About the Exercises


Simply put these exercises are a way to expand the base of rhythms we use in our playing. In practicing all the basic rhythms and their permutations I hope to make it easier for you to execute any figure you come across or hear in your head.


The exercises are in three parts.
  1. Play a certain rhythmic grouping (i.e. triplets or quintuplets).

    triplet and quintuplet group

    Take that group and break it up into all its variations (i.e. 3 16ths and an 8th note in a quintuplet group).


  2. Create polyrhythms by taking the groupings and play every other note, every third note, etc. to create the new polyrhythm. (i.e. Every other triplet creates a quarter note triplet)

    Quarter note triplet

  3. The on/off formula or trailing notes off of a polyrhythm. In any grouping a certain number of notes played to a certain amount rested.

    3 on 2 off

    This example uses a standard sixteenth subdivision. You then proceed to play three of the sixteenths while resting (or flowing across) the next two sixteenths. Also it could be 4:5 with 2 trailing notes. This method has no name as far as I can find. I call them " rhythm clusters ". I would call this example 3 " A 4:5 +2 cluster ".

Notation Method

Most rhythms can be written in a variety of ways. In general I have chosen the form that is the cleanest visually. I'm using what it is commonly known as " drummer notation ". Drummers usually take great liberty in the duration of a note, they are primarily concerned with the start of an event. Mostly because when you hit a crash or a tom you don't necessarily know how long it's going to sustain at a given tempo. So, when you see a quarter note followed by a rest of some sort you are free to sustain the sound (if you have the ability on your instrument) to the beginning of the next event. Also I use the dot in most of the exercises. Some beginners have problems with dots. They are extremely useful and most adopt fairly quickly. Here is an example:

Ex. of different sixteenth note rhythms

  1. Shows all the subdivisions clearly but its crowded and redundant.
  2. Cleans up the rests. Note note rest.. . looks a little better.
  3. Shows the cleanest version and its still easy to tell how the rhythm is broken up while maintaining the flow. Short long. Very hummable. :)
With the polyrhythms I chose to clearly define the underlying pulse rather than using the notation of spanning the rhythm across beats. This way its easier to see how the 2 rhythms flow across (or rub) each other.

3 against 2

Sometimes there is confusion on what the rate is for a polyrhythm. The easiest way to think of it is when you see the ratio i.e. 3:5, 7:4, etc., is to see the first number as the rate and the second number as how many points in that rate. Therefore, 3:5 would be triplets and playing every fifth triplet, 7:4 would be septuplets and playing every fourth one. At some point I will show the shorthand on writing the polyrhythms and the concept of using the new rhythm as a base to expand from.

Practicing the Exercises

Select a comfortable tempo. One at which you can execute the grouping you are working with. Note: On measures that are only a single beat. I find it easier to count them in larger measures like 3/4 or 5/4.

One beat counted as 3 beats

Note: Again add up the meters. If it is a measure of 1/4 and 2/4 you would count it as 3/4. Same for 2/4 and 5/4 adding up to 7/4.


For specific ways to execute the exercises for different instruments see the Possibilities page.


All the exercises have little Quicktime and/or MIDI sequences embedded in them that play the exercises along with the original Virtual Drummer (Note: no longer available) or original MIDI file to download. If you have this application already you are in luck. If not, over time I plan to convert them all to standard MIDI files. For the embedded sound I choose a speed that I felt anyone should be able to execute and that would not take forever to listen to. With the downloadable original file you can change the tempo to anything you want, and most importantly, you can mix and match measures to create any pattern you want.

Each set of exercises uses the following scheme. All single and 2 beat (1/4 and 2/4) exercises are repeated 5 times. All other multibeat measures (3/4, 5/4, etc. ) are repeated 3 times. There is a one measure count-in for all exercises and etudes. You should hear a bass drum playing the quarter note pulse, a snare drum playing the exercise, and a open triangle playing at the beginning of each exercise.


© 1998 - 2016 Nick Marshall

Here is the official license. This will ensure the rhythm lessons remain free. Please check out the OpenContent site for more info.
I would just like to add that if you do plan to distribute it in some form, kindly inform me so I can let others know (plus I'm generally curious).

take one!

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