Continuing with the "Five Long Minutes" video series, this week: Five Long Minutes of Flams! Flams consist of only two notes. They look innocent enough but they are actually fairly difficult to explain and even more difficult to execute. Flams are a basic rudiment that all pipe band drummers must learn as they are found in even the most basic drum scores. A flam is composed of a principal note (normal sized note) and a grace note (a small eighth note with a slash through it). If it is played properly, a flam should produce a "flip" sound.
The preparation or "stick prep" for a flam involves one stick high and one stick low. The exact height of the sticks depends on the volume at which the flam will be played. To execute a flam correctly, both sticks should be played in a single downward motion. Sometimes, to aid beginners, I suggest using a very slight upward motion with both sticks (similar to an upbeat used by symphonic conductors). This slight upward motion gets both sticks moving at the same time, first upward, then downwards. After a flam is played, the height of the sticks should reverse in preparation for a flam on the opposite hand. This is not always the case when flams are played within a musical context (in a drum score) but the hand-to-hand variation of the flam (switching between left and right) is by far the most common.
There are two versions of the flam: "right" and "left". A flam is identified as a "right flam" if the right hand is higher; "left flams" begin with the left hand in a higher position.
When playing along with the video try your best to match the stick heights and, after each flam, be sure to switch the height of your sticks in preparation for the next one.
There are a couple of issues that come up when practicing flams, the most common of which is the "flat" flam. A flat flam is achieved when both sticks hit the drum at the same time, effectively negating the sound of the grace note and creating a short "ba" sound. This occurs primarily because the low stick is raised too high during the flam's preparation.
Another common issue that occurs is an "open" flam. An "open" flam is the result of the grace note and principal note being played with two much separation between them. This results in a "fulllll-am" sound. This happens when the sticks are raised and lowered separately using two alternating hand movements. To solve this problem, make sure to raise and lower both your high stick and low stick simultaneously.
And, even though it seems like a no-brainer, folks who are learning their flams for the first time have difficulty keeping one stick high and one stick low. When I teach flams to beginners we always practice the preparation for the flam first and, in order to reinforce the action, we hold it for a few seconds before playing. Because there are so many other rudiments containing flams, taking your time and learning the correct way to play them is absolutely worth it.
Have fun improving your flams! Take 5 Long Minutes out of your day and you'll be surprised at your rate of improvement. Thanks to all of you who have put requests in for new videos--they are all on my "to-do" list. Until next time...