In the music notation module of Drum Ambition, you will learn about sticking concepts. The first thing I should clarify is what “sticking” itself actually is. Put simply; sticking is the process in which we assign certain notes to either our left or right hand. While some sticking concepts are very straight forward, others are more calculated, and take a little more time to develop. We use sticking concepts mostly to orchestrate drum fills, play certain grooves, and during snare drum exercises. One of the main benefits is that understanding sticking concepts ultimately builds control, and wonderful things happen on the drums when you truly have control. More on that later.
When you start playing the drums, you are going to experience situations where you realize you are not fully in control. For example, you will have most likely attempted drum fills where you run out of ideas quickly, or you falter over the orchestration of a fill because the sticking doesn’t quite work out. (When we refer to playing the different drums in a drum fill situation, we call this “orchestration”).
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You will also, without a doubt, experience the scenario when you are exiting a drum fill, and you are unsure right up to the very last second, which hand is going to hit the crash cymbal. Understanding the sticking concepts helps you build control so that eventually, you are rarely in any doubt about executing a fill and ensuring smooth transitions back into the main drum beat.
I often say that having an understanding of sticking bridges the gap between what you conceptually want to play, and what your limbs allow you to play. Think of sticking as driving an aptly named “stick shift” car, or “manual transmission”. You want go from zero to sixty miles per hour, but you can’t do it by just putting your foot on the gas pedal. You have to understand the relationship between the gas and the clutch, and the transition point of each of the gears - otherwise you are going nowhere fast. You get there through understanding what part is played by each of the components, and through a lot of practice and repetition. Then, through gaining experience, you drive your car seamlessly without really giving any thought to the process you are going through when working with the gears, gas pedal and clutch. The same applies to your drumming, and is attained partly through understanding sticking. Occasionally you might grind a gear or stall your car - and the same is true in music, no matter how experienced we become.
One of the most common sticking approaches is “alternating”, or “hand to hand” sticking. Quite simply, this is the process of going from right to left and repeating. While this is arguably the most accessible and certainly has it’s benefits, it also, in my opinion, offers less control than other options. There are certainly times when we want to use an alternating approach, and I discuss this in the music notation videos in module one of Drum Ambition. I have elected to use what I refer to as “root note sticking” when presenting these notation videos. It is essentially a hybrid of existing concepts, and I explain the approach in great detail in notation videos 1-10, so be sure to check them out. In summary, I refer to the quarter note 1, 2, 3 and 4 as the “root notes”, and always try and play these notes with my right hand. The other notes are assigned either a left or right hand which is determined by different factors, and explained in detail in the videos. You won’t find reference to “root note sticking” on a Google search (at least as of October 2015) - but you will see reference to “root notes” being used on other instruments and in relation to drum tuning techniques - both of which are in different context to my use of the term “root note”. I have found that students relate comfortably to the root note concept, and I am hoping that you will too.
Rudimental sticking refers to sticking patterns played using what we refer to as the “drum set rudiments”. There are twenty six drum set rudiments, and if you are an aspiring drum line or marching band student, then you have over forty. Since rudiments have their own set sticking patterns, then they are a sticking concept within their own right. Rudiments are an extremely important part of drumming, but at Drum Ambition, our view is that they are not necessarily essential for the beginner drummer. Our goal is to get you playing grooves and fills competently and musically so you can primarily have fun, and then show you how the rudiments can enhance and embellish your foundation, while increasing your musical options at the same time. There are many teachers that would disagree and start off their students with rudimental patterns, but drum education has changed, and the needs of the hobbyist are not always consistent with the goals of the teacher.
We need to understand at least a couple of different concepts because there is not, in my opinion, a “one size fits all” approach that will cover every possible scenario. For my own part; I would say that I am 85% root note, 10% rudimental, and 5% alternating.
To really dive in to sticking concepts, you will need to have a basic knowledge of music notation, and have a good handle on how to count notes. Music notation lessons 1-10 in the first module of Drum Ambition will guide you step by step through this.
The biggest advantage of understanding sticking concepts is, as I had alluded to, the undeniable fact that it builds drum set control. When you have control on the drums, there are some wonderful breakthroughs in musicality, dynamics, speed, power, and endurance. While we strive to attain each of these, it is critical to understand that they are all merely byproducts of control. If you do not build control on the drum set, you will never truly be able to play freely and unrestricted - those wonderful moments when you sit at an instrument, take a breath, feel the moment, and just play whatever flows.
If you have any questions relating to this article, please feel free to email [email protected].