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New Year, New Approach

Article by Jayson Brinkworth // January 02 2009
New Year, New Approach

Here it is, December 25, and I am sitting in the airport getting ready to head to my in-laws for the holidays. As I sit here, I am thinking that maybe I need to shake things up with my playing in 2009. This is not because I am unhappy with my playing, although more practice time would not hurt at all. This is because every once in a while I find that a change in setup, gear or other musical choices is necessary to keep me on my toes.

Let me start by saying that these changes will never hinder my ability to perform the music I play. In fact, some changes that have happened have actually made my playing more musical. I have a few ideas that will be my focus for the New Year, and these are what I want to outline in this month’s article. We all need to do this from time to time, and we needn’t be afraid of the “drumming shake up.”

For years now, I have found a four-piece setup to be the most comfortable. I will add pieces if the music requires it, but this kit with hi-hats, a ride and two crashes suits me just fine.

In the past six months though, I have been finding that I use a five-or six-piece configuration more often (I know, I might be getting a little crazy here). I am digging the tonal options that I need for the music I have been playing as of late, but I am not a big fan of moving my ride cymbal for my second tom. I have also wanted to try not crossing my hands to play the hi-hat in the traditional way. I do play open-handed occasionally, but I am right-handed and always will be.

While I am drumming, I like to move and almost dance to the music as I play. I have to keep this in mind, as I also like to have space in my setup for my dance moves. So now where do I start? How many toms do I want to use? How do I want to set them up? What do I do about the hi-hat situation? And do I need some new dance moves?

Here is what I have come up with. I know it might seem a little unorthodox, but in my twisted drumming mind, it makes sense and might even allow me to be more creative in 2009.

The basis of the kit is still kick and snare, as they are usually placed. No matter what size these drums are, my kick is always angled to my right slightly, and my snare height and angle haven’t changed in a long time—slight angle and the top of the drum is about thigh-high.

I have decided to use a five-piece kit, but with one rack tom and two floor toms. I have also decided to add a third crash/ride cymbal and a splash. Not an extreme change from before, but the way I am placing these in the setup will be the biggest difference.

I have decided to try using a cable hi-hat instead of a traditional stand. I am going to place my hats in the spot where I usually had tom one, directly in front of my snare. With the hats in this position, I can still play with both hands and have my right hand and arm in a very expressive and strong position. My hats will most likely be 15”, but again the music will determine this choice.

For the next change, my single rack tom will move to the left of these hats, a little closer to where the hi-hats would normally be. I will still be able to play this tom with both hands, but my mobility to move around all toms with a single stroke roll will be changed a bit. This idea came to me as I was examining my tendencies and how I play the drums. Most of the music I play does not require blazing single strokes around the kit, and most of my fills are small syncopated themes around the kit.

My floor toms will be 14” and 16”, although I may substitute a 13” for the 14” at times. They will sit in the normal position for now (on my right side), but I may move the smaller of the two to my left where my hi-hats would have been on a stand, putting it right beside my rack tom.

I know this might sound confusing, but it is basically a four-piece kit with tom 1 and the hi-hats switched. Keep in mind that I am not changing this out of boredom; I am always looking for a way to be the most musically expressive.

For the cymbals, my 22” ride will still be in the same position. It will be in front and to my right, chest-high and angled slightly. Another difference is that my ride is now beside my hats, more expression with these instruments. Now, for the crashes. My 20” with a 10” splash upside down will be in front of me and to the left. This is a normal position for this cymbal, but I might try raising it up a bit higher than I normally play it. My 18” crash will be on my right side, and may be raised to make room for the other cymbal I will be adding. My third cymbal (on the right) is going to be a 21” ride that is also a fantastic crash and will be next to the 22” ride.

In all of these changes, my biggest challenge will be getting used to the cable hi-hat. I am by no means the first one to play the hi-hats this way. Danny Carey from Tool is playing his hats directly in front of him, as well as Terry Bozzio and Mike Mangini.




Changing my setup is one way I am going to “shake it up.” My other change started last year and will continue in 2009. This has to do with altering my grip in pursuit of holding the sticks as loose as possible. This is also not a new idea. (See Freddie Gruber for a detailed, butt-kicking lesson on this concept).

The traditional fulcrum we are taught is between our thumb and our index finger on the middle knuckle. I have played this way for years, and I really don’t have a problem with the grip, but I want to get more tone out of the drums. The only way I found this possible was to hold the sticks extremely loose and let everything resonate together. The sticks I use really help in this, but moving my fulcrum was the key to getting the tone and feel that I was looking for.

I went from thinking about the thumb-index finger fulcrum, to thinking about thumb and middle finger being my pivot point. At first when people think about this idea, they believe we are abandoning our index finger. This is not true at all. What we are doing is moving the stick contact on our index finger from the middle knuckle to our first knuckle. If you watch videos of Jeff Porcaro playing his high-hats, especially on Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgetting,” you will see why he is able to play the hats so fast and smooth with his right hand.

My friend T. Bruce Whittet wrote a great article recently on this very subject. And even though he received mail defying this idea, his point was to not be afraid of change and new ideas.

With all of these changes, there are a couple of things to remember. The music will always come first, no matter how much or how little gear we have. We can’t be afraid to try things a different way. It will usually make us better musicians. We learn the most about drumming by taking the time to explore and take chances on our kits while we practice, and there is more than one way to get your ideas across in the music you are playing. I challenge you to give your playing a “shake up.” I guarantee you will be pleasantly surprised.



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About the Author
Jayson  Brinkworth

Jayson Brinkworth is an accomplished drummer, percussionist, vocalist, educator and writer based out of Canada. He is co-owner of the Saskatchewan music school Music In The House, as well as the founder of both the Regina Drum Festival and The Stickman Drum Experience.

Jayson proudly endorses Yamaha drums, Sabian cymbals, Vic Firth sticks, Evans heads, Impact cases, Kickport, Flix, Future Sonics and Mountain Rhythm. Visit Jayson online at www.jaysonbrinkworth.com.

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