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How to Improve Your Drumming with Grids

Drum lessons with Zack Hall, The Lesson Studio, Boulder

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            Oftentimes when I practice, I find myself thinking that I need more vocabulary on the drum set. I want to know all of the cool and hip licks, but there is never enough time in the day to listen to every drummer on every song, and transcribe every cool fill I hear them throw down. For that matter, how do all of these drummers get so creative and come up such slick fills? Well, I’ve found an answer to that question, and the answer is drumming through grids. Here are some quick ideas you can apply to classical, jazz, or rock and pop.

What is a grid?

A grid is a very basic exercise that involves taking a base rhythm or idea like 16thnotes or triplets, and then adding another idea like accents, flams, or diddles to move around on top of that base idea. Here is an example of a stock 16thnote grid.

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Each bar is comprised of only 16thnotes, and we are gridding the accent. In the first bar the accent stays on the beat and on the right hand. For the second bar the accent moves to the “E” and is played on the left hand. You continue moving the accent around within these sixteenth notes in a way that I refer to as “4-2-1ing it.” You play 4 beats of each pattern (which is shown), 2 beats of each accent pattern (repeats once), and then 1 beat of each accent pattern (repeats 4 times).

What this does is allow drummers to figure out new interesting ways to place accents within their drumming. It also really helps develop a strong sense of timing and rhythm, because to play this simple grid accurately, one has to understand 16thnotes at a deeper level. However, accents are not the only way to grid!

Diddle Grids

Try replacing the accents with a diddle, and see how that changes the grid. Here’s that in written form. 

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Just changing the accents to diddles can help us work on our double strokes, while still developing that strong sense of time that every drummer needs. These 2 exercises are only the tip of the iceberg, though. 

Diddle-Accent Grid

Now check out this example of the 16thnote grid with accents, but the diddle stays stationary. The diddle is always on the 1stpartial of the 16thnotes, even though the accent is moving in the same way as the first grid we looked at. Playing through this grid may put your hands in new positions that they may not have experienced before. 

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To go even further beyond!

Now, that was only the stationary diddle on the downbeat. You can move the stationary diddle to each of the 4 partials and make a new grid. Then, what if we place 2 stationary diddles anywhere in those 16thnote partials, or 3 for that matter? This can get complicated really fast, and we still haven’t left combinations playing on one drum!

When you become comfortable playing a grid, then start moving it around on the drum set and see how that changes up the way it feels. For example, you could play the accents on various toms, and leave all of the unaccented notes on the snare drum. Maybe you want to play the accents on the bass drum with your foot instead of your hands. You could also add flams, or change the sticking of the 16thnote grid. Try playing the accent grid with paradiddles instead of alternating sticking. 

These exercises help develop our finesse and chops, and they extend our vocabulary on the drum set, which is something that every drummer will need.  

There are infinite possibilities to explore with gridding, so get out there and start learning and making up some of your own grids. What sort of cool grids can you come up with?