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I'm trying to play a particular drum beat (specifically Godsmack's Bad Religion) and it basically goes like this

             1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 
    High Hat x   x   x   x
    Snare      x   x   x   x
    Bass     x   xx x x xx

I can tap it out on my fingers, and I can even do the bass part if I'm not using the high hat. But when I add the high hat, I just can't seem to do it. I can't seem to separate my right hand from my right foot. Is there any kind of exercise I can do that will help me train myself to do this, or any other technique that will help?

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This kind of coordination seems impossible at first but then one day it seems like it happens magically. Here are some methods that I have seen help countless students. Please note: my answer draws more on guitar and piano experience than percussion experience. I hope percussionists can propose an edit or provide an answer of their own if they have more to add.

First, isolate each pattern: In your example, a good isolation would simply involve playing each individual component of the pattern: play just high-hat, just snare and then just bass. You may be underestimating how long you have to do this to really internalize the pattern.

Second, play combinations that are subsets of the whole: Now that you've truly got each component down, start combining them together. For instance, play high hat with snare but no bass; bass with high hat; bass with snare. This is where you may start to notice that some aspects of the pattern are difficult to coordinate. You can work around this by making a minor edit to the pattern. For example, if there is one strike of the bass that seems hard to coordinate, simply remove it until you can play the pattern effectively, and then add it back in.

Now, add everything together: Very slowly (painfully slowly), try adding all of these things together. The thing about music practice is we want to resolve enough of our difficulties so that we're "on the tracks" and not "off the tracks". For instance, once you can play all of these together, even if the tempo is incredibly slow, now you're "on the tracks": the only difference between the current result and the desired one is a little speed, and it's not hard to imagine that daily practice will increase your speed.

  • Does the whole thing have to be done the "next time" (with a new pattern)? Or is there a significant development of this skill, so that with time you get faster and faster and eventually become capable of doing this for any new pattern without (much) practice? – M. Vinay Jul 11 '14 at 3:47
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    The latter. You will notice as you practice that you are building both specific skills (the ability to play this particular rhythm) as well as general skills. The more your general skills improve, the less need you will have to follow this process. HOWEVER, as your skills progress you may become LAZY and when you discover you cannot play a certain groove it's good to take a patience pill and come back to this painfully slow process. – Grey Jul 11 '14 at 3:54

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