Drum Strokes Development
Lesson Three:

Lesson three introduces the preliminary Drum Strokes that will program your hands for excellence and teach you to move your sticks like a pro.

Muscle memory is a very powerful thing. Playing a snare drum, drum set, marimba or any other percussion instrument involves a vocabulary of motion and uses many different muscles of the hands, fingers, arms and body. It is unrealistic to just dive in and start playing with out giving the muscles some instruction and training in the “right” way to move.

This powerful training can be accomplished through a few simple slow motion drum stroke exercises that allow you to practice moving your hands and wrists properly.

The main purpose of these slow-motion drum strokes is to gain control over two aspects of drumming:

  1. STICK PATH (what direction does the stick travel?) 
  2. STICK HEIGHT (how high does the stick go?)

Mastery over these two elements is absolutely vital to lay the foundation of movement necessary for drumming success. 

To master the following drum stroke exercises we will focus on two stick positions:

Beginning Stick Positions

To learn these preliminary drum strokes we need to identify two stick positions: 

FIRST: Rest Position: Hold both stick beads close together in the center of the playing surface and 2 1/2 to 3 inches above the playing surface.

Fig. 41

SECOND: Accent Height: Raise the bead of the stick up 15 to 17 inches above the playing service. Directly above where the stick used to be in rest position. This is the natural stick height used when playing full volume accents, which we will do very soon. 

Fig. 42

The essence of drum strokes is moving the stick up and down, over and over. A simple concept, but doing this correctly is vital! And there are SO MANY ways to do it wrong. So, we are going to practice moving from Rest Position to Accent Height and gain full control over Stick Path and Stick Height. 

Preliminary Stroke Number One: Shadow Stroke

To Perform "Shadow Stroke" begin in "Rest Position" (one hand at a time)  and follow these 4 steps:

Step 1: Move the stick slowly, and smoothly from rest position to accent height in 3 counts. 

Step 2: Rest and hold the stick at accent height for 3 counts. 

Step 3: Move the stick slowly and smoothly from accent height back to rest position in 3 counts.

Step 4: Rest and hold the stick in rest position for 3 counts. 

Repeat these 4 steps over and over.

Tips for Success: 

  • Use a metronome at 70 – 80 bpm.
  • Stay relaxed.
  • Move smoothly and consistently through out. 
  • Use only the wrist to move the stick. 
  • Focus on lifting to the same stick height (Accent Height) every time.
  • Focus on a straight up and down stick path – directly above where the stick was in rest position. 
  • Keep all of your hand touching the stick, relaxed but connected. (don’t let go) 
  • Be sure to return back to the proper rest position at the end of each repetition. 
  • Be patient, let the repetition of this motion train and condition your muscles in the correct motion of drumming.
  • Watch the video lesson and demonstration - Be a perfectionist and master the motion properly. 

I realize this is not very exciting, but it is like programming computer software - building the “programming code” of proper drumming into your muscles. Repetition is POWERFUL!

Once you feel comfortable that you can produce a consistent motion and control the stick path and stick height go on to this next preliminary stroke - Snap Stroke. 

To Perform "Snap Stroke" begin in "Rest Position" (one hand at a time)  and follow these 4 steps:

Step 1: Lift the stick smoothly in one count from rest position to accent height. (Count 1) 

Step 2: Hold the stick at accent height for three counts. (Counts 2, 3, 4) 

Step 3: Snap the stick down in one count, accelerating and hitting the drum. Immediately stop the stick in rest position. (Count 1) 

Step 4: Hold the stick in rest position for three counts. (Counts 2, 3, 4)

Repeat these 4 steps over and over

Tips for Success: 

  • Don’t jerk and create unnecessary tension. Move quickly upward, but move smoothly and remain relaxed. 
  • On the down ward motion, accelerate the stick into the head for a strong accent, but stay relaxed and don’t pound the head. - Do not “flip” your fingers on the back of the stick. Hold on and keep the stick connected to the hand. 
  • When you stop your hand in rest position, the stick will stop with it. This is often called “cushioning” the stick. 
  • Don’t squeeze and create tension, but keep your hand and fingers ON the stick. Don’t let go!
  • Watch the videos below for a full demonstration of Snap Stroke. Be a perfectionist and master the motion properly

This stroke is reinforcing the same control over stick path and stick height. You also must gain control over stopping the stick at 2.5" to 3" after a strong downward stroke. A VERY important skill in more advanced drumming. 


This next stroke repeats the same motions of Shadow Stroke and Snap Stroke BUT, with both hands at the same time moving OPPOSITE one another.

Switch Stroke “Shadow” Version 

1) Begin with the left stick in rest position and the right stick in accent height.

2) Perform the same 4 steps described above for Shadow stroke, except use both hands at the same time moving opposite one another.

3) While the left hand moves up slowly in 3 counts, the right hand moves down slowly in three counts.

Tips for success: 

  • Start and stop both sticks at exactly the same time 
  • Move both sticks smoothly and consistently- both sticks “Switching” places.
  • Continue to accurately use the same stick path and stick height established when doing this motion on hand at a time.

Switch Stroke “Snap” Version 

1) Begin with the left stick in rest position and the right stick in accent height. 

2) Perform “Snap Stroke” motion as on page ??? but move both sticks opposite one another, trading places. 

3) The stick moving upward will arrive at Accent Height the same time the other stick movingdownward hits the drum and stops in Rest Position. 

Tips for success: 

  • The coordination and timing in your hands is vital – Start and stop the sticks exactly together. 
  • NO preparatory motions – move directly up or down at the right time.
  • Watch the videos below for a full demonstration of Switch Stroke.
  • Take your time, go slowly, be a perfectionist and mater the motions! 


The Switch Stroke is designed to program correct alternating strokes into your hands. The first functional skill required to play anything of substance in drumming is to be able to play alternating stroke between the right and left hands. For example: 

I like to call this the first “Landmark Skill” of drum strokes. R L R L R L R L. If you can’t do that well with even rhythm and good control over the sticks – What can you do? You really are not functional as a drummer, on any level, UNTIL you can at least do THAT. 

Preliminary Stroke Number Four: Float Stroke

This Stroke combines the upward and downward motion of the previous drum strokes into one continuous motion.

To perform Float Stroke begin in Rest Position (One hand at a time) and follow these steps: 

Step 1: Begin lifting the stick in a smooth, floating upward motion. 

Step 2: As your stick arrives at Accent Height do not stop, but bring the stick down quickly with an accelerating motion just as in Snap Stroke.

Step 3: Stopping immediately in rest position.

Tips for success: 

  • The entire stroke gradually accelerates as it reaches accent height and accelerates downward to strike the drum. 
  • The entire motion should take approx. one count at 120bpm on your metronome. 
  • Set your metronome at 120bpm, begin moving one count before you hit the drum. 
  • Watch the videos below for a full demonstration of Float Stroke. 

This stroke is a "Golden Secret" to great drumming. Take the time to master this motion. You will see as we progress through these lessons that Float Stroke will prove itself one of the most important motions in all drumming!


This motion is used virtually anytime the stick is resting and begins moving again. It provides a fluid natural way to begin moving the stick. Check out accomplished drummers and watch how they use the float stroke concept when beginning motion. 

Preliminary Stroke Number Five: Multiple Stroke

This stroke can be though of as continuous Accent Strokes.

To perform Multiple Stroke begin in Rest Position (One hand at a time) and follow these steps:

Step 1) Begin moving the stick as in Float Stroke 

Step 2) As the stick strikes the head DO NOT STOP 

Step 3) Immediately lift the stick again and repeat the process

Tips for Success:

  • This is the basic component of drumming. A continuous up and down motion. 
  • Some might call this a “full stroke” in that the stick continues to return to the full up position immediately after striking the drum each time. 
  • This is the motion of each hand when playing simple alternating single drum strokes.
  • Watch the videos below for a full demonstration of Multiple Stroke.

The Magic of the Preliminary Drum Strokes

Spending several practice sessions repeating these five preliminary drum strokes carefully and correctly is very powerful. Focus on mastering control of stick path and stick height, and develop strong habits of correct grip and hand position. This will lay the foundation for great technique as we progress and start dealing with the “real life” of drumming.

Now we are ready to apply these drumming motions or drum strokes to our first category of drumming; Single Strokes One-Height.

Click Here to Return to the LESSON OUTLINE PAGE as you develope these drum strokes

Click Here to proceed to LESSON FIVE