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DIY Triangle Isolation Systems

No matter the instrument’s quality, a triangle is only at it’s best with a good clip.

I recently was reminded of this by none other than Neil Grover.  If you don’t know, Neil Grover is a legendary orchestral musician and a revolutionary teacher and instrument maker.  His YouTube page, GroverProPerc, is a treasure trove of orchestral goodies.

Many companies have clips that are a good balance of price and features, but if price is no problem the Stubbs Triangle Clip is, in my opinion, the very best for one simple reason: Vibration Isolation.


I use these clips a lot, and find I want this level of isolation in other areas of my work as well.  I use triangles and other hanging effects on marching band frames, in musical theatre pits, chamber music, etc., and developed over the past few years an inexpensive way to approach the level of isolation I so value from my Stubbs clips.

The materials are cheap and easy to obtain: Rubber tubing, fishing line, and moleskin. For about $30 you can obtain a lifetime supply.  Rubber tubing is near plumbing supplies in any hardware store, fishing line is available in any sporting goods store. Moleskin is used in shoes for protecting blisters and can be found in any pharmacy or grocery store.


To improve an inexpensive clip like this one, or another mount:

  1. Cut off the current strings
  2. Cut a length of tubing that fits between the two holes in the clip
  3. Tie it to the clip with fishing line (needs to be tight)
  4. Tie an additional line to only the tubing to hold the triangle
  5. Cover the ends of the clip where they touch the stand with moleskin

Fishing line doesn’t always tie like string.  Tying the tubing to the clip with three half-hitches should be fine.  Tying the holder for the triangle is different.  Cut a length that seems too long and pull one end through the tubing.  Hold the two ends together and tie a single knot so you have a loop.  If you can hang a triangle at this point to adjust the length of the knot it’s a good idea.  Tie an additional 1-2 half hitches to lock that knot in place and trim the ends.

To make a hanger for a cymbal stand or hook:

  1. Cut a short piece of tube and tie a hanger as above
  2. Tie another loop long enough to go all the way through with an inch sticking out each side.  Push it through the tubing.
  3. Hang the holder by both loops

These last a long time and seriously improve the sound of a triangle.  They also reduce or eliminate the noise a frame might make from the transferred vibrations of the triangle, which is a major issue with close microphones and rattle-prone marching frames or music stands.

Let me know if this helps you!  I love these kinds of low-cost innovations, and would love to hear about any you came up with as well!


Technique with Choreography

Years ago, as I finished my Masters degree, I spent a lot of time accompanying dance classes.  At the university dance program where I worked I noticed something in particular. Every day, same teachers, same majors, same feedback, BUT in reverse situations.

Ballet or Cunningham technique class:

“Hold your frame/arms/feet like this and don’t break it.  This isn’t choreography class.  This is technique class.”

Choreography class:

“Break your frame/arms/feet like this and express this more.  This isn’t technique class.  This is choreography class.”

At the end of every semester, classes prepared a performance piece to share at an all-program concert/recital.  Each work was a combination of clean technical and expressive choreographed elements, customized to best tell a story of that class’s work over the semester.  It was fascinating to observe.

Not many years later I encountered “The 6 M’s” by Thomas Burritt, “Make a Musical Motion to Match the Musical Moment” in regards to gesture in percussion performance.

What I learned from the dancers and from Dr. Burritt is so simple:  Technique study teaches you so much about your body, about history, about producing a clean motion, an efficient gesture, a basically good tone or effect.  Choreography, however, tells a story.  It captures the attention and leads the observer.

Choreography is not the opposite of technique, it’s the intentional departure from the technique which enhances the story.  A layer added to the foundation.

Especially in solo and small chamber performance, I’m always challenging myself and my students to execute great tone through their technique.  I’m also challenging them and myself to enhance the music with motion that supports the story.  Adding a layer of meaning doesn’t take away from a layer of execution.  It elevates the whole experience.

Iowa All-State Auditions 2017

Here we go again!

This year’s etudes are quite difficult and will take a lot of work.  I’m including more specific strategies to help with certain passages.

Video performances can be found here or included with each section below.

Snare Drum: Cirone, Portraits in Rhythm #38

This piece is based on the orchestral work, Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov.  I strongly recommend getting a recording and listening to the 3rd movement until you can sing along.  Every phrase is based on either the snare drum part from this piece or the melody somewhere else in the orchestra.  The more you know the original the more natural and convincing your phrasing will be.

Dynamics: There are two written dynamics.  mf and p

  • mf: half-way center-to-edge or slightly closer to the rim
  • p: I play this in two locations on the head, one for the majority of the piece, and a lighter sounding spot slightly closer to the rim for the 32nd note measures.

Roll Speeds: The 32nd notes are an open 7-stroke roll, played as a triplet.  The buzz rolls are all 16th notes, mostly 9-strokes.  I play the 16th note rolls in line 3 as single buzzes, which I normally wouldn’t, but it seems to work really nicely.

Grace Notes: Specifics aside, all grace notes need to be noticeably lower in level than the primary notes they’re attached to.  Because this is an etude and not with an ensemble it’s ok to play up a little bit and make the separation of primary and grace notes very clear.

Scheherazade Stuff: There are a few common solutions to the original orchestra part.

  • Last two 8ths in each measure.  Almost every measure ends with two 8ths, which are phrasing forward to the NEXT BAR.  You can hear me emphasize these notes in the recording.
  • 32nd note roll thing.  Starts a the end of line 2.  This is a triplet roll.  There is a slight phrase to it, crescendo through the roll and fall back down through the last two notes as above.  Practice this without the bounces, just as a triplet, then add the roll back in.
  • Really tight drags.  The phrase in line 6 with 16th notes running into a drag takes some planning.  My preferred sticking is RRLRLR R on the 16ths, which leaves time for my left hand to play the drag before the downbeat.  Whatever spacing you use for the tightest drag, use for every drag.
  • Super soft ruffs.  The last four ruffs in the piece get softer and softer.  When first developing this part, play all four ruffs THE SAME and move each one closer to the rim, letting the drum do the dynamics for you.  When you get more confident, begin lowering the dynamic vertically as well.  Between these two methods you should get an impressive soft range over a few week’s practice.

Marimba: Etude #2 by Stan Dahl

This is substantially more difficult than etudes from previous years, especially in terms of rhythm and note accuracy at the marked tempo.  Start slow and be very deliberate about practicing accurately with a metronome.

Primarily this etude is about STYLE.  Style is:

  1. Timing
  2. Accent
  3. Balance

First section: Freely, with expression

Timing: This is a lyrical melody, meaning it conforms to the voice.  After you know the notes, SING the phrases and let your voice and breath tell you where to flex the rhythm.  Practice by first playing 16th notes through the line as a rhythm.  This teaches you what the exact rhythmic pacing is, with no “unintended flexibility” due to rolling alternations.

Accent: There are no written accents.  The line CAN follow the general rule “notes going up get louder, notes going down get softer” and phrase comfortably, however, so an emphasis on the top notes of each phrase is appropriate.

Balance: When the left hand enters as harmony in m5 it’s important to keep the melody from being covered.  Move the mallet in the left hand close to the ropes on the bars to reduce the resonator response so the melody is clearly heard.  In m7 I pull back from the rope a bit when the left hand has a phrase to bring that voice out.

Second Section: Lively

Timing: Totally straight to the metronome.  Never practice this without a metronome.  This is the most challenging section, full of “gotcha” moments.  Be sure the triplets fill up the space they are in and have a smooth, slurred feeling compared to the surrounding 16ths.

Accent: This is in a Caribbean/Latin style, so the off-16th notes often get emphasis.  Many of the phrases begin on an off-16th to highlight this.  Rolls which are accented can be started with the top note, which will give them a little extra “pop”.

Balance:  The dynamics act as voices, almost like playing a reduction of a band arrangement.  Assign contrasting dynamics as voices, and change not only the volume, but the character of sound, especially in m20-25.

Third Section: Relaxed

Timing: Again, straight to the metronome.  I suggest practicing with a soft 8th or 16th note to ensure clean execution of the syncopations.  Cover the quiet metronome as you play so the clicks are only audible in the spaces between notes.

Accent: No marked accents.  A bit of emphasis can be added on the crunchier chord changes.  m32, m37, and m38 are good places to lean slightly on the dissonances.

Balance:  Every note in every chord is evenly balanced.  No emphasis within a chord.

Miscellaneous notes:  These interpretations are demonstrated in the recording.

  • m18 is weird.  Learn it carefully with a metronome.  Soften the roll release on the first note on beat four.  This sets up the phrase beginning as an off-16th pickup into beat one.
  • Rolls in m17, m19, and m24 can release earlier than marked for clarity.  I release them on an 8th or 16th like a hard release a wind player might use.
  • m27-28 is really hard to navigate.  Begin by LIFTING the mallets away very high to avoid getting tangled up near the bars.  Play it totally flat with no accents until it is up to tempo, then add a slight push with the arm on the first note of each grouping. Do not increase the stroke speed to get the accent.
    • The rising line in m28 is an Ab diminished chord with a “gotcha” A at the top
    • Practice this with funny rhythms.  Swing it, group quick bursts of 2 and 3 notes, anything you can do to twist it and force your hands to adapt.  Simply playing it as written over and over will result in very little progress.

Timpani: Etude #2 by Barry Dvorak

A rhythmically unclear piece.  Making these rhythms read properly requires total precision.  Any single pair of “normal” mallets will work.

Drum sizes: I will get some criticism for this, I’m sure, but I believe in my solution.

  • I use the 29/26/23 timpani for the marked pitches AND
  • I use the 32 timpani on the far right next to the 23 for the bottom line of music.

WHY!? Because the primary role of timpani is GOOD TONE.  ALL decisions are about tone.  I have better tone on the bottom line with my hands open and not crossing, as I suspect is the case with almost anyone.  Since I’m not already using my 32, WHY NOT!?  An audition is not the time to be macho, it’s the time to sound your best.

Rolls:  Some terminate on a note, some don’t.

In lines 1, 2, and the bottom line the rolls do not terminate on a note.  These need to end early with a slight lift and a move to the next note.

In lines 3 and 4 there are rolls with terminating notes.  These don’t need to be accented in any way, but they should be defined for the player in terms of rhythm.

In lines 3 and 4 there are also accented rolls.  These are struck as if NOT rolled, and then lightly rolled on after.  The effect should be of two cleanly placed 16th notes, the second of which sustains after.  Focus on that initial articulation, and don’t let the tone of those notes be affected by the idea that you will be rolling right after.

Sticking:  Mostly straight with a bit of doubling

The opening 16th figure works well as RLLR.  The triplet in m1 works similarly as LRR.  This sets up the surrounding figures to be cleanly executed.  Make sure a light, even tone is present regardless of the sticking chosen.

The second line from the bottom presents a bit of difficulty.  I choose to play double Right hands on the top two drums starting in the 4th measure of 12/8 time.

  • RRL RRL RLRR LRLR R and then alternate after that

Again, the tone must not suffer from sticking choices.  Choose whatever allows you to play with your best tone.

Tambourine: Etude #1 by Aaron Williams

A collection of techniques.  Lots of solutions.  The limited dynamic range of some tambourines makes clarity the big challenge.

Dynamics: There are five dynamic levels in this piece. ff, f, mf, mp, p

  • ff: last note, big hit, knuckles optional
  • f: wrist mostly, the weight of the hand.  All knee/fist (or similar)
  • mf: thumb/finger rolls only.  Comfortable.
  • mp: thumb/finger rolls and light notes in between.  Lighter touch than mf
  • p: Beginning of shake roll.  Lower behind stand/table to block some sound and raise through the crescendo to accentuate the different volume levels.

Techniques: Thumb/Finger roll, Shake roll, knee/fist (or similar)

I won’t go into the details of how to do each technique.  Simple guidelines:

  1. Practice the techniques you use apart from the music
  2. Practice the isolated moments in the music until they are exactly what you want
  3. String the different parts together, maintaining the level of execution

Crash Cymbals: Etude #1 by Aaron Williams


Dynamics: There are five dynamic levels in this piece. ff, f, mf, mp, p

  • ff: only two notes and are both accented
  • f: appears at the end of crescendos both accented and non-accented
    • In context both crashes may end up being very similar in level
  • mf: non-accented only.  Make this the default level.
  • mp: appears in between two loud crashes, this may end up being the same level as p
  • p: begins a crescendo, may end up being the same level as mp
    • The reason p and mp may end up being the same has to do with cymbal quality and because these notes are far enough apart that comparing the two crashes will be nearly impossible on a single hearing.
  1. Practice 5 dynamics of non-accented crashes, using mostly the top hand only.
    • Sets up a base level for dynamics in the piece
    • Develops physical control of the cymbals
    • Improves listening to the tone at each dynamic level.
  2. Add the bottom hand to the f and ff level for accents.
    • Resonates differently than “top hand only” notes
    • Sounds and looks like accents, not new dynamics
  3. Practice isolated moments like with tambourine, cleaning and listening for tone.
  4. Connect each moment together, maintaining the level of execution.

Dampening: It’s not 100% clear, and not 100% advisable to dampen everything.

  • I recommend dampening the downbeats of m6, and m8 to set up the softer crashes that follow.  Dampening the downbeat of m4 is also possible, but not necessary unless the p crash is covered up by the ringing from the previous bars

Thanks for reading!  Best of luck on your preparations!

DIY Timpani Gauges 2.0

For years I’ve been making DIY gauges on different sets of timpani.  I usually do it for drums provided to me at gigs where I need to tune quickly, quietly, and on drums in less-than-ideal condition.  Frequently I make sure the gauges are there so I can quickly eyeball pitches and keep my focus on intonation with the ensemble, which is especially difficult on old heads and Standard Collar drums.

Until just recently my gauges looked like this:  mostly made up of different kinds of tape and fishing line.


These are certainly operational, but not a good long-term solution, and they run the risk of buzzing on the head at a time when you may not have a moment to fix it (like in a concert, bad)

My new version of gauges cost $25 to make with a few things from the hardware store, and are a dramatic improvement.  Obviously, this is for drums I have myself, I wouldn’t do this on a gig.


I used 1×2″ boards, in my case, poplar wood, and bolted them to the struts with a 3/8″ metal cutting drill bit and steel bolts. Getting the top level was easy, I used a block to raise the head level, then a bubble level on the board to get the cut angles.  I had to do it with a hand saw to get it just right.  Good news, when you cut one, the opposite piece is a mirror image, so it’s only one cut per drum.


Top plates were a bit more work.  I used an old set of heads to trace the rim then added a bit and cut the arcs out with a band saw.  That could be done by hand with a coping saw, scroll saw or jig saw if you had to.  I measured a good place for the string to go, put in 3/16″ holes and dropped 5/32″ grommets in them to protect the wood and get smooth motion on the string.  I mounted the top plate with wood glue and a single 1/8″ screw on each side.


I tried a few materials for the string but so far found that 30-40lb fishing line is still the best.  A piece of masking tape on the wood to write pitches and a darker piece on the string to show pedal position completes the plate.  I use 5oz fishing weights to keep tension on the line and tie to the weights and pedal with a double loop through and 4-5 half-hitches.  I ask about putting holes in people’s pedals but almost always do since it’s better than trying to tape or clamp.  1/4″ metal cutting bit goes through like butter.


I’ll be using the new gauges in an upcoming production of Young Frankenstein and I can’t wait to see how they work out!  Please share any ideas you have about how to improve this system or modify other types of drums.  I’d love to link to your pages and posts as well!

Iowa All-State Auditions 2016

It’s that time of year again!  All-State audition materials are posted and I have a series of videos and brief thoughts on preparing the materials this year.

Video performances of all the material can be found here.

Snare Drum: Cirone, Portraits in Rhythm #39

This solo is all about meters and roll subdivisions.  Many of the sections look far more complex than they truly are, and present an intellectual challenge more than a technical one.

Dynamics:  There are four dynamic levels in the piece. ff, f, mf, pp.

  • ff: a clearly larger resonance than f
  • f: comfortable, a little lower than I use in other etudes
  • mf: 3/4 of the way to the edge, lower than I use in other etudes
  • pp: about 1 inch off the edge.  Not the softest I can play, clear snare response.

Roll Speeds:  Triplet subdivision on each 8th note, 32nd note subdivision on single 16th notes.  Dotted 8th notes are a combination of these: Two 32nd notes followed by a triplet.  I practiced all rolls without buzzing first, so I could be completely certain of my timing, then added the buzz strokes in after.  In lines 6 and 7 the dotted roll rhythms took some work, and I ended up “flexing” the subdivisions a bit to keep the sound smooth.

Meter changes:  Generally the meter changes in lines 3, 6, 9, and 11 are more visually confusing than anything else.

  • Line 3: write in the sticking of each accent and ignore the bar lines.
  • Line 6: The 3/8 and 3/16 bars are a triplet rhythm repeated three times.  Use a sticking like (L RL R) and repeat three times to get through it with consistent time.
  • Line 9: Write out the sticking of the this whole line and ignore the bar lines unless they help you.  I personally stick the first measure (R RL R L) and then proceed alternating RLRL the rest of the way.
  • Line 11: Show the audience/judge the pulse by bobbing a bit on counts 1 and 3 of each bar.  |1 … 3… |1… |1… 3…|1.  This helped me maintain my consistent time and leaves no doubt about where YOU know the beat is.


Marimba: Etude #1 by Stan Dahl

This piece looks very complex but a bit of analysis will reveal a few harmonic tricks that make the solo fairly easy to conceptualize and memorize.

Dynamics:  There are four dynamic levels in the piece. ff, f, mf, p.

  • ff is only the last note and has an accent.  I hit both notes together and roll comfortably for the duration, more like a wind player might sustain a long accent.
  • f is mostly in the beginning and has accents.
  • mf is the top of a lyrical line and begins the final passage with accents
  • p is the starting dynamic for several falling runs and the base level for the lyrical section.  I set it at a “lowest fully resonant” level where I can hear the resonators responding to the bars.  It’s possible to play below this level and I make sure not to in this case.

Opening Section (m1-19):

  • m1-2, 5-6 are diminished triads.  I use 2 mallets and stick them LRRLRRLR
    • I learn the note patterns at mf with no accents for a smooth sound
    • then bump the level up to f with no accents for smooth sound
    • THEN I add an arm push on each accent and focus on that smooth sound after
  • m3 is a series of whole-tone runs.  Right hand starts each grouping.
    • Get the starting notes first, all right hand F/E/Eb/D
    • “Puzzle-Solve” without staying in time to accurately find all the notes
    • Play each grouping from the 5/16 bar back to the beginning at quarter = 110
  • m7-12 is the same speed 16ths, but in triple meter.
    • I use the same LRR sticking concept from before, but now there are no accents
    • m9-10 have a “pull” motion down from Eb to F
  • m13-19 long Eb Major line rocking down from G/Eb to F/D
    • Play an Eb major scale all Left Hand from Eb down two octaves to D
    • Do the same thing all Right Hand from G to F
    • “Puzzle solve” without staying in time, notes as written
    • Set metronome to 440 for the 16th note speed.  Count each grouping of three notes as you play to get the timing of the last 3 notes.
    • Final roll is only three 16ths long.  Fermata is on the REST, not the ROLL.

Lyrical Section (m20-27):

  • Switch to 4-mallets.  Any grip will do.  Something soft, as noted.
  • Learn the whole section at the marked tempo of quarter = 75
    1. Play all rolls as 16th note block chords, all 4 notes at once
      • Focus on tone, phrasing and timing as if it was the final product
      • Lowest p level comes up and falls away from mp and mf smoothly
    2. Play all rolls as alternating 32nd notes, left hand first
    3. THEN relax the hands and alternate the rolls freely, maintaining the pacing with the metronome
  • m23 play the rolls with the lowest three mallets

Final Section (m28-29):

  • Switch back to 2-mallets
  • The notes are an F13#11 chord… thats just every other note from F to D.  No flats.
    • The starting pitch of each set is F,A,C,E
  • I learn the notes all at mf, no accents
  • then add the crescendo, still no accents
  • THEN add an arm push for the accents as before, listening for the smooth crescendo
  • The final note is a heavy accent, with a relaxed roll after.  Check the tempo, it’s short.


Timpani: Etude #6 by Barry Dvorak

A typical assortment of cross-sticking and rhythm changes, but with the added challenge of producing a clear tone with brushes and wood mallets.

Drum Sizes: I recommend the top three drum sizes, 29″, 26″ 23″.  This is will put the pitches in the low range where they will be more resonant with the brushes and wood.

Tuning: Starts F C E, goes to G C G.

  • Set C first.
  • Sing that C into the low drum and pedal from the bottom, the 5th harmonic will sing back at you and then it’s mostly in tune.
  • Sing the C again and use a song like “3 Blind Mice” to get the high drum
    • C is “mice”, E is “Three” in the song.
    • A Major 3rd needs to be 14 cents flat to be truly in tune.  Be very careful not to set it too high.
  • For the second set of pitches keep the C and sing a G into it.  That 5th harmonic will sing back when it’s exactly right.
  • Keep singing that note and move to the top drum, then the bottom.

I strongly suggest marking gauges with these pitches.  They are not allowed for the audition but you can use the markings to memorize pedal positions as you practice.  Go back and forth and double check the tuning over and over until you can quickly hit the changes without needing any extra reference pitches.  At most tap with your fingers to confirm the pitches as if you were trying to stay silent in a performance.

Brushes: I recommend a “Steve Gadd” type of brush, with the last 1.5 inch bent slightly.  This can be bought from Vic Firth or made from straight metal brushes by pinching the ends with a needle nose pliers and pressing them gently on a table.

Wood Mallets: I recommend the smallest mallet heads possible.  I recorded with very small headed mallets from Tom Freer, but the Haas wood mallets from Promark would be a good option as well.

First Half – Brushes:

  • Dynamic is mp.  The brushes will basically take care of the dynamic, as they will not be very loud.  There are no phrase indications, so to add line and direction a good option is to give the subdivisions differing weight and character.
    • 8th notes and larger are the heaviest
    • Triplets are lighter and flow more smoothly
    • 16ths are lighter still and have a choppy feel
    • 32nds are the lightest and are basically grace notes
  • Stickings are all over the place.  Check the video for specific solutions, don’t hesitate to use crosses or doubles anywhere as long as the tone is consistent.
  • I recommend dampening the last measure as follows:
    • Dampen the top drum as you play the last note /w Right Hand
    • Dampen the bottom drum right away after /w Left Hand
    • Dampen the middle drum on the 8th rest as indicated /w Right Hand

Second Half – Wood Mallets:

  • Dynamic is f.  Wood mallets will again take care of the dynamic, just play light and consistent.  Same phrasing ideas as in the first half.
  • Stickings are still all over.  I start this LR LRLR, with beat two as a cross over.  The rest is pretty negotiable, many ways to do it as long as the tone is steady.
  • I recommend dampening the last measure exactly as before.


Tambourine: Etude by Aaron Williams

A collection of techniques.  Lots of solutions.  The limited dynamic range of some tambourines makes clarity the big challenge.

Dynamics: There are three dynamic levels in this piece. ff, f, pp

  • ff: arm weight added
  • f: wrist mostly, the weight of the hand
  • pp: play with fingers, dampening the head with the heel of the hand or on the knee

Techniques: Finger roll, Shake roll, knee/fist (or similar), knuckle (marcato accent)

I won’t go into the details of how to do each technique.  Simple guidelines:

  1. Practice the techniques you use apart from the music
  2. Practice the isolated moments in the music until they are exactly what you want
  3. String the different parts together, maintaining the level of execution


Crash Cymbals: Etude #2 by Aaron Williams

Dynamics and rest interpretation.  Hardcore stuff.  Lots of preparation needed before learning the actual notes.


Dynamics: There are five dynamic levels in this piece. ff, f, mf, mp, p

  • ff is only one note and is accented
  • f appears throughout and is both accented an non-accented
  • mf appears throughout and is both accented and non-accented
  • mp is the last note and begins a crescendo
  • p begins a crescendo
  1. Practice 5 dynamics of non-accented crashes, using mostly the top hand only.
    • Sets up a base level for dynamics in the piece
    • Develops physical control of the cymbals
    • Improves listening to the tone at each dynamic level.
  2. Add the bottom hand to the f and mf levels for accents.
    • Resonates differently than “top hand only” notes
    • Sounds and looks like accents, not new dynamics
  3. Practice isolated moments like with tambourine, cleaning and listening for tone.
  4. Connect each moment together, maintaining the level of execution.

Dampening: It’s not 100% clear, and not 100% advisable to dampen everything.

  • I recommend dampening everything on the rests with the following exception.
  • m6 dampen the first rest from f and then do NOT dampen on the crescendo.

Having a clean, clear sound is a huge challenge with cymbals.  This etude is a great way to develop that.

The audition seems large, but if taken methodically, can be completed long before the auditions.  I’m always available to answer questions, so leave comments and questions and I’ll do my best to help!

Thanks for reading!  Good Luck!



Flams and Spacing and Taps, Oh My!

Recently I’ve been amusing myself by playing “Concert” style flam spacing with “Marching” style parts…. but I’ve been doing it with the grace notes on the beat like in a one-hand exercise.  The result is a displaced accent similar to the “grandma” rudiment, but utilizing the same mechanical motions as in regular flam rudiments. Teasing all of that apart has been very entertaining.

Flam Grace ex1

I figured out a while ago that “Flam Triplets” have three consecutive taps and “Flam-Paradiddles” have four.  I extended that out all the way to eight consecutive taps, and now I have a series of interpreted rudiment combinations to develop my taps and challenge my timing and placement.

Flam Grace ex2

Here is a list of combinations based on Flams, Flam Drags, Cheeses, and Flam-5s.

Flam Grace Note Timing and Tap Control

I wrote out the Flam-5 spacing as 5-tuplets, but it could be played as the Cheese Triplet followed by a two 16ths double as well.

Happy drumming!


Floor-Mallet Marimba

Practicing 4-Mallet marimba on the floor or other “non-instrument” surface is something many professionals recommend to their students.  The concept appears in books and articles as well as clinics and handouts by Mark Ford, Gifford Howarth, Jeff Moore, and others.  Beetle Percussion even recently released a marimba “Practice pad” designed by Matthew Coley, which adds a more realistic dimension to this concept.

I recently began developing some of my exercises and expanding my use of floor practice for marimba.  I’m organizing my new materials under the heading “Floor-Mallet Marimba”.  My influences are mostly those of the artists above, and also of Kevin Bobo, his Book, and many years of teaching Stick Control.

It is generally understood that this approach does not develop a sensitive musical ear. The goal is improving mechanical facility, strength, and control of the sticks.  It’s also great at times when an instrument is difficult to obtain and chops need to be maintained.One final note:  There are fundamentally 3 ways stickings can combine with 4-mallets

  1. Mirrored Patterns: Inside/Outside combinations
  2. Parallel Patterns: Left side/Right side combinations
  3. Oblique Patterns: when two or more elements are present, one element can be Mirrored and the other Parallel.  Example: Paradiddles can be Mirrored on the doubles and Parallel on the singles (3144 1311, etc.)

There’s a lot of math and permutation ahead, but the benefits of these exercises can be completely realized in even the most basic versions.  What I have printed here is a tiny fraction of the possible variations.

Floor-Mallet Rudimental Roll Builders

My work sheet “Rudimental Roll Builders” is designed to develop single- and double-stroke rolls.  Here it is modified for Floor-Mallet practice.  The beginning focuses on the Single Independent and Double Vertical strokes, and then adds the Double Lateral stroke in the place of “Diddles”.  The tempos are adjusted for the sticks and feel of the floor.  The complete range of tempo is intended to be covered in each practice session, and where the tempo of two exercises overlap, exercises may be played back to back with out stopping (Ex: 16th Single-Double and 16th Alternate-Double from 90-100)

Lateral permutations come from both the 4 stick motions (I/O Mirrored or L/R Parallel) and the starting stick of each pattern (1234) for a total of 16, shown below.

16 permutations

16th Double:Laterals and Rolls has an enormous number of possible permutations.  Rather than writing them out, there are two things to manipulate.

  1. The first measure singles can be played 4 ways (I/O Mirrored or L/R Parallel)
  2. Each “diddle” can be played either Inside or Outside on each hand.

These two elements account for the different numbers under the endings.

Download/Print Worksheet: Floor-Mallet Rudimental Roll Builders

Floor-Mallet On Off A  Floor-Mallet On Off B

The companion worksheets, “On/Off 16th Timing A and B” are about developing Multi-Lateral motion and control of Independent Rolls.  Repeated notes are to played with a Single Independent technique and alternating notes are to be played with a rotary technique (NOT Single Alternating).  This is based on the principle of “Natural Sticking” and is great for refining timing and subdivision, and for balancing the weight of each stroke.

The written version is Mirrored starting on the Outside mallets.  The other 3 versions are: Mirrored starting Inside and Parallel starting Left and Right.

Download/Print worksheets: Floor-Mallet On Off A  Floor-Mallet On Off B


Floor-Mallet Exercises

“Floor-Mallet Exercises” is a collection based on pu-du-dus and paradiddles.

DL-SI/SA Triplets is in 4-2-1 form with a Double Lateral in one hand and alternating single notes in the other.  The structure is the same as Pyramid A from “On/Off 16th Timing A”.  Each single note is played 4 times, then 2 times, then once each as written.

The rest of the exercises are based on paradiddles.  There are two elements, each of which can be played 4 ways (I/O Mirrored or L/R Parallel).

Paradiddle Multi-lateral on Doubles: The sets of 4, 5 and 6 are all Multi-lateral rotary motions.  The final 5-tuplet pattern in each line goes over the down beat of the bar. The actual down beat lies between the 3rd and 4th notes, where the break in the beams is.

6-tuplet Paradiddle Multi-lateral is like the above set, but with the rhythm warped into 5 even notes instead of two 16ths and a 16th triplet.  Mathematically there are six rhythm permutations but two of those break up the 3-note Multilateral so in practice there are four.  The under-bracketed measures below do not fit the pattern.

6-Tuplet strike throughs

The warped rhythm makes the location of the middle note of the Multi-lateral questionable for the final permutation in each set.  It can be placed before or after the bar line while maintaining the appropriate start and end of the rhythm.  In these permutations an additional two patterns are listed in ossia.

Ossia example

Download/Print: Floor-Mallet Exercises

There are limitless ways to apply these concepts, but I find these to be especially engaging, challenging, and developmental.

Do you practice on the floor?  What exercises do you use?  How does it help you?  Leave comments below so we can share practice strategies together!