Effortless Mastery, Interlocking Moeller Strokes

Posted on June 28, 2011


Thank you to all the new subscribers and others who visited this blog last week! I hope you all keep dropping by to keep up on the project and talk drums.

Although I plan on doing a whole blog entry on drummer jokes soon, I heard one this last weekend that I’m eager to share: What’s the difference between a drummer and an investment bond?

An investment bond eventually matures and earns money.


I’ve been delving deep into Kenny Werner’s book, Effortless Mastery. Reed Mathis, a master of bass and improvisation in his own right, recommended it to me. Werner’s trip is all about discovering and releasing the master that’s already inside you- waking up to the mastery you already possess as a musician that may be stifled by fear- fear of sounding bad, not being liked and so forth.

In fact, Werner encourages the reader in search of mastery to surrender their “obsessive need to sound good.” He elaborates by comparing the master’s state of mind to the mind-set you have when you’re playing in your basement with a couple of good friends. You’re just playing for the hell of it. Having fun. Reveling in the mere fact that you can make sounds together on musical instruments. It’s a purity that, over the course of our lives, usually gets diluted by music schools, peers, teachers and our own insecurities.

Werner, a very accomplished jazz pianist, mixes a down-to-earth gigging musician ethos with liberal doses of eastern philosophy and western new-age practice and recommends the reader reprogram him or herself with affirmations and meditations. I tried one of the meditations today and found it very positive and relaxing. In it he keeps inviting my subconscious to intone, “I am a master. I am great.”

I think Werner’s concepts are going to be a good balance to working through the canon of drum books and private studies. His words ring true. I can spend hours woodshedding polyrythms and etudes and chop-building exercises but at the end of the day I’m still a musician that has to go out and express myself with all of it. Or, none of it. I’m hoping the technique will simply provide tools for expression. But if I haven’t done the inner work necessary to use the tools correctly to express something meaningful, how’s it going to sound?

One concept I really connected with in Effortless Mastery was the directive to practice slowly and patiently in order to fully master one thing at a time. Playing an etude over and over again, examining it from all angles and using it to explore music and yourself is what Werner seems to be talking about here. I already had a feeling that I might have been falling into the trap of glancing over things in order to just “get through a book,” especially in the area of polyrhythms. I think it’s time to go back over the first half of Magadini’s book and really dig in.

I also want to take Werner’s idea a little further and truly master one whole skill first, before moving on to other subjects. One possibility is something I discovered while working out of Jim Chapin’s book, Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer. The example below is one of the most basic exercises out of the book, which is basically a coordination and physical training book for jazz drummers.

From looking at the page we can see that a fair level of cognitive and physical independence is required simply to play the counter rhythms together in a clear manner. (Focus only on the left column of rhythms, by the way.) But there’s another level of independence required that is not so obvious if we’re just looking at the notes as written.

As I worked through these exercises at slow tempos I could easily play them with single strokes in each hand. Doing this, I simply had to work on each one until my brain identified and logged when the hands hit together, and when they hit separately. As I increased the tempo this was no longer possible. The top (usually right hand) rhythm requires a single arm stroke (Moeller stroke) and two additional rebounds to form the fast swing pattern, a triple stroke rhythm on beats two and four. (Tony Williams was a master of this, but he would constantly switch the beats that the arm stroke fell on).

In the left hand you’ve got a variety of stroke combinations- single double and triple. The same principle applies for this part at high speeds- two-for-one and three-for-one strokes come into play. The consciousness has to switch from simple double-stop (hitting both hands at the same time) execution at slow speeds to how triple and double arm strokes (that’s two or three hits for one fall of the arm) interlock with each other. In exercise #3 on this page we see the same three note cycle (DAT-duh-duh. DAT-duh-duh) fully displaced with each other or, 180 degrees out of phase. As the last rebound is sounding in the left hand, the right arm is starting its cycle. This is easier for a drummer familiar with Moeller technique to understand without a visual demonstration. Hey, maybe I’ll just add a video demonstration to this blog later in the week.

Anyway, the choreography of how these arm strokes fall in relation to each other is the first thing I want to master. This will allow me to play interlocking double stops (which I like to play, and hear) fluidly at fast tempos and evenly at slower ones. I’ll do this with some choice exercises from Chapin’s book and Ted Reed’s Progressive Steps to Syncopation.

I will chronicle the progress on this subject here, before, during and after, with videos.

Until next week, be well.