Freehand percussion exercises
with Eric Stuer

Step 1. Unison and Single Hand warmups

The main inspiration for these exercises is "The Art & Joy of Hand Drumming", a classic work on the subject by John Bergamo. It's a video with a tiny booklet, and in the booklet, Mr. Bergamo discusses that which the various world percussion traditions have in common. He goes on to name several common principles:

  1. A relaxed way of playing, of "throwing" the hand.
  2. use of varied striking areas
  3. use of "open" or ringing and "closed" or dampened strokes
  4. Rhythmic variety expressed through different fingerings, because different fingers/groupings have a different sound

Unlike many style based methods, Bergamo's approach is open ended. "Experimentation is encouraged." as he says in the booklet. "Feel free to adapt the material to your particular style and needs....think of (the techniques) as a tool to create a style of your own." What a great concept...

So, in that spirit, I've presented a possible warm up routine, rudiments for many hammers, many limbs...

STU: You see, The Bergamo approach is a lot like Linux...
(don't go there, stu)

note: "John Bergamo has neither seen nor endorsed this page. this practice routine is stu's, only one of many possible interpretations of the material in the booklet accompanying his video.

The notation -

(right hand)(left hand)

(the index finger) (the middle finger)

(the ring finger) 4 is the pinky, (not used separately in these exercises.)

is your thumb

This represents the 3 fingers played as one (2,3,4)

This represents all four fingers (1,2,3,4) played as one hammer

The basic building blocks -

One handed and unison exercises - These may seem deceptively simple, but don't take them lightly. Like the single and double stroke rolls to the snare drummer, they'll give your hands a stronger foundation.

Start by playing these cells with each hand separately, slowly at first, repeating each for at least 5-20 minutes, staying relaxed. Gradually increase the speed. Vary the dynamics. Get the feel of using these separate hammers with either hand. Each hammer has a distinct sound in the pattern, a distinct relationship to the other hammers.

Then play with both hands together, mirror images of one another. Getting the basic cells down will help a great deal, because combining them yields many useful patterns. Depending on the surface, it may be useful at times to use the fleshy place at the base of the thumb or the tip, depending on the sound and feel desired.

You can use any surface to do these. the table top near your computer is fine. Other likely sources would be a frame drum on a stand or held between the legs, a pasta pot, a 5 gallon water bottle..? (I'm missing that gold miner's pan I traded to Richard Meyer for his pandeiro.) A cajon...a hubcap..an all metal folding chair..

Your weak hand WILL feel lame at first, but if you perservere, it will come along. concentrate as you practice on making the weak hand feel and sound like the strong hand. Breathe deeply, relax the shoulders, and keep your head, heart, and hips in a vertical line.

Variations - Among the parameters you'll be manipulating to change sounds as you practice are your open and closed notes, achieved by either letting the sound ring or stopping it short by pressing into the head as you make your stroke. On any one of these cells below, for example, you may go 64 beats (16 bars of 4) open, then 64 closed, and when that gets comfy, switch to 32, then 16, 8, 4, 2,1...

Other ideas: You can also add accents in various places. Also play a certain number of beats on one of these patterns, then switch to another. Move your hands around, so the hammers land in different places on the instrument, accessing different sounds. You can modulate the speed between eighth notes, eighth note triplets, and sixteenths...The variations are endless. Explore all the possibilities of either UNISON (both hands together) or separate hand patterns. Play each pattern a number of times perhaps, and then switch hands...

Relax! Experiment! Enjoy!

Please send feedback. Is this useful? How could it be moreso?

Regards, stu at rhythmweb

(hint: to get used to a new pattern, play it with your strong hand first.)


Using the "cells" above as building blocks, and especially by mixing up the two and three note patterns, we can come up with all kinds of patterns that are both fun and interesting.

Consider these examples, either separately or in combination:

In future lessons, accents will probably be in COLOR>

I trust these unison and one handed patterns are warming you up for the next phase of the practice session.

Step 2: Hand-to-hand patterns
(next in the series)

Here's just one, a stumper. All the doubles are singles are