JMI Blog Part I – Drums: Developing Coordination and Dynamic Control

by David Sanders – drum lecturer at JMI

A new way to view drum kit lessons incorporating  a systematic way to develop coordination and dynamic control

The drum kit is a unique instrument – or a unique collection of instruments – played by one person. It is generally an accompanying instrument that is played along with other instruments in a band or ensemble. Yes, occasionally a drummer gets to solo and yes, there are some drummers who perform solo (Terry Bozio, Grant Collins, Ari Hoenig and David Jones) but for 99% of the time the drummers role is to accompany other musicians.

Unlike classical musicians most of what a drummer does is improvised. Even in most chart reading situations drummers interperate the written music and change what they do to suit the musical needs of the moment. This means a drummer needs to be very versatile and musically flexible.  It goes without saying that coordination is one physical quality that the drummer needs plenty of. Even to play a “basic” rock beat requires a high level of physical coordination. The question is how you develop that quality.

Many drum kit teachers try to prepare students for the task by teaching beats;

“The Rock beat”, “The Bossa Nova Beat”, “The Samba Beat” and so on. There’s plenty of great texts that  are full of lots of beats. This approach works well and is a very gratifying way to approach drum lessons however, at some point the student needs to develop the ability to teach themselves. This is the point of music lessons; teach the skills that will empower the student to develop what they need and want to do in a systematic way. In a nutshell the teacher should teach the student to teach themselves!

Drum lessons in Brisbane at JMI focus on helping drummers to develop their musical skill to play Jazz and in turn most other styles as well. A systematic method to develop coordination and dymamic control is the focus of technical development on the drum kit. The focus is not to develop speed, soloing techniques or anything flashy. The focus to  help the drummer develop essential coordination skills that apply to any musical situation. The system is a logical expansions on the teachings of Alan Dawson and David Jones and can be adapted to suit all common musical styles.

There is one pre requisite for this, and it is essential: you need to be able to read basic rhythms, ¼ notes (crotchets),  8th notes (quavers) and 16th notes (semi quavers).

To help you learn to read rhythm, have a look at some of the great texts available, such as Sight Reading – The Rhythm Book by Alex Pertout , Syncopation by Ted Reed and Modern Reading Text  in 4/4 by Louie Bellson, which can be found at any good music shop.  There should be no mystery about reading music. It’s a great skill to develop and gives you the ability to teach yourself. If you’re not convinced just think of how helpful it is to be able to read the written word. You’re reading this right now!

It also needs to be noted that the coordination of your limbs is controlled by your brain. So it’s essential to take things slow and remain relaxed. Regular practice is essential, as is practicing with a metronome and “counting out loud”.

Developing the fundamentals of coordination.

When the drum kit was in its infancy there was no hihat. Eventually there was a “sock cymbal” which evolved into the “Low Boy” and then in the 1920’s the Hihat was born. Up until the mid 60s’ the Hihat was played on the “after beat”, that is beats 2 and 4. One of the first things students do at drum lessons in Brisbane at JMI  revise thier reading all over this simple ostinato.

Read with hands on the snare with alternating sticking over:


I suggest you start with the reading text Syncopation by Ted Reed. Start on from Lesson One of page 4 up to and including page 45 and rember to use alternate sticking.  If you are new to reading rhythms I suggest the help of a good teacher is reccomended. I also suggest that counting out loud will help greatly. Stick with it as the benefits are huge!

In the mid 60’s Tony Williams (drummer with Miles Davis) made playing the hihat foot on all four beats popular. This technique is used widely today. It’s also a great exercise to revise your reading with the bass drum while the hihat foot plays quarter notes:


This example is of the 1st 4 bars of page 38 in Syncopation (Reed, T.)


So how does this apply to playing regular beats?

Lets look at the well worn rock beat:


We can vary the “signature” of this beat by changing the bass drum rhythm.


Decision time.

So we have two options:

  1. A) To learn a whole lot of beats and treat them as separate entities.


  1. B) To learn the coordination to play ANY of these beats and so learn the flexibility that is required to be a great drummer.

If you choose option B keep reading!

The Ostinato and Development of Coordination with Common Drumset Beats


An ostinato is a repeated musical phrase. In the rock beat examples above the Hihat and Snare could be considered the ostinato.


The next step is to apply reading text to common beats. This is a tried and true method. As the “ostinato” gets more complex it can help to approach the coordination in a very systematic way. This is where the “worksheet” concept comes into the equation.

 For the next examples the we will be using this 8th note rock beat ostinato and varying the rhythms played on the bass drum.


The Worksheet

If we are dealing with the subdivision of 8th notes we have eight possibilities of where we can land a single note. The “worksheet” concept is to basically explore every possible permutation of a rhythm.  We do this by displacing the rhythm throughout the bar in a systematic method.

The worksheet will firstly explore every position that a single note can fall in a bar of 4/4 using subdivisons of 8th notes, then every position that two successive notes can fall in the bar, then every position that three successive notes can fall in the bar and so on, all the way up to seven 8th notes. I suggest you repeat each bar four times.

Worksheet examples in 8th notes

Single Notes.      

8 9

Heres what the 1st two bars will sound like:


Two Notes.

 11 12

 Heres what the 1st two bars will sound like:


You continue all the way up seven 8th notes.


We use a reading text to develop musical flexibility. We play the ostinato and we read the text with the limb we have are focusing on, in this case the bass drum. You can use any 8th note reading text. The most famous page for this would have to be page 38 from Syncopation by Ted Reed.

Here’s the first line:


And here’s what it will sound like with the ostinato we have been using:


Adaptation of Ostinato concept to “Jazz”

The same concept can be applied to a Jazz ostinato.


The role of the snare drum is to “comp” (accompany) that is; create musical dialog and interjection. The goal is to add in your comping rhythms without disturbing the flow of the cymbal. You will notice that the cymbal beat is notated with an accent on beat 2 and 4. I have found that many drummers have trouble keeping the cymbal beat flowing and tend to either accent on beat 1 and 3 or even the “skip” beats when the add in comping. It can help to accent beat 2 and 4 to counter this.

Playing through the worksheet will help you coordinate it all. Here’s some examples. Remember theses are all played as swing 8ths.

Single Notes:


Two Notes:


And here’s the 1st four bars of reading text:


The concepts mentioned in this blog are an introduction to a method widely used in drum lessons at JMI Brisbane. These methods are adapted in many ways to cover a wides range of styles that a professional drummer may encounter throughout their playing career.

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