old metronome

How to Play Rudiments with a Metronome

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Practicing rudiments with a metronome is necessary for any aspiring drummer who wants to get the most out of his or her practice time. Not only will your rudiments sound better when calibrated to the perfect pulse of a metronome, but your hands will be well prepared for the challenging rhythms, grooves, and fills that will become part of your personal skill set.

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Tyler – DrumSector.com

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Playing Rudiments with a Metronome:

  • Motivation to Practice Rudiments
  • Getting Comfortable with a Metronome
  • Next Step After Warm-Up
  • Tempos for Beginners
  • How to Approach Rudiments That are Challenging for You
  • Making Rudiment Practice Less Mundane
  • The Metronome – Crutch or a Guide?
  • Taking Rudiments From Snare to the Whole Drum Set
  • Checking in With Your Technique
  • Staying Focused

These topics will help you learn about choosing tempos, when to rely heavily on the click, and when to rely on your internal sense of time. 

The goal is to develop a strong internal sense of time that you can rely on at any tempo and in any playing situation.

Try These Classic Books to Master Drum Rudiments

Motivation to Practice Rudiments

Chances are pretty good that one or more of the drummers who have inspired you to take the instrument seriously have studied and practiced rudiments on either an elementary or advanced level. 

Examples of elementary rudiments would be single strokes, double strokes and flams. One or more of these elementary rudiments can be heard on just about any Pop/Rock recording from the last 50 years.

Advanced rudiments such as Flam Accents, Double Drags, and Swiss Army Triplets are often attributed to Drum Corps compositions, but these too have been applied to many styles of music.

In nearly every aspect of your drum set playing, rudiments are going to play an important role. Commit to a disciplined and structured approach to studying the rudiments. Practicing with a metronome will give you the noticeable results that will motivate you to keep improving.

Getting Comfortable with a Metronome

Before you set your metronome to a reasonable tempo and attempt to play your first single stroke roll, you’ll need to make sure that your technique is sufficient enough to execute single and double strokes efficiently. 

Find a local teacher if possible. If that is not economically feasible, or there are time constraints, there are plenty of instructional videos on Youtube. I recommend taking the time to watch Ed Soph, Professor of Jazz Studies at The University of North Texas.

Now that you’re comfortable with a hand position on the sticks that lends itself to efficient strokes, try the following exercise with the metronome set to 60 BPM. Each click gets four strokes:

R R R R   L L L L   4X’s

R R R R   R R R R   L L L L  L L L L  2X’s

R R R R   R R R R   R R R R  L L L L   L L L L   L L L L

R R R R   R R R R   R R R R  R R R R   L L L L   L L L L  L L L L   L L L L

If you are having a difficult time lining up with the metronome, stop playing the drum and count one quarter note out loud with every click. 

Once you have your voice locked in with the metronome, attempt the exercise again. If you are still having a hard time lining up with the click, set the metronome to 90 BPM and play 2 strokes for every click. Keep counting quarter notes out loud.

I’ve had many beginning level students have a hard time finding the click when they first started, and the issue was usually resolved by counting two beats out loud with the metronome before they started the exercise. 

Your voice can be used to guide your hands to the pulse that you are hearing.

Next Step After Warm-Up

Now we can dive into the rudiments, and if you’re a beginner, I recommend starting with single strokes, double strokes, flams and paradiddles with paradiddle variations. 

If you’re an intermediate to advanced student, familiarize yourself with The Percussive Arts Society International Drum Rudiments: https://www.pas.org/resources/rudiments

Any time I reference a specific rudiment in this article, I’d like you to refer to The Percussive Arts Society link listed above. If we are both looking at the same list of rudiments, there will be less confusion, and my tempo recommendations are likely to make more sense.

Tempos for Beginner Drummers

Practice the single stroke roll at 45 BPM. You will play eight 32nd notes per click. Increase your tempo in increments of 5 BPM only after you’ve been able to play your current tempo with even stick height and dynamic levels between both hands for 60 clicks without stopping. When practicing the double stroke roll, substitute doubles for singles and proceed with the exercise in the same way as you did for the single stroke roll.

Single strokes and double strokes are at the heart of all of the rudiments, except for the buzz stroke, so take your time with these strokes and make sure that they feel solid and have a balanced sound before moving on to the triple stroke roll and flam rudiments. 

Once you’ve moved on to some of the more advanced rudiments, check back in with your single and double stroke rolls to make sure that they still sound just as good as when you were making them your primary focus.

How to Approach Drum Rudiments That are Challenging for You

Like a beginner, you want to start off slowly and with certainty that you are playing the rudiment correctly. What makes certain rudiments such as a Flam Tap, Flam Paradiddle or Single Dragadiddle challenging is getting them up to an impressive speed.

Jog and Sprint:

One method I recommend for increasing speed is to jog and sprint on a rudiment. For example, set your metronome to 90 BPM and play flam taps as 8th notes for four quarter note clicks, then play flam taps as 16th notes for two quarter note clicks. 

Add more quarter note clicks to the 16th note sprint if you feel strong enough to play them well. Once you’ve been able to play eight clicks of 16th note flam taps, increase your tempo and resume with your sprint session back down to 2 quarter note clicks and work your way up.

I like the jog and sprint approach to rudiments because the pace of it benefits the health and condition of my hands. I never spend too much time stressing the muscles in my hands, but if I work through the cycle long enough, I’ll build the strength that comes from pushing your hands to their limit. Slowing down to half of the speed of your limit also makes you check in with your technique and execution.

Fatigue and Pain:

The metronome markings that you should use are up to you because only you know which tempo causes pain. Chances are pretty good that your rudiments aren’t sounding very good while pain is present. Note the difference between fatigue and pain. 

Fatigue just means that you’re getting tired from repetition. Fatigue is necessary to build strength in any group of muscles in the body, including the hands. Pain will lead to injuries, so be careful when you’re in the sprint section of the exercise.  

Making Rudiment Practice Less Mundane

Practicing all 40 rudiments for 30 seconds each is going to get old pretty quick. I like practicing Alan Dawson’s Rudimental Ritual from time to time because it has a nice structure to it, but another thing to do is pick 3 or 4 rudiments that are similar and cycle through them on the same metronome setting. Play a flam paradiddle, single flammed mill, and pataflafla for eight clicks each with your metronome set anywhere between 80 and 100 BPM. 

Practicing rhythms that go between duple and triple meter with a metronome is really good for developing your time. Try playing a flam drag, an inverted flam tap, a flam Paradiddlediddle, and finally a 9 stroke roll one time each with the metronome set between 70 and 90 BPM. You can cycle any way you like, just make sure that you are alternating between duple to triple time from one rudiment to the next.  

The Metronome – Crutch or a Guide?

If you were to set your metronome to 120 and designate each click as the 8th note while practicing your flam taps, this would be an example of using the click as a crutch. 

This is a useful approach when you’re first getting started because you’re developing some dependable muscle memory. As your accuracy improves and your hands get faster, try placing the click on the quarter note(100BPM), half note(50BPM), and eventually the whole note(25BPM).

You’re likely to notice that a lot more concentration is required to line up with the click when the metronome is set to a whole note as compared to a quarter note. 

Now the metronome is a guide, and it will require more effort on your part to follow it. Your internal sense of time will get stronger the more time you spend using the metronome as a guide rather than a crutch.

You can also challenge yourself by placing the metronome on random mute. I like to use the app Time Guru for this type of practice.

I’ve talked about the metronome as a crutch and a guide, but there is also an app out there that serves as a mirror, and that app is called Live BPM. The app uses the microphone in your phone to follow your playing and let you know if the tempo is slowing down or speeding up, and gives you an exact reading.

The outcome that you achieve from these various timing exercises using the metronome and the Live BPM app is not only having strong time, but detecting small fluctuations in your tempo and the tempos being played by the musicians around you. 

Take a break from the metronome occasionally. Substitute the sound of the metronome with your voice singing the quarter note out loud, count subdivisions in your head, or sing the melody of a song either out loud or in your head. 

If you have access to a drum set, try using your feet as a timekeeping guide for your hands. You can alternate the right foot and left foot playing quarter notes or play a Samba pattern between the feet as demonstrated in this video of Alan Dawson’s Rudimental Ritual:

Practicing with recordings is a fun way to work on your time and develop good feel as well. Although playing along with albums is usually a drum set exercise, it can be fun to warm up your single strokes, double strokes, and paradiddles while playing along with your favorite songs.

Taking Rudiments From Snare to the Whole Drum Set

When you feel like you’re ready to start trying some ideas out on the full drum set, do your best to maintain the same consistency that you had while playing the rudiments on a practice pad or snare drum. Keep using the metronome.

Putting the rudiments on the drum set is a good way to introduce yourself to linear drumming. Linear drumming is a style of drum set playing where the player alternates the different voices of the drum set to compose a rhythmic pattern without relying on one or more of the voices to provide an ostinato pattern to help keep everything in sync.

Play a Paradiddle with your right hand on the hi hat and your left hand on the snare. Now place the bass drum on beats 1 and 3 in unison with the hi hat, accent the left hand on beats 2 and 4, and you have the framework for a good linear groove. You can invert or reverse the Paradiddle and place the bass drum in different spots to come up with other interesting sounds.

Playing flams with one hand on the snare and the other hand on a tom is a great way to beef up the sound of your fills. Play a left hand leading Swiss Army Triplet with the left hand staying on the snare as your alternate the right hand between the rack tom and floor tom.

A very common Jazz fill is a Paradiddlediddle with the first right hand of the sticking on the ride cymbal in unison with the bass drum. Alternate this version of the Paradiddlediddle with the swiss army triplet idea above, and you’ll be able to construct a very hip 4 bar phrase just by displacing the licks with quarter note and eighth note rests.

Tony Williams is credited with creating a lick known as the Blushda. A Blushda is very similar to Flam Drag (#30) but without alternating from a right-handed flam to a left-handed flam. Here’s a video that explains the lick well and gives some good examples of legendary drummers pulling it off:

Checking in With Your Drum Technique

The best way to get an assessment of your technique is from an experienced teacher. Even though a particular teacher might not have any formal training in percussion or drum set studies, it’s still possible he or she spent hours studying with a very knowledgeable teacher at some point and is really good at passing on the information. It’s also a good idea to watch and listen to a prospective teacher play, and see if they inspire you or have a style that you identify with.

Don’t get too hung up on the speed of your rudiments. You’re going to hit plateaus on occasion. I was stuck at a quarter note setting of 115 BPM for my flam paradiddles for months. It might take some small adjustments, or you might have to drastically slow down and approach the rudiment from a different perspective.

I’ve often found that slowing down and analyzing the form of my single and double strokes leads to better results with difficult rudiments such as Swiss Army Triplets and Dragadiddles. There are many videos on Youtube demonstrating single stroke and double stroke technique approaches and exercises. Here is one that I have found to be helpful:

Getting comfortable with the free stroke will make both your double and single strokes feel lighter and less stressful on your hands. Dave Weckl’s video shows you an effective way to get an even sounding double stroke using a bounce snap method without being too tight. The bounce snap technique will be easier to grasp if you spend some time on the free stroke first.

Staying Focused with Drum Rudiments

As you’ll see in the Ted-Ed video below, repetition is a key component to mastering a physical skill such as drumming. So far, I’ve given you some examples of how to make all of those repetitions a little more challenging and hopefully enjoyable too. Keep a practice journal and monitor your progress. Few things keep a student focused and motivated more than tangible results.

Be patient and think of the long game. It will take hundreds of hours to get all 40 rudiments sounding good at impressive speeds. 

As you are putting in all of those hours of practice, appreciate the foundation that you are laying down for your future development on the instrument. Have fun, and remember that all of this technique is for the sake of the music.