This is the original exercise that my “Accenting The Ride Pattern” exercise grew out of. Conceptually it’s a bit of a “rub your tummy and pat your head” kind of exercise.
I grew up playing hockey and remember doing these drills where you would skate with a puck through a lane that your teammates were passing other pucks through. What happens is your focus tends towards your peripheral vision to avoid the incoming pucks, this forces you to focus on the feeling of the puck on your stick without your eyes. Our goal will be to increase our focus on ride cymbal phrasing by engaging our “peripheral instruments” the kick and snare.
To begin you’ll need to learn how to work with triplet partials between your bass drum and snare. Orchestrate the twelve possible triplet sticking patterns as R=bass drum L=snare.
Play these with either quarter notes on the ride cymbal or a straight ahead da daga da pattern. Here’s RLL:
Once you’ve got a good handle on this idea, refer back to Lesson Four in Ted Reed’s Syncopation, the page of eighth notes and quarter notes. This page has fifteen potential ride patterns starting with these four then progressing through four eighth notes in a row then six, and finally a straight ahead and reversed straight ahead pattern. You can also work four quarter notes to the bar to make sixteen total patterns.
When I first started developing this exercise I would play through each ride cymbal pattern against the triplet phrase until I felt confident with it. I still might warm up this way if I haven’t worked through the exercise in a while. Once I feel confident that I’ve got the coordination of the exercise down, I’ll start to improvise phrases. Start with two bars, then move on to four or eight bar phrases. Use simple A/B ideas; ABAB, AABA, AAAB, etc, eventually improvising freely between the sixteen patterns.
Finally, when you are able to improvise using the sixteen patterns, you can really stretch that idea of engaging one part of your body to increase your focus elsewhere by singing a tune to play behind. Hear your phrases against the phrasing of the melody. Play around with leaving space and playing more actively against the melody. For instance, in a tune like Take the A Train, try playing more actively in bar one and four of the melody while just playing quarter notes behind bars two and three.
I’ve found two things after taking this all to the bandstand. With everything that’s happening on stage I’m now able to focus in on my ride cymbal, sort of like how you can switch between controlling different characters in a video game. Sometimes I find myself selecting the ride cymbal and like the exercise, I’ll manipulate quarters and eighths to create phrases. Conversely, similar phrases still tend to come out while my focus is elsewhere, I believe this is simply a product of having spent so much time manipulating these phrases as an exercise, eventually they just become part of your natural vocabulary.