You never know where you’re going to find good inspiration. Backstage somewhere in Germany while on tour with my band Slow Gherkin, I was swapping warmup routines with the other drummers. Ido Blaustein, from the Israeli punk band Useless ID, showed me this first exercise. At least, I think he did; tour memories tend to be blurry. In any case, this was what I took from it. Thanks Ido!
That was back in 2001. Since then, I’ve used it, taught it and morphed it. I’ve found it’s great for warming up, building coordination and internalizing rhythms. Joe Morello has some similar exercises in the “flat flam” section of his book Master Studies. There are so many opportunities to learn out there; just keep your ears and eyes open. I hope you find some joy in this exercise.
I recommend starting on a practice pad. Make sure to get the sticks to hit exactly together when they are played in unison.
One hand plays the top line while the other plays the bottom line. After mastering the rhythm in both hands, switch hands at every repeat—so if you start with your right hand playing the top line and your left playing the bottom, reverse them for the next measure.
Let’s take the rhythm to the drum set. Pick two sound sources and play just like you did on the pad. I like to start off with floor tom and snare since they have contrasting sounds. After you are comfortable with this, try moving the rhythm around the drum set. Whatever hand is playing steady rhythm stays on one sound, for now.
Now add the feet!
1. Quarter notes in hi-hat or bass
2. Jazz feet: hi hat 2&4 bass drum 1,2,3,4
3. Samba feet: hi hat 2&4 bass drum 1, “+” of 2, 3, “+“ of 4
4. Double-bass single stroke 8th or 16th notes
5. 3-note grouping in 8th notes: hi-hat kick kick
After learning the ones I’ve made up, come up with your own. Take inspiration from the music you listen to. Explore rhythmic phrases you hear in other instruments. You don’t have to write it out. Sing it, play it!