Few instruments demand such intense use of your body as drum kits do. Sure, coordination is difficult when it comes to nearly all musical instruments, considering you usually need two hands and sometimes your mouth as well. Drummers, however, use both hands and both feet, and each limb needs to behave independently of the other. And don’t even get me started on singing drummers. Luckily, limb independence can be practised with a number of exercises that I’m about to show you.

Independence Exercises for Drummers

Simple Independence Exercises You Can Do Anywhere!

You don’t need any tools to do these exercises. It’s all about teaching your muscles to move in a certain way. Feel free to practise on a drum kit or practise pad with a set of drum sticks, or use your hands to tap on a desk, table or a little wooden crate. Start slowly and don’t go any faster until you’re comfortable (and able) to do so.

Simple Independence Exercises You Can Do Anywhere!

Exercise 1

R = Right hand
L = Left hand

Use both hands to play quarter notes (4 beats) simultaneously:

1       2       3       4
R       R       R       R
L       L       L       L

Exercise 2

Continue playing quarter notes with your left hand (on the count). Use your right hand to play in eights (or 8 / 8 beats), which comes down to twice the speed:

1       2       3       4
R   R   R   R   R   R   R   R
L       L       L       L

Exercise 3

Increase the tapping speed of your right hand to a 6/8 timing (4 bars of 3 beats). Continue to play quarter notes on the count with your left hand:

1        2        3        4
R  R  R  R  R  R  R  R  R  R  R  R
L        L        L        L

Exercise 4

Continue to play quarter notes on the count with your left hand but speed up your right hand to Sixteenth notes:

1       2       3       4
L       L       L       L


  • If you’ve managed to pull off the first four exercises, it’s time to turn it around. Use the exercises above and swap the R’s for L’s and vice versa. You’ll notice it’s a lot more difficult this time around.
  • Once you’ve mastered the reversed exercises, it’s time for the really tricky part. Re-visit the first four exercises and this time, try to complete them using your feet. Don’t start off too quickly or you’ll run into problems come exercise #4.

The first four exercises in drum notation

Before we move on to more advanced material, I’ll present the first four exercises in drum notation. Since I’ll be using drum notation exclusively later on, here’s a chance for you to get used to it:

The first four exercises in drum notation

Advanced Independence Exercises

Now, we’re going to combine the first four exercises, throw in a little variation and play them using both our hands and feet at the same time. You still don’t need a drum kit for these exercises but it’s probably the best option for practice purposes. By the way, these exercises also make for a great warm up. Since we’re getting a little more in-depth, I’ll be exclusively using drum notations from here onwards. The same basic rules apply; all the notes written under or above each other are played at the same time.

Advanced Independence Exercises

Please note:

  • Notes with upward stems are played using your hands
  • Notes with downward stems are played using your feet
  • The X’s always represent the cymbals: either your right hand on the hihat/ride or your left foot on the hihat pedal. (The reverse applies to left-handed drummers, of course.)

Exercise 5

This is a combination of the pevious four exercises placed in a row (each exercise measures one beat) but now you’re going to need both hands and feet. The upper notes – which can be played on the ride – are the variation here: quarter notes first, eighth notes second, triplets third and finally the semi-quavers. It’s never a bad idea to mix up the beats randomly. Start out with the semi-quavers, then the quarter notes, triplets and finally the eighths. Please note, the other notes are (top to bottom): bass drum, hi-hat pedal and snare drum.

Advanced Independence Exercises

Exercise 6

Here, you’re basically doing the same thing as in exercise #5 but using the snare drum for the eighths, triplets and semi-quavers.

Advanced Independence Exercises

Exercise 7

Now you’re adding variation using your right foot – the bass drum.

Advanced Independence Exercises

Exercise 8

Lastly, you’re going to use your left foot, the hi-hat pedal, to play the variation. This is definitely the trickiest exercise so don’t start off too fast or you won’t be able to play the semi-quavers.

Advanced Independence Exercises

Combine and Vary

Once you start getting the hang of it, you can begin to combine the different exercises. For example: the right hand plays the semi-quavers, the left hand the eighths and the left foot the quarter notes. The real challenge here is to play triplets at the same time as the eighths or semi-quavers, but more on that in the next paragraph. You can change up any beat or stick to keeping everything the same on every two or four beats until you’re able to pull it off.

Cross-Rhythm or Polyrhythm

You might have heard of polyrhythms or cross-rhythms before. Polyrhythm literally means ‘multiple rhythms’ and refers to playing two rhythmic patterns (or time signatures) at the same time, while while you can count along to the combined rhythm in different ways. Think about quarter notes and quartertriplets being played simultaneuously (‘3 over 2’). You can imagine well-trained limb independency required when playing different time measures at the same time.

Exercise ‘3 over 1’

In this exercise, we’ll be taking another look at the triplets with quarter notes we played previously. Every quarter note is accompanied by eighth-triplets, called ‘3 over 1’.

Exercise ‘3 over 1’

Excercise ‘3 over 2’

Now, we’re going to strip a few notes away from the triplets, essentially creating a ‘3 over 2’ rhythm. You’re going to play two quarter notes in the time it takes to play three eighth notes. The first measure shows exactly which note should be played when. The second measure shows the same rhythm but with quartertriplets. If you do the maths, you’ll find the results sound the same but look different, with the second measure having a more calm character.

Excercise ‘3 over 2’

Polyrhythmic Music

These types of rhythms are used in many styles of music. It’s reminescent of African styles and featured in Fela Kuti’s music as played by drummer Tony Allen. But polyrhythms can also be found in classical, European music such as Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’. One of the act starts out with a part in 2 / 4, and while it continues to play, a second part is added in 3 / 4, only to be soon joined by a third part in 3 / 8. So at some point, you can subconsciously hear three measures being played – certainly a challenge for any conductor.

Feel like going in-depth?

To get to the bottom of the concept of polyrhythm, you’ll have to dig into binary (two-part) and ternary (three-part) time signatures and how these can be subdivided into single and compound time signatures. For now, it’s important to realise rhythms can often be felt or measured in multiple ways.

One final challenge: ‘7 over 4’

Here’s one final challenge for those that can’t get enough. I’ve written down a ‘7 over 4’ rhythm below. Can you figure out how it’s supposed to sound? Feel free to record yourself and tag us @BaxMusicDrums or leave a comment below!

One final challenge: ‘7 over 4’

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1 response
  1. Simon says:

    Brilliant idea folks, keep ‘em coming 👍😁🤟

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