Syncopation Variations Part 1

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...