouldn’t wish that task on my worst enemy (but here I am, telling you to do the same…).

I’ll try and break this down as simply as I can. The right hand is playing triplet crotchets (4th triplets?) on the ride cymbal – terminology aside, that’s the easy part. The right foot and left hand are playing paradiddles between the kick and snare as triplet quavers (8th triplets?). We all know the paradiddle so well that taking it out of the quaver/semi-quaver comfort zone is daunting and surprisingly difficult.

You have very little to latch onto in terms of muscle memory and instinct for sustaining the tempo of this groove – counting 123 123 123 123 for triplets in a 4/4 piece is usually easy, but with the “1” falling on a hand or foot seemingly arbitrarily, coupled with your knowledge of how a paradiddle should sound and fall in a bar, it becomes troublesome to say the least.

It’s a cliché, but you almost have to forget everything you know about paradiddles and triplets. Then you have to add the right hand on top, which should be simple, but it’s far removed from that.

Anything else I can add regarding this rhythm would be overkill, I think. Good luck.