Many of us have found ourselves stuck at home and away from our instruments; this is particularly true in the case of keyboard percussion. The percussion community has had to embrace a newfound resourcefulness in finding ways to practice and perform that will hopefully last well beyond our return to normal access. While the use of new technology has greatly aided in this, I have found inspiration in something old and time-tested: Stick Control.
Published in 1935, George Lawrence Stone’s Stick Control for the Snare Drummer is considered among the best and certainly most well-known snare drum method books. Percussionists have created their own variations on Stone’s exercises and transferred them to countless other settings. This is due to the genius simplicity behind the book and its universal appeal to performers of all percussion instruments: taking a set rhythm and varying its execution through a wide variety of sticking patterns while striving for a uniform sound throughout.
I initially developed my “Stone Variations” for 4-mallet marimba as floor exercises. Having studied with Mark Ford at the University of North Texas, I was made familiar with this concept as a way to address the mechanics of various strokes away from the instrument, allowing for focus on movement and grip without obsessing over note accuracy. Plus, you can do them anywhere, from your living room while watching Netflix to the green room at Carnegie Hall. By sitting with your back flat against a wall or foot of a couch, your hands rest comfortably at your side and allow the same angle and upper body relaxation needed when playing at the marimba.
The variations I am going to share are based on Exercises 1–13 on page 5 of Stick Control (“Single Beat Combinations”), after which applying the ideas to other sections of the book should seem intuitive. The 4-mallet techniques addressed (using the nomenclature from Leigh Howard Stevens’s Method of Movement) will be double vertical, single independent, single alternating, double lateral, and triple lateral strokes. Explanations include the numbering of mallets as 1, 2, 3, 4 from left to right.
These only demonstrate a handful of ways this material can be adapted to 4-mallet technique; many more can certainly be discovered with a bit of creativity.
DOUBLE VERTICAL STROKES
This variation is the easiest to explain. The designated “R” and “L” sticking would be executed by the respective hands with both mallets in each hand, taking care that both mallets strike at the exact same time (no “flams”) and grip/stroke mechanics are used that ensure a fluid motion as the tempo increases. The first three exercises from page 5 are given below. All subsequent examples would be performed in the same manner.
SINGLE INDEPENDENT STROKES
All the examples on page 5 can also be used to work on single independent strokes, using four variations: inside mallets, outside mallets, odd-numbered mallets, and even-numbered mallets. This is demonstrated with the first two exercises and can easily be applied to variations throughout the page.
SINGLE ALTERNATING AND DOUBLE LATERAL STROKES
Double strokes (“RR” and “LL”) appear in exercises 3–8. In these examples, single alternating and (in faster tempos) double lateral strokes can be applied. Four variations for executing double strokes are given: beginning each grouping of doubles with the inside mallets, outside mallets, odd-numbered mallets, and even-numbered mallets.
Exercises 5–8 combine doubles and singles in a “paradiddle” fashion. Below, doubles are given starting on both the inside and outside mallets. While the single strokes in these examples are indicated with the inside two mallets, they can also be played with the outside mallets or a combination of inner and outer.
TRIPLE LATERAL STROKES
The next four exercises (9–12) are played using single alternating or triple lateral strokes, beginning on either the inside or outside mallets.
The same approach can be applied to the rest of the exercises in this subset.
In addition, these can be performed by alternating between inside and outside mallet lead within each measure, helping achieve fluidity at a faster tempo and building the motion needed to develop one-handed rolls.
This idea is continued in Exercise 13 with four-note groupings.
APPLICATION ON THE INSTRUMENT
In addition to serving as floor exercises, these variations can also be useful in developing permutation exercises at the instrument and serve as a basis for improvisation. Below are two examples using the sticking in Exercise 5 (RLRR LRLL): one using open fifths in each hand and the other with interval changes determined by voice-leading in a I-vi-IV-V chord progression.
As previously mentioned, the concepts listed throughout this article can be applied to other sections of the book, such as “Triplets” (pgs. 8–9), “Short Roll Combinations” (pgs. 10–13), and “Short Rolls and Triplets” (pgs. 14–15). I hope that these ideas serve the percussion community well during our current context of limited access to instruments, but also provide additional inspiration for creative problem solving for the lack of instrument access that we all face occasionally as percussionists, regardless of outside circumstances. Happy practicing!
Jason Baker is a percussionist, author, and composer/arranger living in Starkville, Mississippi. He serves as Professor of Music at Mississippi State University, Associate Editor for New Literature Reviews of Percussive Notes, and Chair of the PAS University Pedagogy Committee. You can contact him at email@example.com.