Monday, October 8, 2012

Drill: Jumping Horsebeat

I've written a drill that can be done by anyone, but is also able to challenge everyone.  I turned to the ever-popular don doko to create what I call the "Jumping Horsebeat".  The "jump" in the name comes from the downbeat switching hands as you play.

To make sure we're all on the same page, I define don doko as notes falling on the 1, 3, and 4 of a 4-count pattern:  1 - 3 4 1 - 3 4 1 - 3 4 etc.  When sped up, this pattern mimics the sound of a horse riding at a fast pace, hence the name "horsebeat."  And no, I didn't make that name up, that's what it's been called since I can remember.  Sometimes this pattern is played as don tsuku, where the 3 and 4 are played quieter.

Below are five different ways to stick don doko in increasing difficulty.  Repeat each pattern slowly at first and while using a metronome if one is available.  You may have to start the harder patterns at a slower tempo, but you can always speed up in small increments as you get more proficient.  Each pattern is its own drill and is meant to be repeated.  There’s no need to flow from one to the other (yet!)

Drill 1: Alternating hands


A pretty simple version of the horsebeat, each hit is done by alternating hands.

Drill 2: R-RL and L-LR


Pay careful attention to the 4th and 8th bars.  This is where you’ll switch the downbeat to the other hand.

Drill 3: R-LL and L-RRs


The switch on the 4th and 8th pattern is the same as in Drill #2.

Drill 4: R-LR and L-RL


This one can get tricky so go slow at first!  Again, the switch happens in the same way.

Drill 5: R-RR and L-LL


You may find that patterns you find easier are later down the list (pattern 4 is easier for you than pattern 3 for example), but don't worry about the order too much.  What’s important is to make sure that the dynamics are even – that no note sounds louder or softer than the one before it.  This is yet another reason to start slow and gradually build up speed.

You can do a lot with these patterns!  For example:
  • Play the drills as written in order from #1 through #5 without pausing, then repeat.
  • Start any of the patterns with the left hand instead of the right.
  • Shorten or elongate the amount of bars you play before switching the downbeat to the opposite hand.  (2, 4, or 8)
  • Play don tsuku instead, adding the element of dynamics to the patterns.
  • Switching freely between patterns.  In other words, playing any of the six possible variations (R-RR, L-LL, R-RL, L-LR, R-LR, L-RL) in any combination that's not fixed.  This can be very difficult at speed, so start slow!
This is the kind of drill you can do anywhere, in the kitchen, the car, the bathroom, wherever your hands are free.  By "jumping" around, you’re working towards the ultimate goal here, which is developing hand independence. When you can trust in your hands to play what you want, you develop a sense of freedom and confidence that can only add to your performance!

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