There are many drummer techniques out there for different styles of drumming. In this article, I’m going to focus on one drumming technique that works for any style of drumming. It also saved my drumming career.
Out of all the techniques I use and have used, one stands out as consistently useful in every one of my playing situations. It’s called the Moeller Technique and is the safest and most effective drumming technique in my opinion.
The Moeller Method, as it’s sometimes called, is unmatched among drumming techniques. Its power and ease of playing also make it useful in any style of drumming.
My drumming technique journey
It was 1993 and I was at Berklee College of Music performing with a Count Basie tribute band. We were playing the epic Wind Machine chart. About halfway through, I went to play a fast fill around the toms and suddenly my arms froze up.
I was terrified and didn’t know what was going on. Suddenly I couldn’t play! Then a few measures later, my arms completely stopped working. I basically limped my way through the rest of that show.
I soon went to the top orthopedic doctor in Boston. He took some images of my arms, did some testing and determined that I had acute tendonitis.
Basically, it meant that I had severely torn the tendons in my forearms from playing drums. This is what caused my arms to freeze up and stop working.
The doctor looked across his desk and said, “I think, you need to take a long break from drumming and it may even be the end of your career. I just want to be honest with you.”
Well, it was a super dark time in my life. Since the age of 15, I had a dream to become a professional drummer. This was a big hammer blow to that dream.
How to drum and how not to drum
Only two years into my schooling at Berklee and a year prior at another university, and suddenly I had to quit. I moved to Seattle where some of my family were living and regrouped.
During my time off from music, I figured out why I had damaged my arms. I was using my wrists for every loud or soft drumming stroke and wasn’t getting strong rebound from my sticks and brushes. I was pulling out (or using my muscles) all of my drumming strokes.
As I learned, when it comes to drumming, there is definitely a right and a wrong way to do it. The key is getting solid, consistent bounce or rebound from your sticks and brushes on the cymbals and drums.
It’s also okay to use our wrists for smaller strokes but for larger and louder drum strokes, we need to use larger muscles. I wasn’t using larger muscles or getting good rebound when I wanted to play louder. This is what finally blew out the small muscles and tendons in my arms.
While in Seattle, I retooled my drumming. I learned three things that really helped me get back into drumming.
- I had to rest. So that meant no playing for awhile too.
- I found a great massage therapist. She was able to help me identify and understand the parts of my arm that were in trouble. She helped me to help me to fix them too. I learned some really great pressure points around the shoulder blade area that helped heal my arms quickly.
- I started using the Moeller drumming technique.
Physics makes Moeller the best drumming technique
During my time in Seattle, I researched various drumming techniques. There were some resources I discovered about the Moeller Technique that were helpful. I began using the Moeller motion and could play with more power, precision, dynamics, tone and speed than before and with so much less effort.
I learned how to let the stick and the drum or cymbal do the work for me. The essence of the Moeller Technique is harnessing the power and momentum from the bounce. For this reason, Moeller works with Physics to help you play drums.
Before Moeller, I would unknowingly pound the sticks and the sound into the drums and cymbals. With Moeller, I can pull the sound out of the drums and the cymbals. It’s a much bigger, warmer and richer tone than the way I was playing.
The Moeller drumming technique helped me develop my touch and tone which have become part of my signature sound. They’re the things that musicians, recording engineers and audience members comment on the most. They say my playing is very smooth and articulate.
Before Moeller, I wasn’t working with physics. I knew about bounce, but I wasn’t really capturing the fullness of the bounce. When I started to capture the bounce and used the bounce to my advantage, then my drumming became so much better.
I want to share next, a little bit about the history of the Moeller Technique so that you also understand where it came from.
Moeller Technique brief history
In the late 1800’s Sanford Moeller, as it’s been said, was observing snare drummers who fought in the American Civil War. He was inspired to see that they were able to play loudly for long periods of time without getting tired.
Moeller observed and documented the mechanics of their playing. He then started to share this method with his drum students. It developed into one of the most respected drum techniques that we still use today.
Moeller tips for beginning drummers
The Moeller Technique not only changed my drumming, it also changed my thinking about drumming. In my playing, Because of Moeller, I’m always striving for rebound, even on low-rebound surfaces like floor toms.
When I play on drums, there are waves in the vibration of the drum head. The vibrational waves on a floor tom head are further apart than a snare drum head. This makes floor toms more difficult to play.
Hit your floor tom and then rest the tip of your stick on the drum head. You’ll see that your stick naturally bounces around. Those are the waves. Next, try and time it so that your downstroke is at the same time as the wave is going up.
This gives you incredible rebound and makes it easy to play fast figures on the floor tom. Using Moeller has helped me learn this skill and feel even the slightest amount of bounce from any drum or cymbal with sticks or brushes.
Now, I relax more when I play and let the drum and the stick or brush do the work for me. I can play drum grooves, drum fills, kicks and solos with a lot less effort than before.
Drumming for beginners with Moeller
If you’d like to learn a little bit about the Moeller drumming technique, I have an easy-to-follow introduction in the video below.
A drum practice pad is a great way to practice what I shared in the video. The one I’ve used for years is the Real Feel practice pad (see below). I recommend it for your Moeller practice too.
I’m sharing an affiliate link above. Buying through me is a convenient way to get your practice pad and easy way to support this blog. Thank you 🤙
Moeller Technique is versatile
You can use the Moeller drumming technique to play fast or slow, loud or soft. When you’re playing Moeller at a slower speed, you’re going to have a bigger motion than when you’re playing it faster.
I use it when I play ride or crash cymbals, move around the drums and play on the hi-hat. Basically, I use it for playing anything on the drumset.
The motion is often described as a whipping motion. Kind of like if you were to crack a whip. That’s the motion that you’re trying to achieve as you hit the drum.
How to catch the Moeller wave
I also see it as a waving motion like I used in my break dancing days. At 02:31 in the video above, I demonstrate how to get that waving motion in your arms. I’ve also listed the steps below.
- I always tell new students to start off with their hands on their laps, palms face down.
- Next, lift your elbows first
- Then lift your forearms
- Next your wrist and
- Finally your fingers
- Bring everything back down and have your hands land on your lap.
The Moeller motion really is like Break Dancing on the drums. I realized years ago that the Moeller motion has the same kind of waving motion in your arms. This motion is a really effective in helping you use the big muscles in your arms to play big notes on the drums.
Here’s a video below of me break dancing a few years back. Notice the waving motion in my arms?
Big muscles for big sound
It’s not good to use little muscles and little tendons for big notes. That’s what I was doing and how I injured myself. I used to play almost everything from my wrist.
When I would play loud notes, I would use my wrist to pop out those big notes. Eventually, that poor drumming technique caught up with me.
If you’re playing loud, use the big muscles in your arms. When you lead from your elbow, you also use your shoulder muscles, upper arm muscles and forearm muscles. You really get everything moving.
The beautiful thing about Moeller, is once you let that stick come down and bounce, you can do so much after that with the power and the momentum of the rebound.
Paradiddles and Moeller
To feel the Moeller bounce, try playing basic paradiddles with the Moeller motion. A paradiddle is right, left, right, right, left, right, left, left.
Play your accent with Moeller motion on the first note of each Paradiddle. That Moeller stroke accent is going to pull you through the rest of the notes of that paradiddle.
Check out my video below. Start at 02:21 and you’ll see how that accent pulls me through the rest of the pattern. It works even with drum brushes!
Practicing paradiddles this way will help you feel the Physics of Moeller in your drumming.
Other drumming techniques and Moeller
I know that there are a lot of other drum techniques out there. I sometimes use other techniques like the push-pull technique for playing fast on the ride cymbal.
In general however, what I tend to do is play mostly Moeller drumming technique. I feel it’s the best drumming technique for most of what I want to play.
If I’m going to play smaller motions or quieter strokes on the drums or cymbals, I will use what I call “Mini Moeller”. This is where I’m still moving from my elbow, but it’s a much smaller motion.
Pull that sound out
When I ask students to play a Jazz ride cymbal pattern for the first time, they typically hit that sound into the cymbal. It sounds pretty awful and they know it too.
Then I say, “Now let’s pull the sound out of the cymbal.” and I teach them how to do the Moeller stroke. They immediately hear the difference in tone.
If you’re playing in a club or in a concert hall, pull that sound out of your instrument. That sound is going to project out and fill the room.
If you think about it, why would you want to hit the sound into the cymbal or drum? If you do that, the sound travels to the floor and nobody’s going to hear it. What you want to do is pull that sound out of your instrument so that everyone can enjoy it.
The sound is bigger and fuller. There’s more tone. It’s beautiful. When you use Moeller, people will notice, especially other musicians.
No pain please
There are other techniques out there and I encourage you to try them. Please remember that with any drumming technique though, the goal is not to get injured. The Moeller Technique will never injure your arms, wrists or fingers.
It’s natural to feel a little bit of muscle fatigue in the beginning as you practice. Even so, the old saying, “No pain, no gain.” though, doesn’t work here. Please stop playing if you have a shooting or stabbing pain or tingling of any kind in your hands, wrists or arms.
This is a sign of repetitive stress injury and you’ll need to seek professional help to heal and change your drumming technique. If you need some help in learning the Moeller Technique, please feel free to sign up for a private Zoom lesson. I would be happy to work with you. We can get things ironed out pretty quickly.
The Moeller Technique is the only drum technique that I trust to teach my students so that they can play their best and avoid drumming injury. It helped me overcome my technique problems and saved my drumming career.
Learn to harness the power of the rebound in your drumming and you can always play your best. The Moeller Technique will help you do it.
Get down the basic motion and then practice the Moeller motion with Paradiddles. That’ll help you realize how little work you need to do to get great sound, speed and endurance in your drumming.
Enjoy Break Dancing on the drums and Keep swinging!
Have you tried the Moeller Technique?
Strengthen your arms and body for drumming. Check out my blog post on exercise for drummers.
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