Drum Technique & Ergonomics Part 9 – Moeller Technique

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Last month we looked at some basic physical and mechanical (ergonomic) principles in relation to the ‘single-motion’ or ‘straight’ bounce technique. We discussed how the wrists and fingers can move in specific ways, in order to execute and accept the natural rebound – a very important skill for drummers. This month, we continue with our study of the natural rebound, and introduce the concept of ‘multiple-stroke’,
or ‘multiple-motion’, techniques, with particular reference to the Moeller technique. As always, please remember that any study and practice of technique should be undertaken with an understanding and awareness of all the issues highlighted throughout the recent Rhythm series on Drumming, Ergonomics and Posture.


The Moeller technique (pronounced ‘molar’, but not to be confused with advanced dental
techniques), is named after (but, contrary to popular belief, was not invented by) Sanford Moeller, a military-style, rudimental snare drummer, who developed and nurtured a technical method by observing drummers in the US Civil War. These drummers encountered a number of physical and mechanical (ergonomic) problems, such as playing under battlefield conditions (no pressure there, then…), for long periods of time, in all weathers, on unforgiving calf-skin heads. Makes that summer season in Skegness sound more appealing, doesn’t it? Bearing this in mind (the military drummers, not the summer season in Skegness), Moeller continued to expand upon his observations and, through his teachings, became synonymous with this energy-efficient technical method, aimed at reducing physical (and perhaps mental) tension,and enabling the drummer to play with a more controlled, relaxed, faster and powerful technique, for longer periods of time. The rest, as they say, is history. Having been passed down through generations of drummers, the principles of the Moeller method have proven to be a significant contributing factor to the study and practice of drum set hand techniques.
Before we go any further, it’s important to understand that the ‘traditional’ Moeller technique has, naturally, been subjected to modification over the years, and nowadays there are many different techniques operating on similar principles, offering various physical and sonic applications to contemporary drum set performance.


The traditional Moeller technique operates on a ‘multiple-stroke’ or ‘multiple-motion’ basis, consisting of what can be termed as ‘stroke sequences’, and comprising the down-stroke, tap-stroke and up-stroke. In a typical Moeller stroke sequence, we play the down-stroke, followed by the tap-stroke, then the up-stroke (there are other variations, but the physical and mechanical principles of each stroke are the same), with the stroke sequence repeated in order to sustain the rebound. The basic rationale behind this technique is that the cyclic sequence of strokes provides a continuous flow and momentum, enabling the drummer to accept the rebound, with a minimum of effort, through means of related physical movements. The different strokes can be seen as being complementary and preparatory – they work for each other, and with each other.
Furthermore, despite the obvious ‘multiple-stroke’ motion, the overriding principle is to execute and feel the three strokes as one complete, continuous, or perpetual, motion. Although the mechanical principles in all rebound techniques are essentially similar (to generate, accept, and control the rebound by means of a physical motion), the physical differences between the ‘straight’ bounce and ‘multiple-stroke’ techniques are more obvious
and significant – it’s interesting to draw comparisons between the two.


The ‘single-motion’, or ‘straight’ bounce technique (as discussed last month) utilises the wrists or fingers in a basic downwards and upwards motion (flexion/ extension). With this technique, whether bouncing from the wrists or fingers, the shoulders and elbows are kept reasonably static. More specifically, in wrist- bouncing, the fingers should remain in contact with the stick, but not generate the rebound. In finger- bouncing the wrists will also remain relatively static, allowing the fingers to generate the rebound. (Please note that ‘static’ does not mean locked or tense.) In comparison, the Moeller technique requires a different sequence of physical movements, incorporating the shoulders, elbows and wrists, in order to carry out the stroke cycle.
Before we begin to examine the Moeller stroke sequences, it’s important to mention our old friend, the grip. In short, given the mechanical principles behind ‘multiple-stroke’ techniques, it’s possible to use any of the typical grip positions. Indeed, the military drummers in Moeller’s day would have used a combination of ‘traditional’ and ‘palm-down’ grip positions. Physiologically, the technique is best suited to the palm-down position, which offers the greatest and easiest range of natural motion, while the ‘French’ grip position is the least physically efficient, and is not normally synonymous with the Moeller technique. Needless to say, whichever grip you choose, make sure that it physically allows you to execute the technique. Moeller himself was very much
concerned about this and expounded the virtues of playing from the ‘back of the hand’, with particular emphasis on the contact between the little finger and the stick. This has been modified somewhat, to be more drum set friendly.
Photograph 1 resembles the ‘open-fulcrum’ position, in which the stick is predominantly controlled from the back of the hand.


To initiate the down-, tap-, and up-stroke sequence, we must prepare for the down-stroke by lifting up the forearm and allowing the wrist to flex or fall naturally, without tension. As the forearm is lifted, the elbow naturally moves out from the body, assisting the motion. Photograph 2 shows the anatomical position of the forearm, elbow and wrist, in a typical preparation position, while Photograph 3 shows a side view of the same position. We can, of course, lift (or prepare) the arm to play from any dynamic level, and the degree of wrist and elbow movement largely depends on the dynamic and velocity of the notes to be played. Photograph 4 shows a reasonably low motion and dynamic level, while Photograph 5 shows the motion being taken to a higher, more exaggerated level. Regardless of the dynamic level, the specific type of motion in Moeller stroke sequences is a key physical consideration, and one that differs significantly from the physical motion of the ‘straight’ bounce technique (see Photograph 6).


Having completed the preparation motion, we are ready to play the down-stroke, which is best described as a ‘whipping’ or ‘throwing’ action (incidentally, in physiological terms this is also known as a ‘ballistic’ action, which is somewhat ironic, given that most drummers go ballistic from time to time), and requires us to throw the forearm down towards the drum surface, allowing the wrist to follow through, unrestricted, with the ‘whipping’ action, and to allow the elbow to move naturally back in towards the body. At the point of impact with the drum, we allow the stick to rebound to our required dynamic level, and then continue the sequence by throwing the stick down to play the tap-stroke, followed by the up-stroke, while simultaneously lifting the forearm as previously described. Ultimately, the key consideration is to allow the tap and up-strokes
to be played almost automatically through the physical and mechanical momentum generated in preparation for the next down-stroke.

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