Chop Maintenance with the “Road Maintenance” exercise

Posted on May 30, 2013


This year I’ve had longer-than-usual stretches of downtime between ALO tours. While, for me,  daily practice is a given, I wanted to devote at least some of my practice time to ensuring that I would be right where I left off in terms of accuracy and fluidity from the last tour to the next. It’s frustrating to go from firing on all cylinders to feeling a step behind the music two weeks later because all I did during the time off was work on some fancy new linear fill THAT I’LL almost NEVER USE! By the way, even though practicing to recordings, of ALO or something else, might be a way to keep in shape, I don’t like playing to recordings, so I rarely do.

To focus on this challenge I came up with the following exercise, which I call “Road Maintenance.” While the reference is obvious, road building is also my family’s business (going back four generations). They make the roads, and I eat the road!

One of the cool things about Road Maintenance is that it works out a lot of areas simultaneously: various hand techniques, ostinato in the feet, polyrhythms, accuracy, fluidity around the kit and speed. I also wanted to focus on making my technique and sound consistent across inconsistent surfaces i.e., snare, rack and floor toms.

The exercise is below, and I’ll give some notes and explanations after.

Road Maintenance Exercise

First of all, hold down a samba beat ostinato in the feet. The motion between drums is Snare – Rack Tom – Snare – Floor Tom. One overarching goal throughout this exercise is to strike the drum cleanly in the center of the head on each and every stroke. At the beginning, when playing the quarter notes and quarter note triplets, I focus on making my strokes fluid and generous, with plenty of elbow and forearm action. As the rhythmic speed progresses (eighth notes and eighth note triplets) I switch to wrist strokes, looking for crisp precision and a perfect mirroring in both hands. With the sixteenths and six-to-ones I try to get some finger strokes happening.

All the while I’m using my ear to fine tune the polyrhythmic moments happening between the hands and feet.

After you complete the sixteenth note triplets (or 32nds!) I think it’s a good idea to reverse the process, going from fast note values back to quarters. I also like to cut the measures in half, or even fourths (playing two, or one beat of each note value) to work on speed between the drums.

Extra credit: instead of playing the samba beat on the bass drum, pull rhythms from your favorite source book, like Progressive Steps to Syncopation. Also, create variations on the moves between drums.

This really has helped me hit the first show of each tour in full stride. Hope it helps you, too!


Here is a pdf of the exercise: Road Maintenance Exercise