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The Natural Rebound Principle: basically tells us the following: If we have a freely moving pivot point with no, or little restriction on the rotation, then the tip of the stick should bounce up and down in much the same fashion as a bouncing basketball. Obviously a rebounding stick will not have enough energy to push the whole arm back to a vertical position, so to a certain extent we have to use our muscles to move our arms and hands in synchronization with the rebounding stick. The idea though, is to use the rebounding of the stick as much as possible - we let in come up at it’s own speed, and simply follow it’s movement with our hand. This very similar to bouncing a ball really - the bounce does most of the work for us, and we just add a small amount of energy with each bounce to keep it bouncing. Just as the basketball moves much more than the bouncer's hand, so we try to make the stick do all the work when playing the drum.
When we use the natural rebound principle to it’s full amount, we end up with the stick bouncing right back up to whatever height it started from. This type of action, we call a “Piston Stroke”. A piston stroke can be from any height, as long as the rebound is used, so the height of the successive stroke is the same. We use piston strokes whenever all the notes are at the same volume.
A common error is to stop the stick at the bottom of the stroke, then use muscle power to lift it back up at the same time as the other stick moves down. It's easy to see how we can acquire this habit right at the beginner level, playing single strokes. After all, the brain only has one thing to concentrate on. One stick is high, one low, then you just keep swapping over. As we learn however, our brain becomes capable of much greater speeds than our body can execute, and we need to use the more efficient piston stroke which is easiest for our hands. As we learn to let the stick rebound without interfering with it’s motion, it requires no extra brain power anyway. We initiate the start of the stroke, and the rest happens automatically. In fact it requires less - only one thought for each stroke. Stopping then lifting the stick is two seperate extra actions which require two seperate signals from the brain. So the key to learning correct piston strokes, is to begin our learning of them in a way such that each stick goes down and bounces all the way back up, before the other moves at all. They need to bounce straight back up, with no hesitation.
If you're not sure if you have a tendency to stop the stick momentarily at the bottom of the stroke, try the "strobing" test. As you play single strokes at a comfortable speed, watch yourself in the mirror. If the stick is being allowed to bounce off the drum with little or no impedance, it's fastest movement should be when it is close to the drum - just like the bouncing basketball, or a person on a trampoline. You should be able to see the tip of the stick as a smooth streaky line, from the top of the stroke to the bottom. The only places where the stick tip should appear solid and stationery is at the stroke extremities. If there's tension in the stroke, or if you are quickly lifting the stick rather than letting it bounce, you will notice the stick looking "solid" for a split instant just above the drum, like its under a strobe light.
As mentioned on the previous page, piston strokes can be played at any level of volume - the higher they are, the louder. Because they bounce back to the same height, the volume of notes will remain the same. The two extreme versions of the piston stroke are the softest possible - played from the wrist, and the loudest possible, played from the elbow. These are the ones that we must know well, to practise rudiments etc to their maximum potential. We will call a soft piston stroke a “TAP” stroke,and a loud piston stroke a “FULL” stroke.
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