‘Hands Separate Approach’ To Teaching Percussion

Mike Lawson • • April 10, 2019

The “Hands Separate Approach” taught by Jeff Moore, professor of Percussion/Dean of Fine Arts at University of Central Florida in Orlando, is a modern concept applied to a different method.

Most traditional teaching methods focus on playing drum exercises with both hands playing together.

The problem with this method of teaching is that the student does not properly learn independence between the right and left hand at the beginning stages of development. Most exercises for beginning students focus on rhythm, tempo, and pulse while performing an exercise with both hands. The emphasis also seems to be on grip, stick height, and sound quality. While all of these elements are extremely important, the student misses out on attention to each individual hand and independence while performing these exercises. Jeff Moore gives examples of this problem by telling the student to try a motion with the right hand and then the left hand separately. When trying the same motion with both hands, there seems to be more difficulty and confusion in the mind of the student.

“The natural lack of independence can be one of the most critical skills in the development of a drummer, yet no beginning method book discusses or offers an approach to improve this essential skill. In fact, many beginning books contain combination after combination of sticks that can exacerbate the problem by frustrating the student as each new combination brings the student a feeling of starting over from the beginning,” says Jeff Moore in Fundamental Drumstick Control.

Fundamental exercises that teach independence at the beginning stages of development can enhance proper muscle movement, technique, and a greater understanding of the role that both the left and right hands play when executing basic rhythms. This system of teaching can be transferred into different areas of percussion as well, such as mallet independence and drum set technique.

I have tried Jeff Moore’s approach when practicing. At first it reminded me of the “wax on, wax off/ Mr. Miyagi” approach, but the more I practiced the technique, it enabled me to notice details that never occurred to me. If I play a simple paradiddle rhythm and play one hand on a solid surface (where the rhythm will be loud), and my other hand on a pillow (where the volume is muted), I can hear the rhythm that one hand plays during the paradiddle. If I change hands and put the other hand on the loud surface, I can hear the other rhythm in retrograde. Playing each rhythm separately with each hand for a few minutes allows me to understand the “hands separate approach.” When I play the paradiddle with both hands again, it is much easier because I understand the movement, motion, and rhythm involved in each hand, separate from the entity of the rudiment that I am playing.

This concept of independent teaching can help in the playing of other percussion instruments, which Jeff calls “transfer value.” Jeff Moore states: “This step by step approach is similar to the one utilized when building a new time pattern on drum set. This concept also has a parallel in the genre of marimba, where a single hand ostinato is performed in the left hand (bass line) while the right hand performs a melody with different rhythmic and pitch content.”

The transfer value to other percussion instruments of this basic technique taught by Jeff Moore is absolutely amazing. It is also very important to introduce this independent method as early as possibly to your beginning students. This will provide a much quicker way for your students to develop technical control over their muscle groups and develop coordination. It also provides a faster way to teach your students both sticking control and vocabulary.

Jeff Moore’s method of teaching also provides a concise understanding of the muscle groups involved in percussion. The first muscle group is the arm, where the stroke starts from the shoulder and then travels through the lifted elbow and wrist, providing a whipping motion of the stick going into the head. The second muscle group is the wrist, which is similar to a lever used in the execution of accented and unaccented notes. The third muscle groups are the fingers. The fingers are the muscle control for unaccented notes and rebound control for multiple strokes.

Jeff Moore also gives a detailed description of the seven different types of percussion strokes that he has named. The first one is called “Full,” and can also be referred to as natural, rebound, or legato strokes in percussion language. The second stroke is called “Tap,” which basically refers to low, soft, or unaccented strokes. The third is “Down,” which is basically a controlled staccato. The fourth is “Up,” which is a lift or tap lift. The fifth is “Double,” which are roll strokes, drags, open rolls, and diddles. The sixth stroke is “Triple,” which is triple stroke rolls and French rolls. The final stroke is “Multiple Bounce,” which are buzz rolls and concert rolls.

I highly recommend Jeff Moore’s Fundamental Drumstick Control for more detailed reading of his drumming concepts and cutting edge “Hands Separate Approach” for beginning students. He is one of the greatest percussion educators of our time and his book is a culmination of years of teaching experience both at the collegiate level and as Percussion Caption Head for the Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps throughout some of the corps greatest years that happened in the 1990s. His book can be found on Amazon, Steve Weiss Music, Alfred Music, Barnes and Noble, and many more. Mr. Moore (Master Yoda as I call him) can be a wonderful teacher for your students through his book.

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