Ask Stewart

Question: Hey Stewart,

I'm working on my closed rolls, and am just having some trouble with where to apply the pressure onto the drum-stick, to achieve the 'buzz'. I play matched grip, and have a similar technique to yours. (I watched your stroke, double stroke and paradiddle video). But I find that, when playing with my wrist flat, I have nothing on top of the stick to apply down-ward pressure to make a roll, if that makes any sense. If someone is playing with their thumbs up and their wrists sideways, they have their thumb to apply pressure with, for example. I've been getting around this by using my middle finger to put a little upward pressure on the back of the stick, and thats been getting a buzz sound. But I'm just wondering if thats right! Or how do you recommend going about getting a buzz roll?

Thanks so much!


Answer: Hi B,

Great hearing from you.

First off, there's no "right" way, but here's my take on it . . .

You should feel a lot of support on top of the stick with your hand flat . . . I'd think more solidity than what you'd get from only your thumb on top (a lot of great players play thumb on top, but you'd have to have a very different approach than I have.)

What you have to do is have fingers in place under the back of the stick to resist the downward movement that takes place the moment the front end of the stick hits the drum. You said you're doing this with your middle finger. I know a lot of drummers that do that, but I suggest you add your 4th finger for support also. So the middle and 4th fingers support the stick in general; the thumb is at the side, and the index finger is opposite the thumb - basically to keep the stick from moving from side to side. The thumb and index finger don't tighten up because they don't squeeze the stick at all. Just remember, the support comes from the third and fourth fingers holding the stick under the middle of your palm. Keep things loose and relaxed.

I have another video that you may not have seen. It's called "Matched Grip for Snare Drum", and you'll find it here on YouTube, or on my new Facebook page titled "Drum, Vibraphone and Percussion Lessons at Stewart Hoffman Music" (if you "Like" the page you'll get notices of new videos).

I hope that helps. Let me know how it feels and don't hesitate to write if you have any other questions.

Best regards,

Question: Hi Stewart,
I came across your YouTube video discussing Single
Strokes,Rebounds,& Paradiddles. With a myriad of DVDs, books, and CDs on the market, what specific area should a self-study student pursue? Many courses available have tons of information but lack support and a specific lesson plan. I know developing a specific study plan for every student's situation can only be done through private lessons, however, many people like myself cannot afford private music tuition. Music education should not be a luxury only affordable to the wealthy. It should be available to anyone willing to work hard and learn. What would you suggest?


Answer: Hi Carlos,

This is a great question, and one that demands a more involved answer.

Before suggesting anything specific to you, I'd really have to know what your interests are. I believe students should aspire to become well-rounded musicians, studying jazz and Latin music as well as rock and pop, working on reading skills, and of course developing a solid technique. Given all that, students will naturally place more emphasis on specific interests while trying to widen their musical horizons.

There are some excellent books out there for the self-teaching student. John Riley's and Peter Erskine's books are very good for jazz and some Latin. I don't know your level as a rock drummer, but I usually start my students off with Carmine Appice's Ultimate Realistic Rock, then do a little of Rick Latham's Funk Studies. The
New Breed is great for more advanced (very advanced) study. I'm looking at Paul DeLong's DeLong Way for polyrhythms. Then of course one should learn rudiments, as well as practise from the classic G. L. Stone books, Stick Control and Accents and Rebounds, and Ted Reed's Syncopation, to develop a solid technique. There are hundreds of great books out there. Also, my Lessons Page or Band Teachers' Percussion Guide have videos or articles that may interest you.

Having said that, the problem with learning from a book is that the authors usually don't give you direction as to how to hold the sticks, how to attack the drum so that you stay relaxed, don't provide feedback as to rhythm, etc., and often students practise from these books while at the same time developing bad habits. This is where studying with a good teacher comes in. And finding a good teacher is not always easy. Many just teach rock beats. I've had students come to me who know and play very little after having studied for several years.

So what is the answer if you don't have a teacher? First off, practise with a metronome. It will keep you honest as you develop a good sense of time. Also, watch carefully and analyze the playing of players - great players - on YouTube. Watch how they hold the sticks, lift and drop them, how they hold their bodies, etc. There are some great Steve Gadd videos - a masterful drummer with a very refined technique who you can see playing in many different styles. I also point out Peter Erskine and Rick Latham videos to my students from time to time, as well as many others. is a tremendous resource (check out the lessons under "education"). Then, make sure you have a plan.

Perhaps the most important thing is to figure out how much time, in general, you can practise each day, then set up a schedule. Consistency is extemely important. Rather than jumping around trying to learn many different things at the same time, work on a few things until you get comfortable with them before moving on. So, you might set up and 45-minute practise routine into 3 sections: 15 min. of technique; 15 min. of rock; 15 minutes of jazz. Someone else might do 15 min. of technique; 10 min. reading; 10 min. rock; 10 min. jazz. Someone planning on a career in an orchestra might plan on 15 min. technique; 15 min on excerpts and 15 on a piece. This is where your personal interests and plans come into the picture. Don't worry about covering a lot of material. Stay relaxed, consistently focusing on your hand position and playing with precision - watching that your sticks are moving straight up
and down, that you're dropping the stick into the drum rather than hammering it, and listening to the sound you're creating. Someone that practises well can get a lot more accomplished in 15 minutes than someone practising badly for 2 hours. Identify your most pressing needs, then build each day on what you practised the day before.

I hope this helps. If I can clarify anything further for you, or there's something more
specific I can help with, don't hesitate to contact me.

Good luck!


Question: I have a score that calls for suspended cymbals (fast rake). What does this mean and what is the technique?

Also, the percussion music has a suspended cymbal (roll) tied directly to a piatti which Iíve never seen before. Does this mean I will need two people? One for the suspended and one to play the crash cymbal on the 1st beat of the measure after a 2 beat suspended cymbal roll? Or does this simply mean the suspended cymbal player does a crash after his roll?

Thanks, Don

Answer: Hi Don,

To be honest, "fast rake" is not a common term. I assume it means a sliding motion across the cymbal - what I would call a "scrape" - with possibly a metal coin or the back end of a wire brush (the kind of brush that has a metal piece to push and pull the wires in and out). I'd use a large suspended cymbal for this as a bigger area to scrape would provide a louder sound.

Piatti should be a pair of crash cymbals. If the directions clearly differentiate between the use of suspended and crash cymbals, yes - you'll need two players for the part.

Question: What method do you use to introduce and teach flams to middle school aged students?


Answer: I think it's very important to make sure that the student is dropping the sticks onto the drum rather than forcing them down onto the head. In general, if the sticks are dropped from the proper distances above the head, a good sounding flam can be achieved. By proper distances, I mean that the grace note is released from a distance significantly closer to the head than the principal note. The actual distances will change depending on the volume desired.

If the student has trouble controlling the sticks, it is often because he/she is pushing to hard, and the downstroke is not responding smoothly to the upward bounce off the head. Make sure that the student is lifting the stick off the head - rather than hammering into the head - in order to maintain control.

I would start students off playing all right hand flams, then all left hand flams. With these stickings, make sure that the sticks return smoothly to the original position. The grace note motion is a very small wrist motion. Have them play each hand separately for a while then put the two strokes together.

After they have gained control over this sticking, I would introduce alternating flams. Played hands separately, they will see that the hand that starts close to the drum will end up in the higher position, and vice versa. They may have control problems keeping the stick at the lower level after dropping it from the higher level. Again, tell them to relax, to drop the stick instead of pushing it, and to keep the relaxed third and fourth fingers on the stick so it doesn't pop up (see Drumming Basics: The Snare Drum Grip for my approach to holding the sticks). The stick should stay close to the head and in position for the next flam.

I do have a lot of information on the Website on playing flams. Take a look at Approaching Flams and the accompanying exercises.

Question: I've been told that to play a double stroke roll all you have to do is catch the stick after the second bounce. I've also been told that you should make two motions of the wrist. How would you teach/play a double stroke roll?

Mike Davies
Martingrove C.I.

Answer: There is confusion about the double stroke roll because you can get away with simply bouncing the stick twice, but by making a second wrist movement when playing slow to medium-fast rolls you will achieve much greater intensity and control.

Students should start off practising double strokes slowly, making two even taps with each hand. Itís a good idea to practise this on a pillow or any object that doesnít bounce in order to build up the wrists. As the roll gets faster, the student begins to redirect the energy coming back off the drum after the first stroke Ė the bounce Ė into the second wrist stroke. As a result, the wrist begins making a smaller motion for the second stroke. As the roll gets still faster, the second wrist motion will ultimately disappear, but not until the double strokes are quite fast.

Open rolls are played at different speeds. For example, if your students are playing 7-stroke rolls on an eighth note and youíre rehearsing a piece at 60 clicks on the metronome, he/she will be using a lot more wrist on the second stroke than if youíre playing at 90. When students begin to bounce double strokes too soon, they will be unable to play open rolls cleanly and evenly at slower tempos.

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