How can the 'Moeller book' help to play my drum kit better
Tommy William Hanson
* ...Contemporary jazz & rock drummers should not pass up making use of the techniques described in the writings of Sanford A. Moeller (a.k.a. the 'Moeller techniques' or the 'Moeller method').
[ This article was posted in 2004, when 'drum forums' were not covering Moeller's book with much accuracy or understanding ]
The book is best known for Moeller's views on grip (the so-called 'Moeller Grip') and the 'up stroke technique' ... to name just two concepts associated with Moeller. But how can the 'Moeller book' help anyone to improve on how they perform on a drum kit?
Looking back at SANFORD A. MOELLER from the 21st Century
Video Examples for this article - below
This article aspires to review some of the material in Sanford A. Moeller's writings. The article is somewhat lengthy, and constantly makes references to the information found in Moeller's book. Moeller expressed his personal philosophies, in his work, as well as giving out the 'traditional' method of how to play a drum (the snare drum) in an accomplished manner.
Of course, we all realize that there were not many drum kits around during the early years of the twentieth century! Therefore playing a drum 'Moeller style', was the only way to do it, at that point in time. The knowledge and techniques, described by Moeller, back in 1925, make up what he calls the 'standard' and 'authentic' drum method that was developed over many centuries. No wonder he called it authentic.
One may wish to read this article in more than one sitting. Periodically, there will be material about how Moeller can help the drum set player. In addition to reviewing some of the techniques that Moeller talks about, the article will include several Moeller comments, that are taken from the book. These comments can be found, paraphrased here and there, so as to reveal some of Moeller's philosophies about drumming, as well.
What aspects of Moeller should I use, or learn to do, in order to improve on how I play my drum kit ? Ask these basic questions as you continue along reading.
Consider these points ...
At the outset, it should be noted that the book's snare drum exercises and practice routines are separate issues from the suggested grips covered on pages 4 and 5 (in Moeller's book).
Or to express it another way ... the book's initial pictures of Moeller, showing how to grip a drumstick, are only one part of the (open style) approach that Moeller describes.
Few realize that Moeller talks about '2-grips' that a drummer should learn. It is not correct to say that the Moeller book wants drummers to change their grip. His book lets you know that he is definitely NOT saying ... "there is only 1-grip ... the little finger grip!" (see page 11, in his writings).
The real answer one should pick up from his lessons, is to learn both!! And what is extremely interesting, is the fact that Sanford Moeller was a rudimental drumming champion, who recognized the following:
Learning 2-grips is a very desirable approach (strategy) to take ... one grip for rudiments (as Moeller did) or the same grip for the heavy players whom Chapin talks to ... and the other grip style for drum set (as Gene Krupa did). Recall that Jim Chapin, for instance, talks about learning the"second" grip (the 'back of the hand' grip) all the time.
What does the so-called 'Moeller system of drumming' represents to us? Answer: It is a broad, flexible approach to snare drumming, that can be used as a foundation for further specialization ... (drum kit, orchestral snare drumming, pipe band drumming, etc.)
Assume this as a given ... the first part of learning the so-called 'Moeller method', is to embrace a commitment to work out regularly, using a 'rudimental schedule' of some kind. Moeller was definitely a rudimental enthusiast! Pupils of Moeller had to become used to practicing drum rudiments on a regular basis, that's for sure!
In the first video (just above), note that being strong on handling rudiments can add to one's solo experiences. Many musicians (non-drummers) are able to sit behind someone's drum kit and 'keep a beat'. It is another story, however, if they are requested to play a complex solo on one drum or around several drums. They simply would not have the vocabulary to do so.
MORE ABOUT MOELLER
Sanford Moeller thoroughly studied the 'Camp Duty' literature (US Army), because he loved how vintage drum beatings could show off the advanced expertise of a drummer.
Moeller believed, that if anyone could expertly play the Camp Duty, they should be considered accomplished at the instrument. Examples of those drum beatings, are: Three Camps, The Quick Scotch, Dinner Call, Downfall of Paris - to name a few.
From history, we know that in the 1920s, Moeller was very vocal and critical of what he saw. Rudimental shortcuts and unbalanced stickings were turning out weaker (less accomplished) drummers, in his view ... read Ken Mazur's publications (they're great for learning more details about rudiments in general, and about rudimental drummers who were active players in both the near as well as the distant past.
Finally, and to Moeller's dislike (at the time when his book was published) ... drummers were being taught to ignore making use of the authentic traditional grips (shown in his book). Moeller's argument was that drummers should be trained by starting with the basics ... to include the 'rudimental grip' or 'little finger grip' (one of two grips that Moeller proposed that a drummer should learn). Drummers were also encouraged to study only the snare drum for a time before beginning to learn drum kit patterns and exercises.
What he also saw, was that drummers were opting to play 'closed style' (thumb fulcrum) for everything they did. This included most drummers in parade marching units ... and 'rudimental soloists' as well.
Moeller was not part of the original 'twenty-six rudiments club' (NARD - which W.F. Ludwig helped to found). But he definitely championed learning rudiments. His book preceded N.A.R.D.'s foundation by several years! To Moeller, studying rudiments was the very basis of drumming. They were necessary to know, in order for a drummer to be considered proficient in the art of playing a drum.
That historic group (just mentioned above) was made up of a number of well established drummers who possessed excellent technical skills. With the help of William F. Ludwig (W.F.L.) (Leedy and Ludwig) (etc.), the group encouraged young players to improve themselves by following a practice method that included mastering a list of twenty-six rudiments. Learning the 'thirteen essential drum rudiments' was the first step.
The group obviously felt that the 'rudimental grip' was too much trouble to deal with, and was fading and becoming old fashioned within the teacher-student community (and it was)!
But when the 'heavy rock players' started to evolve in the late 1960s & early 70s, the back of the hand grip became important, again (and Moeller's book, and his point of view, began to be revisited).
The names of the elite group that founded N.A.R.D. (National Association of Rudimental Drummers) are listed just below:
Thompson, George A. Robertson, Bill Flowers, Bill Keifer, Bill Hammond, Joe
George Lawrence Stone, Roy Knapp, William F. Ludwig, Heinie Gerlach, J. Burns Moore, Billy Miller, Ed Straight
Ever since the days of John Philip Sousa, nearly all young American drummers have been instructed by their band director (conductor) to study the "scales of drumming" (drum rudiments).
Today, with the advent of PAS (Percussive Arts Society) and DCI (Drum Corps International), all parts of the US are populated with drummers who have excellent technical skills. Also, now-a-days, there exists many more variations and combinations of drum rudiments ... different permutations of those basic, age-old, elemental strokes and studies.
Sanford "Gus" Moeller was first and foremost a rudimental drummer, and was definitely a 20th century bridge to the 'ancients'. Be that as it may, it is common knowledge that Moeller was chiefly responsible for helping to produce the great early jazz drummers, such as the famous "Sing, Sing, Sing" soloist, Gene Krupa. This is proof that much of the 'Moeller book' can be easily transferred to non-rudimental venues (to include the various music styles and the different kinds of stick grips used by well-known players of the drum set).
The Moeller Book·· "The Art of Snare Drumming," was published in 1925 and reprinted in June 1950 by Leedy and Ludwig ... (followed by - 1956 Copyright assigned to Ludwig Drum Co.), (followed by - 1982 Copyright assigned to Ludwig Music Publishing Co).
There was a time when this self-teaching method book was ONE of the 'necessary THREE' (books), that serious players would examine. Half a century ago, techniques from Sanford A. Moeller (The Moeller Book ), George Lawrence Stone (Stick Control ) and Jim Chapin ... (Chapin's independence book for Jazz and Be-Bop Drumming) ... were the accepted building blocks that helped to create the trained, advanced jazz drummers & rudimental drummers of the day.
This article doesn't mean to omit mentioning the early rock genre, but accomplished rock drummers and jazz/rock drummers where not around in the 1950s & early 1960s. It was during that period, when Moeller's influence fell out of favor (somewhat).
The early rock drummers did not care about what other drummers (jazz drummers) were able to do (strong on rudiments, excellent co-ordination skills, etc.). They were playing new music, and most 'serious' music fans thought that rock & roll (and relatively simple playing requirements to play early rock) wouldn't last!
To view it another way, from a performance point of view ... there were numerous big band style drum solos (remember Gene Krupa), that one can point to in the first half of the 20th century. In the second half, the smaller jazz groups and progressive 'bop' players of the 1950s and 60s produced countless numbers of drum set solos to appreciate. Examples of these 'small jazz combo' solos were created by: Max Roach, 'Philly' Joe Jones, et al.
But as for early 'Rock' drum solos ... those drummers did not (could not) put in years of effort to develop technique (the Moeller type skills), because the music was all very new. The 'new rock drummer' was involved in a revolution .... performing and supporting Rock & Roll music. Small combos began to abandon the swing beat, and took a chance on, Rock & Roll ... a new genre. It also meant ... get a new drummer (usually a younger drummer)!
So was there, after all, an early rock drum solo? Yes, and it was the drum solo, called, Wipe Out. It became THE popular/commercial drum set solo during that time ... and it was especially suited for 'commercial ears'. Note ... it was the early '60s when the Surfaris (pronounced surf -R -ease) posted their two major hits.
[comment] Wipe Out, required just a couple of tom-toms and a snare. The solo could be copied by playing (at a moderate speed) a couple of combinations from the paradiddle family.
I remember practicing the 'Three Camps' with paradiddles instead of rolls, as a teenager. The 'feeling' of the approach of substituting paradiddles for 'open rolls', it seemed to me, was quite similar to the Surfaris hit, Wipe Out.
Wipe Out, has also been performed using the single stroke roll with accents. As a matter of fact, there are two exercises in Ted Reed's Syncopation Book, that (when put together) produce the 'Wipe Out beat', or accent pattern!
Wipe Out even reached the 'country charts', and probably helped the 'country rock' genre (during the early stages of a new type of country music). The popularity of the Surfaris (Ron Wilson) drum solo lasted for many years until drummers, such as John Bonham, and all the accomplished rock drummers of the late 1960s, started the "post (Rock & Roll) rock" era. Recall Bonham's Moby Dick ... most would agree that it is a collection of solo ideas and drum patterns considerably more complex than Wipe Out.
Since then, more and more players brought 'rock' drumming to new heights (i.e., the Moeller standard), and it spilled over into a new Jazz/Rock genre (Billy Cobham, for instance).
Having Jazz 'go electric', with 'rock influenced' drummers, meant the development of an entirely new kind of player ... the Electronic Jazz Musician a.k.a., Jazz/Rock musician. To cite Cobham, once again ... he was on the leading edge of jazz/fusion drumming. He had a drum & bugle corps background, played matched grip, and was considered one of the top 'fusion drummers' of the early 1970s.
Today, the best drummers involved in jazz and jazz/rock (fusion) are strong on technique (rudiments)
Also, most of them prefer to use the popular matched grip!
Are rudiments that important? The answer is that, most well-known drummers definitely talk about rudiments (a 'Moeller Method' prerequisite, remember). I recall Elvin Jones (when he played with John Coltrane) telling a clinic, that age old piece of information ... if a drummer practices the double stroke roll (Da-Da Ma-Ma Roll) with an accent on the second note, it produces an improved sound and changes the very way a drum can be played.
In other words, learning to cultivate the 'weak' taps, changes one's style (somewhat), regarding the different ways a drum can be stuck. The exercise also helps to produce the very best tone and enhances technique, such as speed! Moreover, the 'accent on the second note exercise' forces the second note (of the double) to be played as an accented up stroke .
Playing the up stroke with an accent is a very useful technique to develop. The 'long roll AVI movie' (just above), shows the second note being played with an accent. The second note is slightly louder than the first note of the double stroke roll during the slower stages of 'breaking down' the long roll rudiment (above AVI movie). The accent is rendered while the hand rises, and therefore one can view it as an accented up stroke.
Note: Active rudimental soloists are the absolute best at performing the long roll quite cleanly and evenly. They must do so (i.e., 'keep in shape') if they wish to score well in rudimental solo competitions. When preparing for contests, they must practice the long roll daily, in order to keep their competitive edge. Drummers should appreciate their dedication to the basics (rudiments). These are the building blocks that help to make a drummer stand out
Note: This article will always try to use Moeller's terms and definitions (from his book). To invent a new term or phrase to describe what Moeller is talking about, will many times confuse drummers more than help them. 'The fewer definitions to learn, makes for an easier lesson ... (to learn)!
By now, it should be more or less obvious, to the reader, that Moeller did not teach Gene Krupa how to play a set of drums ... but rather, he gave Krupa CONFIDENCE regarding his rudimental skills. As a result of practicing drum rudiments, he gave Gene Krupa a well developed snare drum technique. And with that, he helped to give Krupa his jazz drumming career!
During the 1920s and 30s, individuals, such as Sanford Moeller, were the ones who had the 'knowledge'. There were other drummers out there, certainly, but most did not really know the concept ... 'practice your rudiments'! They obviously performed that way, too!
Little wonder that Gene Krupa stood out ... because Krupa could really play a snare drum (thanks to 'Gus'!) ... This was the point in time (in the U.S.) when the United States military drummers, and the trained percussion specialists (who were following the European classical tradition), ceased to 'own' (exclusively) the advance technical skills (drum rudiments) needed for accomplished drumming!
In the popular world of the 1920s, dance band drummers were starting to learn difficult sticking techniques, and were playing their drum kits with awesome speed. Needless to say, these techniques were introduced to them by Moeller (or a 'Moeller-type' teacher).
As we all know, Krupa was neither a 'military drummer' nor a classical percussionist! His niche was in the popular world. He specialized in big band drumming and after several years developed his own band to feature himself. Louis (Louie) Bellson and Benard (Buddy) Rich did the same thing many years later.
It should be remembered, though, that Krupa's popularity resulted from his applying ancient skills (the rudiments and other techniques from Moeller's lessons) to the drum set. He is usually thought of as being the first, successful, 'commercial' drummer to do so. Seeing a dance band drummer displaying excellent technique, was not the norm!
All of that changed, however (thanks to Moeller and others), when drummers like Krupa came on the scene. Probably, for the first time, symphony percussionists began to learn the names of accomplished drum set drummers, whom they respected, because they could handle the rudiments and dynamics as well as they themselves could!!
MOELLER'S BOOK (personal view)
This author experienced the 'Moeller book' for the first time in 1956. My second teacher, who had won rudimental contests*, merely said, "Here's your next assignment, you should try to read through this book during the summer."
It was many years later, however, when I began to re-visit 'the Moeller approach'. I had recently attended a Joe Morello clinic (circa mid 1960s). And just by reading through Moeller's book, again (a decade after I had purchased it), I noticed that the information started to influence my practice, and therefore my performance skills.
I found that the ideas I did play (my same old drumming stuff) ... came out faster, stronger, and had a more genuine 'percussive' sound! After all, Moeller's book clearly states that it was set up to be a self-instructor teaching manual.
THE UP STROKE - Moeller's Definition
One does not have to use a certain stick grip in order to play an up stroke! The up stroke concept, a concept that does not depend on any particular grip, has more to do with eurhythmics (a term that can be found on page 69 in Moeller's book).
The idea refers to visualizing the body's movement as 'part of ', (or the beginning of) ... striking a drum in the first place! The up stroke technique is one of the so-called secrets from the 'ancients'. Referring to drummers as being students of eurhythmics, of course, is 'very Moeller'. Moeller constantly pointed out the following:
Think body movements, first, and the sticks will follow ...
Jim Campbell (University of Kentucky), has given a great Moeller-like explanation as to what Moeller's book and teaching approach is more or less about ...
(In Moeller's book) Moeller talks about the chief use for utilizing the up stroke as follows ... the up stroke can be used for the second note of a paradiddle and similar sticking situations. Mastering the up stroke allows a drummer to render a paradiddle (or consecutive flams, for that matter) much faster than those drummers who were never taught the technique. More details about the up stroke are on a later page.
The following AVI demonstrates the right stick playing continuous one-handed taps. Some may have seen this clip before (on the page that links to this one). Look for the 'up stroke' in the clip. The 'pumping' motion (the down-up movement), is the energy behind it all. Note, that when the hand is in its highest position, it is 'whipped' back toward the drum, thus starting each cycle over again.
Specifically, the technique involved is: an up stroke, followed by a down stroke (which is rendered with a sort of snapping movement from the very end of the up stroke position). This combination (the two techniques) has come to be known as the 'Moeller stroke' (although he did not invent anything new!).
Physically speaking, the 'Moeller stroke' is the only way to maintain propelling a drumstick without lifting it! The hand is what is moving up and down, while the stick continues to tap the drum. The technique is very old.
In the clip (above), note that the right stick is NOT held with the little finger, a.k.a. the 'Moeller grip'. As stated earlier, up strokes do not depend on any particular style of grip.
To repeat, if one studies the way the groups of 4's and 3's are organized in the AVI (above), it can be seen that a 'snapping' or 'whip' motion begins each cycle. Another clip (later) will show the left hand.
Moeller's book can only take one so far...
It's definitely more accurate to say, that it was Moeller's students, who popularized the drum kit, and the various drum set tricks (technique attention-getters) that most pro drummers usually learn.
For these 'drum set techniques', we must look to the generation of Moeller's students ... drummers who were in the same age group with Jim Chapin. Many were only interested to play a drum set. They were only interested to take on Moeller's lessons in order to master a set of drums ... (Gene Krupa followers, as it were).
Buddy Rich also signed on to the heavy technical stuff, too! His speed and complicated stickings were learned from somewhere! His genius, as we know (now), was that he learned 'just by watching'. Coming from a show-biz family put him in this position to experience entertainment from within. The accomplished, vaudeville drummers were his first experiences relative to drumming.
Basically, he never really gave credit to any other drummer for his abilities! However, he Buddy has gone record for admiring Gene Krupa, Jo Jones, Chick Webb, Ray McKinley, Ray Bauduc, and Sid Catlett.
Note the following:
The above drummers are examples of drummers who were influenced by the Moeller standards that were set down in the 1920s. The above techniques are areas that the majority of drummers want to explore and prefer to learn!
Obviously, few are ever interested in a pure rudimental approach to drumming. 'Perfectionist-style drumming' (a term coined by Ken Mazur), is Moeller's real legacy (in this author's opinion). Moeller had an almost spiritual devotion to the 'ancients' rudimental style of drumming. He loved performing on an excellent sounding drum. He obviously took pleasure in beating out any one of the classic drum beatings from out of past (Downfall Of Paris), for example.
In his later years, Moeller was still so principled, that he would not sell you a drum that he had made if you could not play it on a level that he deemed acceptable!
Regarding Moeller's most famous pupil since Gene Krupa, Jim Chapin ...
Chapin created a new direction, for teaching jazz coordination and jazz drumming exercises for the 'swing beat' (using the jazz ride cymbal rhythm against a variety of syncopated rhythms). With a little thought, it can be seen that Morello's technique probably was refined by Chapin's book.
Note that in Chapin's book, Chapin shows one hand against the other and shows them separately. This influence probably came from the way he learned from his teacher, Moeller). Hopefully you can see all the connections?
To say again, realize, that these areas (drum kit) are not 'Moeller areas'. These skills belong to the generation of Moeller's students (many of whom were only interested in drum set drumming, i.e., not marching in parades).
The 'Moeller system' (The Moeller Book) is FOUNDATION ...
Moeller can only give a drummer a quality 'set of hands' (just like Krupa, Chapin, etc). If Moeller is new to you, you may not know that learning skills for playing a drum kit are not covered in Moeller's book! Moeller's expertise was ... 'one player - one drum'. (Other areas, not talked about in Moeller's writings, involve the various 'finger control' methods, and so on).
'Moeller techniques' would be an excellent foundation for anyone to pursue, as these techniques have always been the very basis of drumming. Recall learning one's 'letters'. For a few weeks, or longer, we learn, as children, to copy the lettering from a blackboard. After a while, we make our 'own version' of the letter "B", and not the teacher's, and so on. Start with a good foundation if you want good results (i.e., the Moeller basics).
Whether or not a drummer personally studied with Moeller, his influence has no doubt reached that drummer all the same! Buddy Rich comes to mind, for instance (as mentioned before). He had an awesome command of the snare drum and the up stroke technique. His one handed stick taps are well known. He was famous for rendering the up stroke -down stroke combination (the so called 'Moeller stroke'), with a push-pull maneuver using mostly fingers.
After one gets to know Moeller better, it becomes obvious, that ... he would clearly NOT recommend a certain grip to play a parade drum (field drum) ... and then recommend using the very same approach, without any modifications, to play a '1930s - 1940s set of drums'. These are two different tasks! They require two different approaches, and Moeller's book accommodates this.
Here is a noteworthy observation. In the 1960s and 70s, symphony percussionists, almost overnight, began to produce the 'orchestra roll' with a 'matched grip'. Many DCI style drum & bugle corps also adopted the flat drum, matched grip approach, as well. Since the 1960s rock revolution, the matched grip (thumb fulcrum) was destined to be and has become the preferred stick grip for most drummers (point of fact).
Recall, however, that the 'popular matched grip' has only been popular since the 1960s. Prior to that, among drummers, it was rarely talked about. To say again, many university percussion graduates, now-a-days, never opt to learn anything but the matched grip. And with that, an entirely unique school of snare drumming becomes un-available to them and unavailable to any students they may instruct!
The above, of course, is quite understandable, because the matched grip is common to the timpani and mallet percussion instruments. Learning one grip for all of the percussion instruments (matched ), is now the accepted norm.
Therefore, a 'Moeller-like' drummer (traditional approach) became 'old fashioned' over the last few decades. No one tilted the drum anymore ... why play the 'old way'?
My respects to all those who learned traditional, in spite of what nearly everyone does, today. If one prefers to play on a level drum, however, I personally would not recommend the traditional approach, and would suggest using matched (ergonomically speaking, the more logical choice). When Krupa played on a tom-tom, he used a matched grip if the drum was oriented in a more or less flat orientation.
Just remember to use the grip that fits the situation ... and then, that would be the best grip to use
And as for my experiences ... I have always enjoyed playing rudiments with the 'traditional' (open style ) grip or little finger grip.
But, I have also enjoyed playing in a jazz trio (with George Muribus and Lenny Lasher), using the 'traditional' (closed style) grip, at the Purple Onion in San Francisco.
And, I also very much enjoyed playing with Bo Diddley, using the popular 'matched' grip (one weekend at Bill Graham's Fillmore West in October, 1970).
NOTE: Grip the stick according to the situation at hand! I've just mentioned three different approaches (situations) above
One must remember, however, that Moeller's specialty was, one player - one drum. Drums that he played on were always set up at an angle, and not situated in a more or less flat or level orientation. From the very beginning of the instrument (now called the drum kit), drum set drummers usually tilted their snare, until influence from the 'rock genre' began to take effect in the late 1960s.
MORE ON GRIP
Another situation that a drummer could cite (for finding a use for the 'little finger grip') is: down stroking through a heavy cymbal crash, for instance! For Moeller aficionados, this is an exhilarating feeling ... (assuming that one uses the proper grip) ... drop the fulcrum back and 'whip it' ... right 'through' the cymbal.
Remember to practice this technique, with the stick tip pointing down before the snapping motion. Don't always take a back swing ... and then 'think' whip. Learn to 'whip it' from the end of an up stroke, where the stick tip is down (the hand's position is above the stick tip before the whipping movement is rendered).
As an exercise ... take your drumstick and raise your arm to your shoulder while keeping the stick tip pointing relative downward (it must be below the hand). Then, merely drop (whip) your hand/ wrist/ arm quickly downward, and the stick has no choice but to rapidly move up and down. The player does not have to think ... 'lift the stick'.
Thinking lift, and then actually lifting the tip of the stick above the hand, reduces speed. In other words, lifting the tip of the stick above the hand is not necessary in order to perform a 'whipping' down stroke. The stick tip actually goes up (and down) automatically, as it follows the downward, snapping movement. These 'so called Moeller secrets', came from the civil war drummers (through Moeller)!
For many years, Jim Chapin has been recommending to drummers that they can definitely learn from Moeller's lessons. Chapin is not like the many percussion experts, who casually claim that they 'understand' Moeller as well as anyone (and more often than not, do not).
Jim Chapin studied with Moeller. He was a Moeller pupil for a time. For decades, he has advocated that one should pay attention to the 'time honored' information that he learned (in Moeller's book). For me, therefore, he has always been the best model and the best representative to demonstrate the ideas found in Sanford Moeller's writings. The main difference between Chapin and others, is that he knows where it all came from!!
* Sandra Lofgren (although, technically, my very FIRST teacher was Elliot Fine)