Trying the symmetrical approach on drums

Nils
5
min Read

The Setup

Naturally we prefer one hand or one side to do basically anything. Same goes for playing drums where this even defines your typical setup. While there is of course a point in doing so- it's way easier to begin with, you get quicker and better results and you get the most out of your strong side - there are always things one side can do better than the other. For me for example, my right hand is way more flexible in changing the grip, while my left hand is better at hitting the snare really hard. Regarding my feet, the right foot can go faster and has more endurance, while the left is better at fine motions for controlling the hi-hat. There are of course a bunch of exercises that address specifically your weak side, but at some point this has begun to annoy me. Why spending again many hours strengthening my weak side I got due to my everyday playing when I can address this at the root? I love the independence some pro drummers have and I also wanted to be able to play whatever I want, however I want.

This lead me to the symmetrical setup. Of course this isn't new, but as far as I can see, it is still quite rare. I mean extending the drumset to both sides, okay. With bigger setups this is being done quite a lot. A truely symmetrical setup on the other hand is not. One drummer though, Travis Orbin, who has taken this to quite an extend, is a beast at drumming and doesn't seem to bother at all whether he's playing left lead or right lead. He's so fun to watch and I want that skill, too. So I reconfigured my E-Drum a bit, bought some extra stuff and here is how it looks now:

Symmetrical Drum Setup

As the Roland TD-9 only has one hi-hat input, I soldered some custom adapter cables (1xTS → 2xTS and 1xTRS → 2xTRS) so I can feed the output of two hi-hats with controller to the one TD-9 hi-hat input. The downside is both cymbals trigger the same sound, they can't be separated and the controller is only half-opened in open state (I could maybe modify the controller itself in the future). But on the other hand I have now a quite symmetrical setup and I am flexible switching between right lead and left lead.

Playing switch

My first attempt was playing easy grooves, fills and songs "switch". The skaters among you will get the analogy. For those of you who do not know this: switch means skating with the other foot than usual in front. So for drumming, this basically means leading with the other hand and foot than usual. I find this quite fitting. First thing to do of course is to jam a bit in "switch mode". To my surprise it felt really good to turn to the left during a fill or in general. For the past 18 years of drumming I always had to turn my body to the right and this now felt like a really good compensation of the otherwise pretty one sided motion.

Second was that my seat position and balance is not really equal but "optimised" for right lead playing. This is especially noticeable when my right foot now plays the hi-hat and my left foot the kick. I think my general balance and body position could benefit from compensating this, too. Next step was playing along to some songs I knew quite well, if necessary breaking them down to an easier version. This is a really nice challenge and a good opportunity to strengthen your weak side during normal playing for fun without dedicated exercises.

For my feet what worked out really well was playing breakdowns. Fun breakdown songs: As I Lay Dying - Within destruction, Comfort betrays and Through Struggle. Probably most of the not too fast breakdowns are fun to play, but those were in my playlist. When it comes to the hands, a really nice challenge is playing the beginning of Telos by Between the Buried and Me. At first that drove me crazy but once you get in down it's super cool.

And last but not least, what would be better suited than playing some Lamb of God? In case you didn't know, Chris Adler is actually left-handed but learned and plays on a right-hand kit. Playing stuff like Redneck completely left handed is not too hard, but fun, especially when thinking about that fact.

Alternate/Economy playing

The next analogy is taken from guitar playing. If you as a drummer are not aware of alternate picking or economy picking, this might be the point of checking it out for a second before you continue reading.

I from time to time play a little bit guitar and quite quickly the concepts of alternate and/or economy picking totally made sense to me and I questioned myself "Why don't I ever see this on drums?". Especially when it comes to double bass playing. Maybe you do know some drummers who do this, please let me know in the comments, but when I've seen it, it's quite rare and I actually don't get why.

So the trick here is to play groupings of double bass patterns with alternating lead.Here's one example*:

For our hands we do stuff like that an exercises all the time. There are tons of videos of hand exercises with alternating patterns or lead switching but quite rarely for double bass exercises and almost none used in actual songs. But wouldn't it be great to be as independent with your feet as you are with your hands? And wouldn't that give you A: a boost in speed B: make higher tempos more relaxed to play and C: is a good way to strengthen your weaker foot which is less used anyway?I think it would. And I've been working on it for quite some time now.It feels pretty weird at the beginning - no doubt. But I already feel a big improvement in my playing and some parts in some songs are now way easier to play. For example that burst part in After the Burial's Berzerker:

And so on... you get what I mean. The best is: the number of groupings is uneven, so when the whole part repeats, you naturally start with the left foot ;)

This approach is also finely applicable for all the other breakdowns I mentioned before.

Another good example of economy playing on the double bass is the song Bleed by Meshuggah. It would be quite exhausting to play it like this:

So naturally we "economise" it by playing it like that:

Way better, smoother and faster.

Now combining playing switch and economy, this of course leads to playing Bleed left-lead. And what shall I say, learning the Bleed pattern "normal" is already quite a challenge, but playing it switch is a really tough one, haha.

But progress is made. The steps I take is to learn it in four steps:

When you finally get this done, it is way more easy to play fast parts like this. And it gives you a certain important skill: being more free in playing what you want the way you want. Left? Right? Never mind. Both feet are fine.

Conclusion

Playing switch and alternating/economy really boosts my skills in a quite "easy" and most important really fun way. It helps me during "normal" playing and being more independent in what you can do is always a good thing.I can already notice the improvements, but still there's a long way to go. This guy is so fun to watch and what he's doing is just insane.

I hope I was able to also give you some new inspirations, things to try out and ways to maybe even get a bit better.

So what do you think? Have you maybe already tried this before? Will you try it now? What are your experiences with it? Do you know more drummers using this? Please let me know in the comments.

*notations were made with Guitar Pro

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