Secret to Four-Way Coordination

It takes more coordination to play the drums than any other instrument. Drumming requires you to play a cymbal "ride" with one hand, while playing a different pattern on the snare with the other hand, while playing another pattern with your foot on the bass drum, while playing yet another pattern with your other foot on the hi-hats or another bass drum. Plus, you have to be able to think about what's going on with between four parts - often while simultaneously reading music. When you think about it, drummers actually have six different functions going on at the same time. But because it's normally referred to as four-way coordination, to avoid confusion, I'll stick with the norm.

Drummers really do require more coordination than any other musician but, despite how hard it sounds, coordination is not difficult to learn – if you know the secret.

Let's begin by trying to play a basic four-way coordination exercise.

A Basic Four-Way Coordination Study
The following exercise assumes that you understand how to play notes up to, and including, sixteenth notes. If this is not the case, check out my article Tiger Reading series of lessons to learn how (see sidebar), and come back when you're finished.

The exercise that follows is easier to play if you're sitting at a drum set but if that's not possible, just grab a pair of drumsticks and a metal folding chair and place it on a hard floor. (Any tiled or hardwood floor is ideal.) If you're using a chair, play on the right chair leg for your cymbal, the left leg for your snare, tap your right foot on the floor for your bass drum, and tap your left on the floor for your hi-hats. Are you ready?

Start by playing quarter notes with your right foot. While your right foot is vamping, play eighth notes against it with your left foot. This is two-way coordination. Now play eighth note triplets with the left stick against the other two parts. This is three-way coordination. Next comes the tricky part.

Now, play sixteenth notes with your right stick while continuing to play the other three parts. You now have four-way coordination. Listen closely to each part to verify that you're playing correctly and you now have five-way coordination. If you want to make it six-way, read a book at the same time! (This simulates reading a drum chart.)

Break it Down
What we've just done – or attempted to do – was play a basic coordination exercise on the drums. Although I consider it a basic coordination pattern, it is actually a four-way polyrhyrhmic pattern that has you playing 1 against 2 against 3 against 4 all at the same time! If you have never tried it before, it can be tricky.

The best way to approach a coordination problem is to break down the problem areas into smaller units and practice them separately. The most effective way I've found to do this, is to apply the 15 Steps. And what are the 15 Steps? Check out the Secret to Four-Way Coordination II (in the sidebar) and find out.

Three books I highly recommend for further study of coordination are Jim Chapin's Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer, Marvin Dalgren's 4-Way Coordination, and Marco Minnemann's Extreme Interdependence.

Until next time: Stay loose.

Tiger Bill Meligari

Click the link for Secret to Four-Way Coordination: Part 2



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