At some point during my studies with Joe La Barbera, he handed me a printed-out version of this excellent blog post by Jon McCasslin.
As you can see over at that post, it summarizes a few of the coordination exercises that Elvin Jones demonstrated at a clinic. I’ve always loved these ideas, and have returned to them off and on over the years. However, it always felt like it took a little too much brain power to figure out all of the possible variations of these exercises on the spot, when I really wanted to be focusing on getting the feel and coordination right.
So: I took the first exercise and typed out all of the permutations of the three-voice variations.
The PDF starts with the “inner triplet” pattern that McCasslin typed out (that’s A, pictured below).
The idea is to then cycle this rhythm through three-voice variations while maintaining a consistent ride cymbal pattern. The variations are as follows:
S(snare) B(bass) H(hi hat foot)
S H B
B S H
B H S
H S B
H B S
So that’s what McCasslin has typed up—but I wanted a way to easily reference multiple permutations of this idea. To that end, I typed out not only the three voice variations for pattern A, but also the three-voice variations for A reversed—that is, starting with the second beat instead of the first. On the PDF I labeled the reversed pattern A’.
I then repeated this process with each triplet permutation, showing first the pattern on the snare (patterns B through I), and then moving it through the three-voice patterns that McCasslin listed before reversing each of them (B’ through I’) and doing the same.
The end result is four pages of delightful trickery, hopefully much easier to reference during a quick practice session. Some of these ideas are more musical than others, but all of them will help you develop what John Riley has called “headroom” (or “headspace”…or something to that effect)—that is, the idea behind practicing excessively difficult coordination material is not that it will necessarily be useful on the gig, but rather that it will make everything else feel easy by comparison. And when things are easy, you can respond more immediately in the moment of performance.
Check out the PDF below: