Drum Set Independence: Gaining Control Of Your Limbs

Posted in Learn | Last Updated on October 4, 2018

Drum set independence is an illusion! No, really. I prefer to call it “drum set coordination” because rather than splitting your mind up, you’re teaching your limbs to works as a team.

Even, if each limb is playing a different part, it’s important to view them as being a part of a coordinated whole, because this is how our brain sees them, and this is how we really learn and process “independent” drum parts.

I remember going to drum lessons as a kid and being told all about 4-way independence, and how the great masters could split their minds into 4 parts. When I would finally be able to play those 4-way independence exercises from the lessons, I felt no different: I still couldn’t think about 4 things at once! I could, however, play a seemingly independent, coordinated beat, completely from my muscle memory, while thinking of something else. That is drum set independence!

So how do we work on it?

There are a million and one ways to work on drum set independence. Two main categories of exercises in my mind. First, you can work directly on a musical example. What I mean by this is you can take a groove, beat, rhythm, idea, etc. from a real piece of music, transcribe the various drum parts, and learn how to play it with all your limbs.

This is great for learning style-specific coordination. Latin percussion, for example, has some of the most advanced coordinated rhythms in the world! Learning to play these parts in all your limbs on the drumset can be fun and challenging.

The other way to work on drum set independence is to come up with some exercises that are genre-less; series of rhythms that you can work through, combining them in different limbs to develop new muscle memory!

Lucky for you, I’ll give you a great one!

A Coordination Exercise For All Skill Levels

First, we’re going to take a simple foot ostinato. This one is good for beginners, and people new to this exercise.

(More advanced drummers looking for a challenge can vary this ostinato.)

Then, we’ll take a simple string of 3 16th notes, and permutate them all over the beat.

Permutate simply means to take the same pattern, and start it on a different part of the rhythm.

In this case, our 16th note pattern (number 1) is permutated to start on all the 16th notes of the beat. These will be our 4 hand patterns. Simple, right?

Do It Systematically!

The goal is to get all the possible combinations under our hands, and the best way to do this is to systematically work through them.

The best way to do this is as follows:

  1. While you play your foot ostinato…
  2. Play pattern #1 in your strong hand, cycle through all other patterns in your weak hand.
  3. Play pattern #2 in your strong hand, cycle other patterns in your weak hand.
  4. Same for patterns number #3 and #4.
  5. Switch Hands
  6. Play pattern #1 in your weak hand, cycle through all other patterns in your strong hand.
  7. Play pattern #2 in your weak hand, cycle other patterns in your strong hand
  8. Again, same for pattern #3 and #4.


When working on drum set independence, discipline is key. Here are some pointers to get the most out of your practice time…

  • Work slowly, but at a consistent speed. A metronome is highly recommended, but it’s understandable that if a metronome makes it harder to focus on your coordination, save the metronome for when you’re a little more comfortable with the drill. Don’t neglect it, though.
  • When a part is difficult, you can take it out of the context of time, and figure out exactly how the different parts fall into each other. Once it becomes more comfortable, bring it back into time.
  • A little each day is better than a lot once a week. This goes for everything, but it’s especially true for building coordination. We want to create solid muscle memory that we can rely on in the blink of an eye!Doing this little workout in each of your practice sessions will greatly improve your drum set independence in a short amount of time.