Difficulty: All Levels
Today’s chop and groove monsters are shredding like never before…and they know that technical proficiency with their hands is where it all begins. In drum instruction the topic of hand technique doesn’t always receive the dialogue it deserves. While instructors and students often talk about the Moeller method, opinions differ on the proper mechanics behind this type of whip stroke technique. What’s more, fluency with hand control concepts can be a prerequisite for admission into college or university percussion programs.
In this lesson I share the Spivack method that I learned while studying classical snare drum performance at the Murray Spivack school. I believe that while you can play drums having never studied hand technique, knowing what your hands are doing – and why they’re doing it – positively affects all areas of your playing.
Like Moeller, the Spivack method is a whip stroke technique that, by letting the stick do the work, improves hand speed, power and control. A handful of individual strokes make up the Spivack method. The way in which these strokes are stitched together – along with the types of embellishments we add (accents, sticking schemes, dynamics) – is at the heart of everything we as drummers play. And the good news is the Spivack method is not hard to learn…all of the stroke types that make up this technique are found in the single stroke roll and four variations of the single paradiddle!
And there’s more good news. Since most of the hand patterns you’ll ever play – whether orchestral, rudimental or drum set – are right there in the rudiments, it makes sense to use them as our vehicle for developing the Spivack method. Besides improving hand proficiency, dynamic control, coordination and speed, other benefits from learning the Spivack method include improved time keeping ability, solid foundation of technique and knowledge of the essential and hybrid rudiments, ambidexterity and cleaner, tighter playing. Let’s get started.
Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall
When practicing on your snare drum or pad, it is important to watch your hands and upper body in a full-length mirror. You will quickly discover that what you think your hands are doing and what your hands are actually doing are not the same. Using a mirror helps ensure that your stick heights are even, your hands are in the correct orientation and that your posture is symmetrical. You are imprinting the “feel” of correct technique so that when you’re not able to look in a mirror, you can be confident that your hand technique is correct.
Developing and maintaining correct hand technique requires constant monitoring and refinement. So use your mirror every time you practice on your snare drum or practice pad!
The Stokes and Stroke Combinations
The Spivack method is comprised of five individual strokes. A letter code is assigned to each stroke type. To aid in understanding how to execute combinations of strokes, the letter codes are included on your handouts and worksheets.
Full Stroke (f) – Think of the Full Stroke as a continuous-motion stroke, very much like dribbling a basketball. Once the stick is put into motion it takes little effort to keep it going. The spirit of the Spivack method is in the Full Stoke: Get out of the way and let the stick do the work. Don’t use your fingers and don’t interrupt the natural bounce of the stick by letting it touch the palm of your hand…this exercise is all about uninterrupted rebound.
Down Stroke (d) – The Down Stroke is an accented stroke that starts and stops in the ready position. From the ready position (the stick is parallel to the drum, about an inch or two above the head), lift your elbow away from your body while relaxing your wrist so that the stick drops downward without it touching the drum (perform both steps in one smooth motion). Continue raising the stick while cocking the wrist back at the top of the movement.
As the stick reaches its highest point, bring your elbow back down to your side while quickly ‘throwing’ the stick at the drum (perform both steps in one smooth motion). This throwing motion is made using the wrist, not the fingers. Think about using a whipping motion to make the downward throw, like cracking a whip (if you’ve ever done that) or shaking water off your hand.
After the stick strikes the head it will bounce back against your palm. Simply keep your hand still to deaden the motion of the stick while applying very slight pressure against the stick with your fingers. Return to the ready position. Tremendous power can be generated from this whipping motion making it ideal for playing accented snare drum, tom or cymbal hits.
Up Stroke (u) – The Up Stroke is an unaccented ‘tap’ (or ghost stroke) and is always used in conjunction with another stroke – it is not a complete stroke by itself. Think of the Up Stroke as the start of a stroke that is about to be played. The Up Stroke starts in the ready position and is the accompanying tap resulting from the wrist breaking downward as the elbow raises.
Start from the ready position (the stick is parallel to the drum, about an inch or two above the head). As you lift your elbow away from your side, relax the wrist so that it drops downward and allow the tip of the stick to LIGHTLY contact the head. Remember, the Up Stroke is not a complete stroke. It is usually followed immediately by a Down Stroke but more on that in a minute.
Tap Stroke or Tap (t) – The Tap Stroke is an unaccented stroke that starts and stops in the ready position. Start in the ready position (the stick is parallel to the drum, about an inch or two above the head) release your fingers and let the stick drop. As the stick returns to the ready position LIGHTLY squeeze your fingers against the stick to stop its motion.
Rebound Stroke (r) – Like the Up Stroke, the Rebound Stroke is not a stand-alone stroke. The Rebound Stroke is unique among the other individual strokes in that it requires a primary stroke to set it in motion. Rebound Strokes take place with the same hand that initiates the primary stroke – the energy from the initial throw is used to create Rebound Strokes, not the fingers or wrists. The fingers DO come into play at the end of the Rebound Stroke to stop the motion of the stick – LIGHTLY squeeze your fingers against the stick to prevent it from making further contact with the drum. One or more Rebound Strokes immediately follow a Down Stroke or Tap Stroke, but more on that in a minute. [Since a primary stroke must come before a Rebound Stroke, Rebounds will be demonstrated in the following Bounce Stroke videos.]
Individual strokes can be combined to create compound strokes. When combining strokes, be sure to refer back to the section on the ‘individual strokes’ to help ensure proper execution. Here are the most common compound strokes:
Bounce Stroke (b—>) – The Bounce Stroke consists of a Down Stroke or Tap plus one or more Rebound Strokes. The most common applications being the doubles or diddles used in double stroke rolls and paradiddles. Other uses involve triple and quadruple strokes on the same hand like those found in many hybrid rudiments and when playing jazz ride cymbal. There are two types of Bounce Stroke, each comprised of two or more separate strokes:
The first type of Bounce Stroke is the Down Stroke/Rebound Stroke combination. A Down Stroke is followed immediately by one or more Rebound Strokes using the same hand. The notation for the Bounce Stroke is ‘b’ followed by an arrow ‘–>’ indicating how many consecutive rebounds to play after the down stroke. The Down Stroke/Rebound Stroke combination is used when the first hit is accented, like this:
The Down Stroke/Rebound Stroke combination can be used in double, triple and quadruple stroke applications:
Here is the Down Stroke/Rebound being used to play the diddle portion of the inverted single paradiddle with the diddle on the front: (To learn more about inverted paradiddles, see my lesson on the Single Paradiddle and Inversions)
The second type of Bounce Stroke is the Tap Stroke/Rebound Stroke combination. A Tap Stroke is followed immediately by a Rebound Stroke using the same hand. The notation for the Bounce Stroke is ‘b’ followed by an arrow ‘–>’ indicating how many consecutive rebounds to play after the tap stroke. But generally only one rebound follows a Tap Stroke since a Tap generates little energy. The Tap Stroke/Rebound Stroke combination is used when the first hit is unaccented, like this:
The Tap Stroke/Rebound Stroke combination can be used in double stroke applications such as a double stroke roll or the diddle portion of a single paradiddle. (To learn more about paradiddles, see my lesson on the Single Paradiddle and Inversions). The Tap Stroke/Rebound Stroke combination is also used to play the two grace notes of the Drag rudiment.
For both types of Bounce Stroke the energy generated by the first throw is used to create the subsequent Rebound Strokes. Neither the fingers nor wrists are used to create the rebounds. The fingers DO come into play at the end of the Rebound Stroke to stop the motion of the stick – LIGHTLY squeeze your fingers against the stick to prevent it from making further contact with the drum.
Down Stroke/Up Stroke combination – The Down Stroke/Up Stroke combination is a Down Stroke followed immediately by an Up Stroke using the same hand. To play this combination, throw a Down Stroke, stop the motion of the stick by squeezing the fingers lightly against the stick, then immediately perform an Up Stroke, like this:
The Down Stroke/Up Stroke combination can be used when playing hand-to-hand 16th’s where the first 16th of each beat is accented or when playing ‘Moeller Bucks’:
Up Stroke/Down Stroke combination – the Up Stroke/Down Stroke combination is an Up Stroke followed immediately by a Down Stroke using the same hand. Perform this combination by starting with an Up Stroke. Continue raising the stick (bending only at the elbow) while cocking the wrist back at the top of the movement. Quickly ‘whip’ the stick at the drum to complete the Down Stroke.
The Up Stroke/Down Stroke combination can be used when playing hand-to-hand 16th’s where the ‘and’ of each beat is accented and when playing the diddle portion of the inverted single paradiddle with the diddle across the groups or when playing ‘Reverse Moeller Bucks’: (To learn more about inverted paradiddles, see my lesson on the Single Paradiddle and Inversions)
Tap Stroke/Up Stroke combination – Think of this combination as a Tap Stroke/Rebound Stroke combination. The difference being that the Rebound Stroke instead becomes an Up Stroke by dipping the wrist forward. This is done in anticipation of a Down Stroke to follow with the same hand. Remember that an Up Stroke is not a complete stroke in itself; it is the start of a stroke that is about to be played.
The Tap Stroke/Up Stroke combination is also used when playing the diddle portion of the inverted single paradiddle with the diddle in the middle: (To learn more about inverted paradiddles, see my lesson on the Single Paradiddle and Inversions)
Flam – Basic Sticking
1:10 start right-hand flam play-along exercise
1:33 start left-hand flam play-along exercise
Flam – Advanced Sticking
0:58 start right-hand flam play-along exercise
1:23 start left-hand flam play-along exercise
If you need help breaking down any of this material, I am available for in-person and online drum lessons.
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