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What are “Shift Changes” in drum music?

There are two types of cars you can drive generally, automatic and manual. Driving manual includes the stick shift and clutch. As you speed up, you shift up in gear and vice versa when deaccelerating. Let that image set in as we use it to describe shift change drumming with the examples below:


1. Tempo is 160 BPM. Start with a 4 count cold attack triplet roll that goes immediately into 2 counts of decrescendoed 16th notes followed by 3 triplet inverts and released with 1 count 16th note roll off the left hand.


2. Tempo is 160 BPM. Start with a 4 count cold attack triplet roll that goes immediately into 2 triplet tap drags, followed by a 2 count 9’let played with triple strokes and releases with a 1 count 16th note roll off the left hand.


Which drum phrase had more shift changes?

The correct answer is #1. The triplet roll shifts up to the 16th notes, followed by down shifting back into the inverts (which requires different hand control), then shifting up two gears to pull off the 1 count 16th note roll. Though #2 is also demanding, the hand shape stays similar throughout the lick with less difficult shift changes.


Why does this matter?

Next time there is a section in your music that is dirtier than other charts, maybe take a deeper look at the part. Your instructor may have written more difficult shift changes in that part, which require greater control and understanding of your hand mechanics to be successful. From my experience, common phrases that are more difficult are features or solos. The group must be able to master each rhythm and rudiment in these difficult phrases as well as master the transitions between that forces the shift change. We will study the importance of mastering these transitions in a future blog.

If your high school or college music does not have any difficult shift changes, another way to work on shift changes is by learning musical chunks from your favorite world class ensembles. Play the music slowly and study how much your hands need to shift in order to be successfully execute. Another option is to work through the PIQ Test Material on our website. As you work on the music, circle sections that have more difficult shift changes. Notice how you need to change your energy to be successful while playing these sections. Submit an IQ test and our panel of experts will arm you with the information you need to make these types of shift changes easier.  Let’s Drum Smart.


Author: Matt Regua

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