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Snare Drum Stroke-Types and Flams

The art and science of motion was once an integral part of snare drum instruction, however that knowledge disappeared from method books in the 1930s. Certain instructors have kept these concepts alive in their teaching.

The concept of a "correct drum stroke" is simple and can be applied to most percussion instruments. The correct motion is down-up not up-down-up. The "up-down-up" stroke looks good in slow motion (it is a very fluid motion) and, if used correctly, is excellent for making a legato entrance with a conductor. The problems with the "up-down-up" stroke are (1) it tends to make an entrance late, (2) volume is difficult to control, (3) the extraneous motion costs time and therefore speed.

Dynamics

Volume is easy to control when one is using the "down-up" stroke. The concepts governing the motions are simple to understand and begin with the assumption that each stroke will accelerate at a standard rate.

To make a note loud or accented one strikes the drum with more force

More force is generated by striking the drum at a greater velocity

Greater velocity requires more space between the stick and drum for acceleration

A stroke started 12" above the drum will accelerate more than a stroke started 3" above the drum and will be louder.

This simple logic is countermanded by the improper "up-down-up" stroke. Although the drum stick may start 3" above the drum, the first up-motion raises it to the level of all the other strokes and makes all strokes the same volume. Remember, this assumes that the rate of acceleration is a constant.

Stroke Types

There are four basic stroke types whose use is guided by (1) the intended dynamic level of a note and (2) the position the stick will assume after the stroke is completed (this position is a function of the volume of the next note). The distance measured in inches is for the purposes of demonstration only, the distance used in performance depends on a series of relationships.
Full Stroke (F): A loud or accented note to be followed by another loud or accented stroke. This stroke begins approximately 12" - 16" above the drum and returns to its original position.

Tap (T): This is used for a normal volume level and begins 1" - 6" above the drum. As long as its motion is "down-up" it will be softer that the Full Stroke.

Down Stroke (D): This is a transitional stroke used for a loud/accented note to be followed by a soft/normal note. The stick begins in the Full-Stroke position however the rebound motion is restricted to the height of a Tap Stroke. The stick is now in a position to play a soft/normal note.

Up Stroke (U): This is another transitional stroke and begins as a Tap, however the rebound is allowed to carry the stick upward into the Full-Stroke position, without stopping until it reaches its intended height. The stick is now ready to play a loud/accented note.

Try these simple one-handed discovery exercises:

  • F - F (two Full Strokes) start with the stick 12" above the drum and make two complete "down-up" motions.
  • T - T (two Taps) start with the stick 3" above the drum and make two complete "down-up" motions. These two strokes will be softer than the two sounds produced in exercise number one.
  • D - T (Down Stroke and Tap) start with the stick 12" above the drum and strike the drum restricting the rebound so that the stick stops at the 3" position; strike the drum again beginning from the 3" position. The first note will be loud in relation to the second note.
  • D - U - D - U (Down Stroke, Up Stroke ) start with the stick 12" above the drum and strike the drum restricting the rebound position to 3". Strike the drum from the 3" position and allow the rebound to return the stick to the 12" position. Repeat these actions. The resulting sounds should be "loud - soft - loud - soft."
  • F - D - T - U (Full Stroke, Down Stroke, Tap, Up Stroke) Begin the stroke at the 12" position, strike the drum and return to the 12" position; strike the drum from the 12" position but restrict the rebound to the 3" position; strike the drum from the 3" position and return to the 3" position; strike the drum from the 3" position and allow the stick to rebound to the 12" position. Repeat these motions and you should hear two loud/accented strokes and two soft/normal strokes.
  • D - T - U (Down Stroke, Tap, Up Stroke) Start with the stick in the 12" position, strike the drum but restrict the rebound to the 3" position; strike the drum from the 3" position and return to the 3" position; strike the drum from the 3" position and allow the stick to rebound to the 12" position. Repeat these motions and you should hear one loud/accented note and two soft/normal notes.

Accents

A note is perceived as accented only if it is recognized by the listener as louder than the surrounding non-accented notes. One accents a note by making it louder than the surrounding strokes (it will be a Full Stroke or a Down Stroke).
When will the stick playing the accent assume its "up" position? It will assume the position by making an Up Stroke on the note preceding the accent.
The following accent patterns should be performed using alternating sticking (right - left - right - left):

  • The repeating 16th-note pattern:
    D - T - U - T will create a pattern of accents on the beat.
  • The repeating pattern:
    U - T - D - T will create a pattern of accents on the "+" or third 16th-note.
  • The repeating pattern:
    T - U - T - D will create a pattern of accents on the "a" or last 16th-note.
  • The repeating pattern:
    T - D - T - U will create a pattern of accents on the "e" or second 16th-note.

Flams

The correct execution of flams depends on the correct use of the four stroke types. A flam is produced by two sticks striking the drum at almost the same instant, a softer note striking first with a louder note striking second.
The flam is produced by placing one stick in a Tap position and the other stick in a Full Stroke position; both sticks begin the downward motion at the same instant and accelerate at the same rate. The stick that begins in the Tap position will strike before, and will be softer than, the stick that begins in the Full Stroke position.

If both hands start in the correct position, and at the same moment, the resulting flam will sound correct and repetitions will be consistent. Using an "up-down-up" motion will cause both sticks to strike at the same instant causing a muffled "flat" flam. The position that the sticks rebound into following the flam, i.e., use of the Tap, Down Stroke, Up Stroke, or Full Stroke, will depend on which hand strikes next and its desired dynamic level.

I use the following page of flam exercises with my students to train them to execute consistently correct flams. The right hand is written above the line, the left is below the line, the stroke types are identified by a system of arrows. Please feel free to copy these exercises and use them with you students.

Dr. G.W. Sandy Schaefer
Assistant Professor
Chadron State College
Chadron, NE 69337
sschaefer@csc.edu

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