Many drummers are familiar with George Lawrence Stone’s famous book of sticking combinations, Stick Control. If you’re not, I would definitely recommend picking it up. Like other method books that have become timeless classics, the beauty and power of Stone’s method is in its simplicity. By working various sticking combinations over, and over, and over, and over, and over again, we build muscle memory and control of the sticks in an indisputably powerful and long-lasting way.
I have been using a cross section of what I consider to be the primary patterns from Stick Control in my regular practice routine and would like to share this sequence of stickings with you folks. There are a total of 34 stickings represented in the sequence I call the Master Stickings. (Click the link below to view the exercise). The title “Stone’s Laundry List” came in at a close second for this, but I figured that I had no idea whether Stone himself would agree with my choices for what to include, or whether he did laundry. Nevertheless these are the stickings—the basic building blocks—I think are most encountered in the world of 4/4 duple time, and which comprise all longer and more complicated patterns. I’ve managed to string them together in a way that creates a great flow while maintaining a modular approach.
The Master Sticking sequence is comprised of six modular exercises. Each module contains between 2–8 sticking patterns with both right hand (RH) and left hand (LH) lead for a thorough tour of the patterns. The modules contain all the possible variations of the various stickings and are laid out as follows:
- Singles & Doubles (RLRL or RRLL)
- Paradiddles (RLRR LRLL)
- Puh-da-duhs (RLL or LRR)
- Threes (RRR LLL)
- Puh-da-da-duhs (RLLL or LRRR)
- Fours (RRRR LLLL)
Special transitional stickings are used to go from RH to LH lead, and from one pattern to the next. The recommended approach to learning this sequence would go something like this:
- Work each sticking pattern alone until it is memorized and effortless. Stone recommends practicing each pattern in his book 20 times, and that seems to be a pretty fair benchmark in my experience. Bear in mind that the more slowly and controlled you practice the patterns, the more quickly your muscle memory will develop and solidify.
- Memorize the modules one at a time. Each one is self-contained and feeds back into itself easily, so you can loop it to your heart’s content. Similar to Step 1, continuous, repeated practice at a reasonable tempo will make this process more fun and more achievable.
- Put the entire sequence together as one continuous flow. Start slowly for best results.
Once you have mastered the sequence with your two hands, you can take your practice to higher levels through some variations. I’ll list my current favorites:
- TWO HAND VARIATIONS
- All notes low and soft, with a slightly staccato touch. This builds control and fulcrum strength.
- All notes high and loud. This will push you physically!
- All RH notes accented, all LH notes soft. This is an excellent variation for working on velocity strokes—accented notes played with a powerful energy, resulting in a rebounding stroke that returns fully back to the original starting position.
- All LH notes accented, all RH notes soft. Same as above but with the opposite hand.
- Crescendo/Decrescendo. Start softly and crescendo for two measures, then decrescendo for two measures. This engages all the skills worked on in the previous variations.
- Decrescendo/Crescendo. Same idea as above, but with the opposite dynamic phrasing.
- DRUMSET VARIATIONS (RH=right hand, LH=left hand, RF=right foot, LF=left foot (use either HH or Kick, or both!))
- 2-Way Coordination
- RH/RF. Your RH plays all RH notes while your right foot (RF) plays all LH notes as they appear on the printed page. Adjust the tempo to where this is comfortable.
- RF/LF. Just the feet!
- 3-Way Coordination
- RH/RF-LF. RH plays the RH notes as they appear in the music. For the LH notes, alternate between RF and LF in single fashion (no repeats—RF always followed by LF always followed by RF, etc.).
- RH/LF-RF. Same principle, but now the LF leads in the feet.
- 4-Way Coordination
- RHLH/RF-LF. The RH and LH play double-stops together while the feet alternate for the LH notes on the printed page.
- RH-LH/RF-LF. Total 4-way linear coordination. The RH notes on the page are played by both the RH and LH in single alternating fashion, and the feet do what they did in the previous 3-way variations.
- LH-RH/RF-LF. Same idea, but LH lead on top.
- RH-LH/LF-RF. RH lead on top, LF lead on bottom.
- LH-RH/LF-RF. LH lead on top, LF lead on bottom.
- 4-Way Independence Training
- Take any of the sticking patterns, or the whole sequence, and apply them on top of another pattern. For example, you can play 8th notes on the ride cymbal, 2&4 on the hi-hat, and play the Master Sticking sequence as 8th notes (or 16th notes!) between your snare and kick (snare plays the RH notes, kick plays the LH notes).
- 2-Way Coordination
While on the drumset, you not only have four limbs you can use, but also a great variety of sounds around the kit to explore using these patterns. Some really interesting linear patterns come out of this exploration. In that spirit, try the following hand placements while practicing the 4-way variations above:
- Both hands on the snare
- RH on the floor tom, LH on the snare
- RH on the snare, LH on the high tom
- RH on the floor tom, LH on the high tom
- RH on the ride cymbal, LH on the snare using cross-stick technique
If you have a double kick pedal, try using it first for the LF. The fact that both RF and LF notes will have the same sound (the kick drum) will make the exercises easier at first. Ultimately, try using the hi-hat with the LF. You’ll be amazed at some of the combinations you get!
From one exercise comes many. Beauty in simplicity. All these variations have made the Master Sticking sequence an invaluable tool for me, and I hope they will for you as well. Thanks for reading. All thoughts/comments welcome.