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Rhythmic Alphabet: Language of Druming

I’ve always been fond of concepts and structures in the world of drums that go beyond rudimentary exercises and mechanical effort. Rhythm and percussion deal with an entire dimension of texture and sound that cannot be mastered by just playing rudiments over and over.

I was terribly lucky to have come across Benny Greb’s Language of Drumming very early on in my drumming education. Initially devised as a set of exercises for himself, Benny went on to create a system so elegant that it challenges and inspires every individual from the novice’s first drum lesson to the master’s improvisation.

The Binary and Ternary systems are essentially just a kind of morse code, combinations of dots and dashes in groups of 4 (binary) and 3 (ternary). The structure is pictorially represented below. This structure seems to be unassuming and almost incoherent at first, but the beauty of symbolism is that it’s as powerful as your imagination.

For starters, assume the dots to be accented notes and dashes to be ghost notes. A simple exercise would then be rotating accents within a 4-note or 3-note grouping. For example, the first 4 bars would be – Rrrr, rRrr, rrRr, rrrR where ‘R’ denotes the accent and ‘r’ denotes the ghost note. You can do the same with literally any kind of rudiment. Dots can be RL, dashes can be RR or LL. That becomes an exercises in alternating single and double strokes. If the dots are flam taps and the dashes are single notes, the structure becomes an exercise in flams.

The opportunities for creativity and complexity are endless. Feeling comfortable? Replace the dots with 16th-note Hertas and the dashes with 16th-note triplet single strokes. Play the entire structure over an 8th-note pulse on the hi-hat. Want an even bigger challenge? Replace the dots with 16th-note triplet six-stroke rolls and the dashes with 32nd-note paradiddles, over an ostinato of your choice on the feet. And of course, there’s always the option of speeding things up. However, don’t forget to keep accuracy and feel in mind.

The thought process behind a system like this is to give you a ground-zero on which to build your practice. It directs you towards approaching the drums as endless permutations of possibilities instead of just notes put in different places.

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