Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Four Limb Triplet Warm-up

This exercise had a huge impact on my playing.  It was shown to me by a fantastic drummer in Pittsburgh named Lou Ross.  He is also a pro at refurbishing drums and he builds some beautiful custom sets.  Check him out.

Coming out of grad school I was feeling quite confident about my playing.  I had been studying hard, practicing for hours on end, reading, writing a thesis, and came out the other side with a piece of paper declaring me a MASTER of music.  Riiiight.  Less than three months later I was on tour in Malaysia and Singapore with pianist Cher Siang Tay, and bassist Jon Cavendish, with whom I had worked a lot in school and had great musical chemistry.  We put together a lot of new repertoire, played gig after gig, and recorded an album.  It was the most satisfying period of my musical career up to that point.  Then, before I knew it I was back home, in Pittsburgh, saying to myself “now what?”

Thanks, in part, to Cher Siang I was discovering a lot of new music, players and styles faster than I could keep up with.  This was great, however, I was really being hit by how much great stuff I didn’t know.  I went from feeling on top of the world about my playing to feeling like an infant again.  I didn’t even know what to practice.  What was the point?!  For a while this just led me to not practice at all.  The task ahead was daunting, the mountain so high, if you will, that I was stunned into doing NOTHING.  Luckily I was able to snap myself out of this after only a couple of months.  To be honest, taking a step back from it all gave me some head space and a new found inspiration.

So I blew the dust off, and went back into the shed.  With all the great new music I was checking out I was really struggling to conceptualize my own playing.  I wanted to create a bigger picture.  At the time I was digging hard on players like Jorge Rossy, Brian Blade, Jeff Ballard, and Jack DeJohnette.  These guys all had such vision.  Their musical time emanated from their entire bodies rather than their individual limbs.  I, on the other hand, felt trapped with my right hand and left foot keeping time while my left hand and right foot took on the more improvisatory comping role.  Like everyone else, I had shed John Riley’s The Art of Bop Drumming amongst many other things and had a pretty good sense of interdependence between my limbs, but I just couldn’t figure out how to apply it to create the sound that I was looking for.  Not that I even knew exactly what I was looking for!

As I explained all of this to Lou, he simply nodded as if he’d heard the story a million times before, or, more likely, had experienced it himself.  Sounding like a doctor with a sick patient he said, “I think I’ve got just the thing for you”.  He gave me a number of exercises designed to loosen you up by having each limb play in a place it’s not as accustomed to playing.  They were all great, but one exercise, in particular, really flipped a switch.

This is a concept that Lou developed out of a Tony Williams lick.  You can hear “little kit Tony” playing it here and there in the Miles era, and “big yellow kit Tony” playing it a lot in those extended, semi-composed solos he use to do.

It took awhile to really get it flowing, but when it did it was like, YES!  This is what I had been looking for!  The time was coming from every limb.  It flowed like a babbling brook after the spring melt.  I felt so relaxed.  It even changed my balance on the stool.  I played it for hours on end, made variations on it, played it over tunes.  It’s just one exercise, I know, but there was just something about it.  This was a game changer that helped me to start breaking down the wall that was preventing me from evolving into the player I wanted to be.

We’re all individuals, so I can’t promise you that it will have the same effect for you, but at the very least it’s cool exercise that I still use quite often to warm up.  Here is the basic idea, plus a few of my variations.  Check them out and then make some of your own variations.

Leave a comment if you have any questions and let me know how it works out for you.  Or, better yet, share your own game changing exercise with us.


  1. Hi there, great post. Any possibility that you could share the rest of your friend Lou's exercises with us? cheers.

  2. Hi,
    There is a new exercise posted now. Enjoy!