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  • Playing with Four Mallets: Interval Changes by Emily Tannert Patterson and Josh Gottry

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Sep 20, 2021

    As a reminder, the terminology utilized in installments of this series on 4-mallet keyboard technique were codified in Leigh Howard Stevens’ book Method of Movement. If you haven’t read the first five articles, check for archived articles in Rhythm! Scene. In this particular article, we’ll be addressing movement within the hands to change intervals between mallets, applicable to all four stroke types discussed thus far. 

    As mentioned in the previous articles in this series, as you are just starting out, perform your stroke motions and interval changes away from the keyboard first: slowly, out of time, on a floor, couch, or pillow. Once you can do the motion correctly without any breakdowns in the grip, try playing whole, half, quarter, and then eighth notes to a music track (whatever sort of music you enjoy listening too), still away from the keyboard. None of these individual strokes are particularly difficult to master and neither are interval changes, but it is important that you are able to execute each with consistency and with a proper grip and hand position. Allowing yourself to build muscle tone, comfort, and skill without worrying about note accuracy is an essential part of maintaining motivation and confidence with this new technique. You may apply the interval change instructions in this article to any of the exercises included with the articles on each of the four stroke types.

    Once you are ready to move onto a keyboard, focus on being able to maintain the comfortable and consistent motion you solidified on a flat surface. As with any percussion stroke technique, practice in front of a mirror to watch your motion and hand position, whether you are practicing on a pillow, the floor, or on a keyboard instrument.

    Once you are able to maintain grip and use the proper stroke motion on static pitches or intervals or on a flat surface, it’s time to learn how to change the distance between the two mallet heads when they strike the keyboard, also known as the interval between pitches. Begin by applying these shifts to double vertical and single alternating strokes, then extend to single independent and double lateral exercises. Keep in mind that the interval changes should happen during the recovery portion of the previous stroke, always allowing your mallets to hover over the new targets at the high set position. Attempting to aim while the mallet is descending is a recipe for missed notes! Remember that you must be proficient with the initial stroke type before adding this extra layer of challenge.

    Stevens Technique: To expand or contract the interval between mallets in the same hand, simply extend or retract the index finger. This will move the inside mallet in relation to the outside mallet and increase or decrease the space between the mallets. (The outside mallet is fixed in position and should never move!) Be sure that the inside mallet sits in the crease of the knuckle nearest the fingertip throughout the movement. The mallet should not be rolled or otherwise moved; it is the finger that moves, and the mallet that goes along for the ride. This motion should give you a range of a second or third to at least a sixth; while there are other maneuvers that allow for greater intervals, this motion is sufficient to allow you to play beginning- and intermediate-level four-mallet literature.

    Burton Grip: Start with a comfortable third or fourth interval, with a fulcrum on the inside mallet formed between the thumb and index finger and the ring finger anchoring the outside mallet shaft. To decrease the interval between the mallets, move the index finger up and out of the space between the mallets, press the inside mallet closer to the outside one with the thumb, and use the back fingers to squeeze the mallet shafts closer together. For a larger interval (fifth, sixth, or larger), move the thumb between the mallet shafts, forming a fist. Allow the index finger to wrap around and secure the inside mallet shaft, while the ring finger will again anchor the outside mallet shaft inside the hand.

    Traditional Grip: Start with an interval of a third, with the side of the thumb resting on the top of the inside mallet and the index finger touching the inside of the outside mallet just between the first and second knuckles. To decrease the interval between mallets, allow the thumb to nestle under a slightly extended index finger and curl the middle finger around the back shafts of the mallets, pulling the mallet heads closer together. For a lager interval, extend the thumb and index finger along the insides of each mallet and allow the ring finger to release the back shaft of the inside mallet, leaving the pinky finger to support the contrary pressure at the mallet crossing point.

    As you continue the exploration and development of your four-mallet technique, it is recommended that you seek out assistance from a percussion specialist in your area. While we strive to be careful and detailed in our descriptions, having a second set of eyes review your hands in these grips with these various interval positions is advantageous in ensuring the right foundational habits are established, from which point you can continue to explore advancing techniques and literature.

    Emily Tannert PattersonEmily Tannert Patterson is a percussionist and online educator in Cambridge, U.K. Previously she was a percussion educator, arranger, clinician, and consultant in the Austin, Texas, area, serving as the percussion director at Rouse High School and Wiley Middle School in Leander from 2015 till 2018 and at East View High School, Georgetown from 2011 until 2015. Her ensembles garnered numerous accolades, including winning the 2016 PAS IPEC. Patterson holds a master's degree in Percussion Performance from the University of Texas at Austin, where she studied with Thomas Burritt and Tony Edwards. Patterson earned her bachelor’s degree in Instrumental Music Studies, along with an undergraduate Performance Certificate in Percussion and her Texas teaching certificate, from UT in 2008, and received her bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Political Science from Northwestern University in 2004. Patterson marched with the Glassmen Drum and Bugle Corps in 2003 and was a member of the 2004 Winter Guard International world champion indoor drumline Music City Mystique. Prior to her move to the U.K., she was active in judging around the country. Patterson holds professional memberships in the Texas Music Educators Association and the Percussive Arts Society and serves on the PAS Education Committee. 

    Josh GottryJosh Gottry is a respected educator, accomplished percussionist, and internationally recognized composer who has been working with, and creating music for, the next generation of percussionists for over twenty years. He has served on the music faculty at college and university campuses around the Phoenix metropolitan area, works regularly with ensembles and students at all grade levels as a clinician and within his private lesson studio, and his performance record includes professional orchestras, musical theater, worship teams, jazz combos, community and chamber ensembles, as well as solo performances and recitals. Gottry is an ASCAP award-winning composer whose works have been performed at colleges and universities, junior high and high schools, and multiple national conferences, and he serves as editor for Rhythm! Scene.

  • You Are Your Own Teacher: Building Successful Practice and Time Management Skills by Justin M. Bunting

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Sep 17, 2021

    Every musician needs to practice. That’s a fact whether you are a beginner or a world-renowned virtuoso. Too often, however, we do not talk enough about HOW to practice. In a fast-paced world, efficient and productive practice also requires the ability to manage your time wisely. It is incredibly important to state that practice and time management are learned skills not unlike playing an instrument. I believe that they are two of the most important skills that any musician can learn. 

    In this article, I will take you through my Top Ten Tips for Effective Practice as well as some information on improving your ability to manage your time. These tips are presented as if the reader is a student taking weekly lessons with an instructor. They are applicable, however, to all musicians and can be tailored based on your situation.

    Practice is a class, and YOU are the teacher. Many university-level private studios require at least one hour of practice per day per credit hour of the lesson. So, if you are taking a two-credit lesson, that is at least 14 hours of practice per week. In many studios, more than that is required, but let us use 14 hours as an example. 

    In this scenario, you are practicing 14 times the amount of time each week that you spend in a lesson. Therefore, if you are waiting for the lesson to be taught, you are missing out on 14 more hours of instruction every week. So how do you teach yourself? Imagine you are your own student. Record yourself (audio and video) and listen back critically. Take notes and correct any errors or issues you find. This is not just about playing wrong notes. Critique your own musicality, phrasing, dynamic range, technique, and so on. Finally, ask yourself: “Why am I missing that note every time?” Diagnose what is happening physically to lead to the wrong note. Mindless repetition need not apply.

    Slow and deliberate practice is essential to achieve an accurate and musical performance. I do not like to say words like “always” and “never” in music, so instead I will say “almost always” practice with a metronome. It not only helps keep your rhythmic integrity intact, but it keeps you honest in regard to tempo in general. We tend to naturally play a phrase or section too fast too quickly after it is comfortable to play. Therefore, it’s easy to play faster and faster with each repetition without noticing if you are not using a metronome. 

    Slow practice takes patience, but it is necessary. Be sure to include dynamics, preliminary phrasing, and inflection at a slow tempo. Do not wait to add those things later. Also, you need to move and breathe like you will have to at tempo. Slow practice can encourage unnecessary, extraneous motion if you are not careful. Test a particularly difficult line at tempo just to see if the way you are moving works.

    Many practice sessions take on the format of what is called “blocked” practice. Blocked practice is when a soccer player tries to make 100 penalty kicks in a row. In music, it may be where someone tries to run through a section 10 times without playing a wrong note. This method can work, and we often feel great at the end of the session. However, at the start of the next session, you may feel like you have gone backwards overnight. Our brain is excited by new things and, in effect, bored by repetition. 

    Therefore, I suggest trying interleaved practice. This is breaking down the practice session into smaller segments and alternating between those segments throughout the session. For example, if you are practicing major scales on marimba, give yourself two minutes per scale. Set a timer on your phone or other device for two minutes, practice C major, and then move on to G major when the timer goes off. Repeat this for as many scales as you want to practice in that session. Just be sure you keep coming back to the first scales throughout the session until you’ve met your goal for the day.

    Efficiency is paramount in a busy world. Though it’s often necessary to practice long hours due to the sheer volume of material percussionists are asked to study, we can make our practice more efficient, productive, and positive. Take a break every 20–30 minutes at least. Even a two-minute break is extremely valuable to maintaining focus. Leave the practice room, get a drink or a snack, or take a quick walk outside if the weather is nice. This is refreshing and breaks the monotony of being in the same room for an hour or more.

    I do not suggest, however, looking at your phone or other device. It is far too easy to go down a social media spiral and waste time that is supposed to be productive. 

    If practice is a class, and you are your own teacher, a practice log is both your reflection on the current class and a lesson plan for the next class. As a teacher, would you not make notes about how today’s class went and make a lesson plan for the next one? Of course, you would! You are teaching this class called “Practice” and your student (you) deserves that attention to detail. You do not deserve a teacher (you) who is simply winging it and hoping for the best every day. (There is some information about what to put in your practice log later on in this article.)

    Do not underestimate the value of practicing away from your instrument. Mental practice is a great way to test focus and mental stamina, as well as save your chops. Play the piece in your head. Imagine yourself moving, breathing, and playing. This can be done standing at the instrument or completely away from it. 

    Singing is another great option. This is especially great for working on phrasing. Every human can sing. Too often, percussion technique gets in the way of innate musical expression. Hit record on your device, sing the phrase, then play it. Does it sound the same? Are you playing it the way you want it to sound? If not, diagnose the issue and correct it.

    Finally, you can play on another instrument. Playing marimba solos on piano is a fun challenge. Do you really know the notes or are you relying on muscle memory?

    No musicians are “too good” to write on their music, nor can they remember everything without the visual cue of writing on the page. Circle dynamic, key, and time changes. Write in cues, places where you line up with a colleague rhythmically, and so on. Many percussionists like to use different colored highlighters for each of these different musical elements. Nothing is too small. It gives you less to remember in the moment. Get a pack of pencils, and make sure you always have one with you!

    We can get very comfortable practicing by ourselves on the same instrument, in the same room, with the same lighting. To simulate performance anxiety, run down the hall before playing your piece. This will get your heartrate up, increase the rate of your breathing, and may make your hands feel a little shaky. 

    Speaking of shaky hands, know what effect caffeine has on your body. If you are taking a symphony audition with all those soft snare drum excerpts, and caffeine makes your hands shake, you will probably want to cut it out a few weeks before the audition.

    Practice dealing with mental distraction by having a friend talk to you while you play or make random noises. If no one else is around, you can set a timer on your device to go off at a random interval. Say your piece is five minutes long. Set a timer for three minutes. It will go off in a random spot in the piece and you will need to keep playing through it. 

    Finally, get out of that same practice room as often as possible. Practice in other rooms — preferably the room you are going to ultimately perform in. 

    Most likely, you will not learn an entire solo or etude in one practice session, so do not expect yourself to. Make sure you are getting clear expectations from your teacher. I give my students specific sections and tempos for next week’s lesson or rehearsal that I expect them to master. In your practice log, break down where you are and where you need to be. 

    My example is always this: I need to have this snare drum etude at 120 bpm in seven days for my next lesson. It is currently at 60 bpm. So, if I increase the tempo by 10 clicks each day, that will put me at tempo the day before my lesson. Setting realistic daily goals will allow you to succeed on the weekly level. 

    Finally, be able to recognize when you have worked hard, hit your goals, and are able to reward yourself. It could be as simple as doing that Music Theory homework on Sunday instead of Saturday and giving yourself time to watch a movie. Another example is to imagine you were going to practice for two hours, but you reached all your goals in less time. You can stop early and make that your reward for hitting your goals. Obviously, there is danger there of convincing yourself you practiced enough. You need to hold yourself accountable. Rewards do not have to cost money, but if you like a certain food, feel free to treat yourself after a week or few weeks of hard work.

    Now that you have seen an overview of my practice tips, I want to discuss time management as an equally important, and complementary, skill to effective practice. The most basic thing you can do is schedule your practice time each week. If your school has a weekly sign-out sheet, plan your week ahead of time, then sign it out and put it in your calendar. Then, hold yourself to it. It is a class after all! If you do not show up to class, how can you succeed?

    The practice log is just as much a time-management tool as it is a practice tool. Be sure to take detailed notes about tempos, specific sections of pieces, and map out your practice session like a workout (warm-up, session goals, cool-down). Below is a basic example of a marimba session:

    March 10 (1 hour): Warm-up: major scales with sequential sticking @ 100 bpm; Rotation 2: beginning to 21 @ 72 bpm (quarter note), 21–61 @ 120 bpm (eighth note), 61–end @ 66 bpm (quarter note); Cool-down: single alternating strokes @ 100 bpm.

    Finally, prioritize based on the importance of a piece or performance and respective deadlines — importance meaning importance to your success, not necessarily your perception of importance or what you “want” to work on. What deadline is closest? What are you most behind on? Using a scheduling or to-do list app (like Microsoft To-Do or Evernote) can help map out each day. 

    I want to restate something from the beginning of this article. Practice and time management are learned skills. No one inherently knows how to do them. As strange as it may sound, practice takes practice. Time management takes practice. I’m willing to bet the source of a lot of stress in your life, or your students’ lives, is feeling behind or unprepared for a lesson, rehearsal, or performance, even though you practiced. If your routine is not working for you, take a chance by revamping your approach to your practice and your schedule and see what a difference it can make. 


    Justin Bunting August 2021Dr. Justin Bunting has an active career as an international percussion educator, solo performer, chamber player, orchestral musician, clinician, and composer. He serves as Assistant Professor of Percussion at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He has performed with orchestras across the United States and appeared at multiple national and international conferences, conventions, and workshops both as a solo artist and member of Blue Line Duo. An advocate for new music, he has commissioned or premiered over 15 new works for percussion and has music published with C. Alan Publications and Bachovich Music Publications. Active in PAS, Dr. Bunting currently serves as President of the Arkansas chapter, a member of the World Percussion Committee, and a reviewer for the New Literature and Recordings section of Percussive Notes.

  • Paradiddles: The Whole Story in a Nutshell by Joel Rothman

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Sep 08, 2021

    Just behind the single-stroke and double-stroke roll, paradiddles are likely the most important and commonly used rudiment. You can find many examples of this in my book, Sticking Patterns.

    The paradiddle rudiment consists of pairs of both single and double strokes: PA-RAs are the single strokes; DID-DLEs are the double strokes. There are four main types of paradiddles: Single Paradiddles (Pa-ra-did-dle), Double Paradiddles (Pa-ra-pa-ra-did-dle), Triple Paradiddles (Pa-ra-pa-ra-pa-ra-did-dle), and Paradiddle-diddles (Pa-ra-pa-ra-did-dle-did-dle). Each can be played starting with the left or right hand. The first three are naturally alternating (start with the right hand and the next one will start with the left hand), while the paradiddle-diddle naturally repeats with the same leading hand.

    Each of the four types contain what I choose to refer to as inversions, akin to chords. For simplicity, and since paradiddle rudiments can be applied to any constant or changing rhythmic value, the following examples are written with sticking only. For further practice ideas, you can embellish any of the paradiddles with flams, drags, or ruffs.

    Single Paradiddle
    Root Position: R L R R – L R L L
    First Inversion: R R L R – L L R L
    Second Inversion: R L L R – L R R L
    Third Inversion: R L R L – L R L R

    Double Paradiddle
    Root Position: R L R L R R – L R L R L L
    First Inversion: R R L R L R – L L R L R L
    Second Inversion: R L R R L R – L R L L R L
    Third Inversion: R L L R L R – L R R L R L
    Fourth Inversion: R L R L L R – L R L R R L
    Fifth Inversion: R L R L R L – L R L R L R

    Triple Paraddidle
    Root Position: R L R L R L R R – L R LR L R L L
    First Inversion: R R L R L R L R – L L R L R L R L
    Second Inversion: R L L R L R L R – L R R L R L R L
    Third Inversion: R L R R L R L R – L R L L R L R L
    Fourth Inversion: R L R L L R L R – L R L R R L R L
    Fifth Inversion: R L R L R R L R – L R L R L L R L
    Sixth Inversion: R L R L R L L R – L R L R L R R L
    Seventh Inversion: R L R L R L R L – L R L R L R L R

    Root Position: R L R R L L (or L R L L R R)
    First Inversion: R R L L R L (or L L R R L R)
    Second Inversion: R R L R L L (or L L R L R R)
    Third Inversion: R L L R R L (or L R R L L R)
    Fourth Inversion: R L L R L R (or L R R L R L)
    Fifth Inversion: R L R L L R (or L R L R R L)

    There are six additional important stickings that I consider part of the paradiddle family, but are not recognized as such. They have two strokes on one hand and one stroke on the other, usually played within a compound meter or triplet rhythmic grouping. I call each a PA-DIDDLE or DIDDLE-PA because they consist of a double stroke combined with just one single stroke. The six variations are:

    R R L
    L L R
    R L R
    L R L
    R L L
    L L R

    Quintuplets are rhythmic groupings commonly used by many drummers, and I think of the following stickings as quintuplet paradiddles. Once again, these are not considered official or standard drum rudiments, but they are equally useful in a variety of practice and performance situations. Since quintuplet paradiddles consist of three single strokes and one double stroke you might think of each as a Pa-ra-ra-did-dle. The four variations and the inverse of each are as follows:

    R L R L L (or L R L R R)
    R L R R L (or L R L L R)
    R L L R L (or L R R L R)
    R R L R L (or L L R L R)

    A septuplet is another odd rhythmic grouping in which could be fitted double paradiddles and paradiddle-diddles, along with their inversions. Try it and see what you come up with. Theoretically, any combination of single and double strokes might be labelled as some type of paradiddle. For instance: R L R L R R L L could be called a para-para-diddle-diddle. There’s almost no end to the possibilities.

    Consecutive single strokes, double strokes, and sometimes triple strokes, combined with all types of paradiddles more or less tell the whole story of the stickings most commonly used by drummers. The rest of the story has to do with how, when, and where they’re used, as well as the rhythmic context in which they’re played. The more options you explore in your practice, the more flexibility and precision you will find in your performance applications.

    Joel RothmanJoel Rothman is the writer and publisher of almost 100 drum and percussion books. They can all be found on his website (, or you can contact Joel at

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