Syncopation Variations Part 1

Syncopation For The Modern Drummer, by Ted Reed

Ted Reed’s Syncopation.

When I first got serious about playing drums, I began lessons with a wonderful teacher named Jeff Wilkinson in Atlanta, Georgia in about 1990. I guess Jeff noticed I could read some already, and I was getting interested in jazz, so he got me started with a series of exercises using Ted Reed’s Syncopation, a classic 4/4 reading text. This book has many virtues, and it and similar texts (Louie Bellson’s Modern Reading Text is another example) are great for helping to get a feel for offbeat rhythms, as well as a tool for developing the ability to read ensemble figures and reading in general. I highly recommend checking it out.

 

Although I recommend the entire book for study, the following exercises use Syncopation Sets 1-8, which are 40-bar pieces that begin on page 37 (depending on which edition you have). The exercises below also help to begin to develop vocabulary ideas, using simple melodies, and melodies that use various techniques to embellish them. We’ll start simple, and expand into deeper and more technical applications as we go along.

 

If you find the exercise you’re working on is just too difficult to start with Set 1, you can always start by reading the figures from earlier in the book. On occasion, I’ve gone back to the first pages to get a grip on something particularly difficult. The book progresses very logically and methodically; in no time you’ll have a better grasp and will be able to proceed.

 

Jeff is a big fan of slow practice and repetition; we’d start these exercises at around 70 bpm (for swung-feel stuff), advancing 1 bpm per page in the beginning. So by the time I’d played through sets 1-8, I’d start set 1 again at 78 bpm and continue cycling through. Emphasize relaxed form with consistent sound and stroke height. Make sure to really groove the foot ostinatos where they are included.

 

Soloing exercises

 

Example 1. Swung eighth-note triplets.

Play eighth-note triplets with alternating single strokes, accenting the written figures (use first partial for downbeats, third partial for upbeats), and filling in with quiet singles. Step hi-hat plays on beats 2 & 4.

 

Example 2. Swung eighth-note triplets, with tom accents.

Same as above, but with the accents played on high tom with the left hand, floor tom with the right. Step hi-hat plays on beats 2 & 4.

 

Example 3. Swung eighth-note triplets, with cymbal/kick accents.

Same as Example 1. above, but with the accents played on cymbals and kick drum together. Step hi-hat plays on beats 2 & 4.

 

Example 4. Swing eighth-note triplets, with rolls.

Same as Example 1. above, filling between the accented notes with triplet open rolls. Step hi-hat plays on 2 & 4.

 

Example 5. Swing eighth-note triplets, with rolls and tom accents.

Same as Example 4. above, with the accents played on high tom with the left hand, floor tom with the right. Step hi-hat plays on 2 & 4.

 

Example 6. Swing eighth-note triplets, with rolls and cymbal/kick accents.

Same as Example 4. above, with the accents played on cymbals and kick drum. Step hi-hat plays on 2 & 4.

 

Example 7. Flam accents.

Same as Example 1. above: Play eighth-note triplets with alternating single strokes, accenting the written figures with flams, and filling in with quiet singles. Step hi-hat plays on beats 2 & 4.

 

Example 8. Flam accents, two voices.

One of my faves! Same as above, using a tom for the right voice and snare for the left (and vice versa). Typically a higher pitched tom voicing sounds better. Step hi-hat plays on beats 2 & 4.

 

Example 9. Flam accents, three voices.

Same as above, using a ride-ride bell/kick for the right voice and snare-rimshot for the left (and vice versa). Step hi-hat plays on beats 2 & 4.

 

Example 10. Paradiddles and diddles.

Played straight feel, using singles (para; eighth-note values) paradiddles (quarter notes), paradiddlediddles (dotted quarters), and open rolls (add one diddle for each non-accented eighth of value). In this way, the first measure of exercise one would be interpreted: ParaParaDiddle,ParaParaDiddle, Paradiddle. || R l R l r r L r L r l l R l r r  ||

For an extra challenge, try this with a two-voice foot ostinato, like a samba or mambo.

 

Example 11. Cut Time, Alternating.

Using a straight feel foot ostinato, again like a mambo or samba, and read the melody in cut time, using both hands on the snare. Try to alternate the sticking throughout.

 

Comping exercises

 

Example 1. Swung eighth-note basic jazz ride feel

Play jazz ride pattern with right hand, step hi-hat on 2 & 4. Read melody with left hand. I like to accent quarter notes, or single upbeats, to give it some lope.

 

Example 2. Swung eighth-note basic jazz ride feel

Play jazz ride pattern with right hand, step hi-hat on 2 & 4. Read melody with the kick drum. Again, accent quarter notes, or single upbeats, to give it some lope.

 

Example 3. Swung eighth-note basic jazz ride feel, mixed phrasing

Play jazz ride pattern with right hand, step hi-hat on 2 & 4. Read melody with left hand and right foot; eighth notes with snare, quarter notes or longer with kick (including tied notes). A little tricky; remember to use the value of the note as written to determine the voicing. This is good for beginning to play support for ensemble figures.

 

Example 4. Right hand lead, swung eighth note feel.

Play right hand on cymbal and kick accents for the melody; fill in the other triplets with ghosted left hand taps. During long rests, alternating singles are used to fill in after the initial R l l figure is played. Step hi-hat on 2 & 4. Tough at faster tempos!

 

Example 5. Left hand ostinato.

Play jazz ride pattern with right hand, tap the last two partials of each triplet with the left, step hi-hat on 2 & 4. Read the melody figures with the kick drum. Great for slow/medium-tempo jazz comping fun.

 

Example 6. Cut Time, Comping (Bossa/Samba)

Using a samba foot ostinato, and a ride ostinato (see examples) read melody on snare with left hand in cut time (straight feel)

 

Example 7. Cut Time, Comping (Mambo/Songo)

Same as above, using Mambo or Songo ostinato

 

Example 8. Half Time Shuffle

Playing a Purdie/Bonham/Porcaro half-time shuffle, reading melody with kick drum. Experiment with simple step hihat patterns also.

 

Example 9. Standard Rock Shuffle

Same as above but use backbeat shuffle (Lido Shuffle)

 

The possibilities are endless! Do you have some variations that you love? Mention them in the comments!

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