I'm having trouble with my sixteenth-notes. I can't keep a steady beat when playing sixteenth-notes (two hands) on the HiHat and moving to strike the Snare drum on the backbeats.  Do you have any techniques that could make my 16ths better?


We've all been there at some point in time in our playing, but there are a number of ways to affectively overcome this issue. Here are a few of my own personal suggestions, in no particular order, that have proven to work for many of my students over the years. If you are struggling with evening out your hand-to-hand strokes, sixteenth-notes or otherwise, give one or more of these suggestions a try; I think you'll be happy with the results.

  • Relax: Be sure to warm-up and stretch before you play. While you are playing, if you feel yourself getting tense, slow down or stop and take a break.
  • Metronome: Set your metronome to sixteenth-notes so you can play along with it. Listen and lock in. Be sure to work it slowly before increasing tempo. If you don't own a metronome, buy one. If that's not possible, play-along to a favorite CD which is known for having excellent tempo and feel.
  • Practice Slowly: Anytime you notice that something is not right, slow down. Find the tempo that you can play at, even if it's 40 bpm (beats per minute) or slower. Many drummers and percussionists play way too fast during their practice sessions, especially when working on new things, and never fully develop control and/or coordination.
  • Count or Verbalize Out Loud: Your brain needs to understand what it is you are wanting to play before you actually play it. If you understand mentally, you should be able to verbalize it first. This will aid you immensely in your progress, making the actual playing experience easier and more enjoyable.
  • Isolation: Be sure that you can first play sixteenth-notes evenly on one surface (e.g. drum) before trying to have lateral movement, moving to two or more surfaces. You should apply this concept to everything you do.
  • Sticking Variations: This could be anything from the Stick Control book (pp. 3-5) to the 40 Standard Rudiments. Being able to perform a variety of stickings, especially more difficult stickings, will really help your playing over time. This is true even if you never plan to actually use a particular sticking.
  • Practice Methodically: Pay careful attention to what you are playing. Speed will come with time, so be patient. Listen to the sounds you are producing. Watch your technique, being careful to make fluid motions and that the sticks or moving up and down, working with gravity.

All of these tips and suggestions can be applied to not only the hands, but the feet as well. Percussionists will also benefit from these suggestions by applying the concepts to the instrumentation of their choosing.