The MasterClick – Part III of Stick Yoga

July 9, 2010 9:14 pm in Marching by Murray Gusseck

The “MasterClick” (as I call it) is a relatively simple workout for the hands that uses a custom click track that goes from 60 beats per minute (bpm) up to 180 bpm and then back down again. While Part I and Part II of the series so far on the Exchange have both centered around low-impact ways to warm up the drumming muscles for all different kinds of applications, Part III is more of a meditation of sorts designed to occupy your hands for 31 minutes to achieve improvement on ONE specific sticking pattern, technique, or rudiment.

As of late I have been getting a lot of mileage out of playing simple patterns over extended periods of time without thinking too much about it. To my way of feeling, the muscles have their own intelligence when it comes to learning motions and, more importantly, how to become efficient with those motions.

With my background as a drum corps gear head, I have noticed more and more that my mind can actually inhibit my body’s ability to learn new things because I try to overanalyze everything! While the marching or drum corps tendency towards analyzing every subdivision of every beat for clarity in terms of timing accuracy, tone, and/or dynamic context is necessary in those activities due to their competitive nature, the meditative mindset I’m suggesting here simply says, “Do it again, and again, and again, and again….and don’t think too much about it.”

So that’s where this MasterClick comes in. As described, the file is approximately 31 minutes long. Essentially it progresses from 60 bpm to 180 bpm over 20 minutes, and then back down again in 10 minutes—In other words, a long slow climb followed by a steady warm-down. The speed-ups happen at 1-minute intervals, while the slow-downs happen at 30-second intervals. So it’s not a steady accel or decel, but a series of short stair steps that change by 6 bpm increments.

The MasterClick is comprised of sounds that will project through a long ranger in case you are an instructor and wish to use this to torture your students like I do! (ear plugs are recommended) The base metronome sound is actually a sample of a BOSS DB-90 metronome pumped through a Long Ranger. Additionally, there are some audio cues that indicate changes in tempo.

For instance, when the tempo is about to speed up you will hear an upward-bending slide whistle sound 4 beats before the actual tempo change. Same thing when you are in the last 10 minutes of it—the slow-down part—except that you will hear a downward-bending slide whistle cue. The cue for the end of the whole thing is 4 loud cowbell beats.

If you want to give this a try (and I highly recommend it!), download the file first. You can find an audio example of this click track here.

(To download this file, right-click it (control-click for the Mac) and choose to download the linked file to your hard disk.)

Although you can use the click track as a blank canvas on which to paint anything you can think of, I highly recommend that you start with what I consider to be the most fundamental building blocks of drumming. These are the patterns that I honestly believe that, no matter who you are or how experienced you are, you can never do them too much because there’s always something new and cool to learn about playing from them!

The basic patterns I’m speaking of are the following:

1) singles RH lead ===> R L R L R L R L
2) singles LH lead ===> L R L R L R L R
3) doubles RH lead ===> R R L L R R L L
4) doubles LH lead ===> L L R R L L R R
5) paradiddles RH lead ===> R L R R L R L L
6) paradiddles LH lead ===> L R L L R L R R

You can choose any note durations you like. If you’re unsure, start with 16th notes. To many people, they will immediately think that this is WAY TOO SLOW. That would be the ego talking. Ask it to kindly have a seat and read a book or something for the next half hour.

Depending on the pattern, I typically use 8th notes, 8th-note triplets, 16th notes, 16th-note fivelets, and sextuplets. If we are talking about the 6 basic stickings I’ve laid out above, 8th notes should be within most drummers’ abilities while sextuplets might just flat out be dangerous at the peak tempi!

Hint #1:  You can always test this out by setting your regular metronome to 180 bpm (the top tempo of the MasterClick) and if you can play the pattern for 30 seconds or more, you’re probably good to go.

Hint #2:  If you experience sharp pains during the accel, you are damaging yourself. First line of defense = STOP. Second line of defense = step down in note value. If you were on 16th notes, step down to 8th-note triplets or 8th notes.

I have particularly found that the real learning can tend to occur during the actual slow-down portion of the click. When the tempo is accelerating, your muscles are constantly being challenged by faster and faster speeds. So the uphill part is more about the player learning to cope and manage his or her technique during this process—learning to play more efficiently to be exact. The downhill, however, is when you can relax and coast along, feeling your muscles loosen up and gradually relax. For that very reason, this will tend to be the greatest example of good technique during the session.

Because of the mindless repetitive nature of this type of exercise—and indeed mindlessness is the goal!—I typically use television to occupy my brain while doing these. Most of the time we’re condemning distraction devices like TV during practicing, but this is actually an occasion where it can be helpful! I got through 6 seasons of The Sopranos, 5 seasons of “Six Feet Under”, all of “Entourage”, “Weeds”, and many others while improving my drumming skills.

I’m very interested to hear anyone’s thoughts on this type of practicing (i.e., do you practice this way, what patterns do you use, etc.) Please share!

Happy Mindless Improvement!