As drummers, we all face the same dilemma: our weak hand is just not up to par with our lead hand. In most cases, it’s not even close. I’ve met some drummers that could play almost twice as fast with there good hand. The reason this happens is fairly obvious: we play time with our good hand, it strikes 2-8 times more per measure than our weak hand, we lead fills with our good hand, we brush our teeth with our good hand.. The list goes on.
If we look purely at the mathematics, on any given gig our dominant hand will play approximately 16,000 notes while our weak hand will play about 4,000 notes (40 song night, assuming you’re playing eighth notes with your lead hand and the back beat with your weak hand. If you’re playing 16th notes, then your strong hand is playing upwards of 32,000 notes a night). I’m not even taking into consideration all the additional lead hand notes that you play during a drum fills!
To add to this, the majority of what we play with the strong hand are consecutive notes and the notes that we play with our weak hand are not. Often they will have a full quarter note between them. Our weak hand really has no chance! We perform daily tasks with our lead hand so it continues to get stronger and stronger.
Almost all teachers will tell you that to improve your weak hand, you need to play through stick control and play singles and doubles leading with your weak hand. I’m sorry to tell you, but this just doesn’t work. You may see small improvements in balance, but you will not catch up this way. In order to catch up you must play a lot of notes with your weak hand. That is exactly what we are going to look at in this article.
I must mention that the path that we need to take is not a musical one. These are purely exercises to gain speed, control, and dynamics with our weak hand. I look at this type of practice much like the way a professional football player trains: they won’t get better by exclusively playing the game. In the off season they will work on sprint speed or lift weights to get stronger. You will see the same thing when working on this material. It’s not about being musical, but it will lead to you being more musical down the road as you will have more freedom on the drum kit.
Let’s dispel a myth. You do not need to push the tempo with your weak hand to get it up to speed. If you look at how your lead hand got to where it is, this becomes obvious. You consistently play a lot of notes with this hand – from the practice room to the stage, you are playing at a comfortable tempo but never really pushing the envelope. This is what creates tension free playing with this hand.
Most drummers that I meet have never had luck developing the weak hand but they push the tempo too fast and get tense. We need to bring the tempo down to a manageable rate and play relaxed. The most important thing here is the amount of notes that we are playing and that they are all played tension free. Obviously if we play too slow there will be minimal carryover effect, but what I have found with myself and my students is that if you are playing from 50-70% of your top speed tension free, you will see results fairly quickly with consistent practice.
I would like to share a couple of exercises that I have used with my students to bring their weak hand much closer to their lead hand. Give these exercises a try every day for the next two months and I’m sure that you’ll see the same results.
This exercise is all played with the weak hand. I suggest using the multiple bounce Moeller technique to pull the accents out, but if you are more comfortable playing a different style, use what works for you. Play this at a tempo that allows you to repeat the exercise comfortably 8 times without tension. Do not play it with the lead hand! The idea here is to catch up!
The next exercise is to play a constant stream of 16 notes with the weak hand on the snare drum. I like this exercise a lot as it not only builds up the endurance in your weak hand but it also builds coordination and looks at the often forgotten left foot. Here is exercise #1 and #3 from page 5 of Stick Control read as eighth notes against the weak hand.
Remember the idea here is to clock in some musical mileage with the weak hand and to play tension free. Speed will come quickly with diligent practice. Give these exercises a try and you’ll find that your playing is much more balanced in no time.
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