STICK TWIRLING AND SHOWMANSHIP
I contend that stick tricks are fun.
I’ve said it before ... with the advent of superb software we must evolve or die.
Well maybe it's not quite that harsh but my real point is that drumming is a spectacle. I play duo gigs as well as in full
band. As far as I know my duo is currently the only one in London that comprises a drummer and a guitarist. Most of the other
ones are guitar, keys and a module ... yet we are so busy we are turning away work ... why? Because people love to see real
drums being played. Music almost takes second place behind the show in their eyes. They love seeing the interaction between
us and even though I’m playing a 3 piece kit with 3 cymbals they still get blown away. It's the show ... stick tricks
and all...and they see me having fun, stuffing up musically and solving problems.
It's what I love about John Bonham ... you can hear him having fun in his drumming.
Since when did drummers have to do stick tricks? As far as I’m concerned since
before the invention of the hihat.
It should be all aural in the studio and the sound should come first on stage but a drummer
that just keeps their head down as if they were in their practice studio hardly seems to be having fun, is hardly worth watching.
...a raised eyebrow here, a grimace there, a flourish, a stick spin, an unnecessarily
high arm raise before crashing (called telegraphing), pointing at the guitarist during his solo, drumming with your eyes closed,
pushing your hair out of your eyes while holding down a complex beat, throwing away a broken stick in the middle of a song
and getting a new one out of the bag without skipping a note ... these are important little parts of drumming ... people love
to see the character behind the thunder, the solution to the problem in the moment, the apparent ease with which the difficult
can be played.
The show mustn't get in the way of the music but surely too, the music must not go on
without a bit show... otherwise what's the point?
So some advice to learning some twrils. Get a dowel stick. I used one that was roughly
the same thickness as a 7a drumstick but almost twice the length. I began spinning really slowly, letting the momentum of
the dowel do the work while my fingers grew accustomed to the pattern and feel of it. Then after about a week, I cut off about
10 cm of dowel. and so on until the dowel was nearly as long as a drumstick (in about three weeks) then I used an old 3a stick
and twirled while I watched TV. Slowly I built up speed. The crucial thing is twirling during playing though. So I began identifying
simple fills which I could do with one hand and my bass drum while my other hand twirled.
For more on this have a look at John Blackwell's excellent DVD. He introduces a fake
twirl which took me one day to learn and incorporate and shows how to build it smoothly into your playing. They don't call
him the ninja drummer for nothing.
The real art in the spin is how you start. Like fills its how you start it that really
dictates how it will end. Good momentum in a decent direction and angular momentum and sheer bloody minded determination will
finish it off. It's the same as juggling. It's not the catching that is important but the throwing. (juggling is a long time
hobby of mine). Your hand must be right near the balance point of the stick (where it should always be anyway). about 1/3rd
up from the butt end ....ish.
I spin hundreds of times a day without really thinking about it. It’s almost a
nervous twitch with me. While I read through DW, while I wait for the guitarist to sound check, in the van on the way to gigs
etc etc. Sometimes just as a cool down during my drum practice. I found I can practice at optimum concentration for about
40 minutes. After that it is a good idea to stand up, drink some water, eat a banana, visit the toilet and spin sticks for
a few minutes. That way you are refreshed and ready for another 40 minute session. and so on.
In my experience twirls are like fills. When we are learning a new fill or twirl we tend
to concentrate on how it all starts and where in the bar or measure. In actual fact the ending is the most important part.
Thomas Lang says to throw sticks the important thing is to catch them on the beat. Similarly a twirl is just a more controlled
throw. The stick needs to be back in your hand and ready for the next stroke on the beat ... otherwise you either do a double
take and hesitate or you have to jerk the stick (often in the wrong grip and all) down onto the instrument so you don't miss
Look at twirls as silent fills. Each fill has an internal count...like syllables. Blackwell’s
marching twirl has a count of one, a full fake twirl has a count of four and the true twirl I use counts as a three. also
some twirls end with the hand moving up or down and a twirl on the up has to have a further count to bring the stick down
on a cymbal. Now like fills the twirl has to fit in the bar structure. It is up to you to work out the internal count of the
fills you use and how you can fit them neatly into the spaces in the music you are playing.
Also it is essential to see how you can play feet and the spare hand while the twirl
is in progress. My first step was to start playing some of the simpler standard fills with a single hand ... this is still
very much a work in progress.
Further advice is to look into the structure of the song. identify the 'twirl windows'
before hand and then put twirls in the stops.
For example in Brian Adams' Summer of 69:
'those...were....the.... best...days...of...my...life ...'
beat beat beat beat beat flam[space space space].crash...
Twirls aside it takes surprisingly little to blow the average Joe away. I sometimes have
to wipe the sweat off my forehead in the middle of a groove and I unconsciously do this while keeping everything going with
my left hand. I almost always catch someone staring at me in amazement and then tugging their friend's arm and pointing when
I do this. Even dropping a stick and not losing the beat gets admiration. It’s all part of the act. It's something a
sequencer will thankfully never be able to do.
At the very least it (twirling) is one of the quiet skills of drumming. Anyone who has
been in a studio for any long length of time will tell you that, like the army, there is a lot of waiting around and then
suddenly, lots of excitement. Sometimes you will be allowed, or have the energy, to stuff around on your kit. But a lot of
the times it's just you and your sticks and you can even get sick of the ol' practice pad ... so then there is another skill
to practice which is kind of unrelated and yet cool ... twirling.
Yes I think the next step after learning a twirl is to concentrate on what your other three limbs can
musically be doing while the one hand twirls. Starting with the opposite hand, I would work on triples and quadruples and
application within paradiddle type figures during a spin. Once this is in place then I play unison patterns with the feet
going and finally linear patterns with feet against one hand while the other does the twirl. It would be good to work out
a few stock fills this way and perfect them for use in shows. Make sure you have fills + twirls of various lengths and speeds
for different applications. This may be particularly useful at song endings when the time can be elastic and dramatic and
space opens up for a twirl (plus I’ve found that at these points in a live show the band and the audience are often
looking at the drummer).