Moeller Technique - The most important breakthrough in drumming since…..ever
What sort of picture do you suppose the average non-musician has in their head of a stereotypical drummer? The calm, pragmatic thinker who hones his/her craft over years and deftly executes only-the-most-tasteful musical nuance, or the cro magnon basher sitting away at the back furiously pummelling the skins and ignoring the other band members (the propagation of whom was almost certainly helped by everyone’s favourite, this guy)
The beauty of the drumset of course is that both are entirely plausible which makes the instrument so accessible to beginners and advanced musicians alike - but with drummer jokes and clickbait articles aside, I would argue that drumset is the instrument which most defies preconceptions. Despite the fact that a drummer is technically ‘bashing’, technique has evolved to the point that it has become one of the most (if not the most) ergonomic mainstream instruments. Sticks are thrown and caught - an analogy I often use with students is that you’re sitting there bouncing tennis balls. The fact that we’re always moving actually alleviates risk which one might encounter with other instruments which require you to position yourself abnormally for long periods of time.
However, before we can smugly sit on our laurels as ‘the most comfortable on stage’ we can lament one important fact - in order to get to that level of relaxed ease of playing we have to go through stages of developing efficient movement - and it’s no mean feat. In fact, it’s a knife edge; overplaying without efficient movement can do a huge amount of damage, and I’ve seen many fledgeling drummers succumb to repetitive strain injury - generally due to not releasing the stick at the point of impact.
If there is one technique which managed to propel the musical art of drumming into a new level it has to be the Moeller technique. The reason I think it’s worth writing about is because it epitomises what makes drumming so unique - that is, having the effect of requiring more effort than it actually does.
The technique made its first appearance into the widespread drumming audience via the legendary tome The Art of Snare Drumming, its author Sanford A. (Gus) Moeller being well known for donning his snare drum and marching 248 miles over 10 days from Madison Square Garden (NY) to the armory in Boston in September, 1930. When he finally put down his sticks that day, bystanders were amazed to see that, upon close inspection, he reportedly had no calluses or blisters - thus proving his point that his method was the most ergonomic.
Evidently this publicity stunt paid dividends, as Moeller's book became a bestseller while influencing countless other publications - not the least of which being Jim Chapin’s Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer. At a time where the rise of conventional drumset playing had seen a decline in the uptake of rudimentary study, Moeller’s teachings on technique and the importance of stick control sent ripples across the global drumming community and are now permanently ingrained in drumset technique - one would be hard-pressed finding any drummer who is set on disproving the efficacy and massive application of practicing the humble accented paradiddle.
Check out this great video of Jimmy Chapin—a student of Moeller’s—demonstrating the technique wonderfully.
Like I mentioned earlier - a cool thing about drums is that a beginner can get on and play something cool in ten minutes. The reason you should be showing them the Moeller technique for the next ten minutes after that is because it will make everything else they play sound, look and feel better.
There are amazing breakthroughs in drumming every day, from how they’re played (check out Binkbeats ‘Little Nerves') to some innovative marrying of technology which gives a player an edge in a market that’s constantly blurring the line between what’s physically possible and what passes as standard on a professional stage (check out the Soundbrenner wrist metronome).
You might be able to produce some pretty cool stuff without investing time in the Moeller technique, but if you want to become a serious player it should be something you incorporate into practice everyday - because it’s been a long time since a tool that powerful has appeared in drumming, and something tells me we’ll be waiting a while to see the next one.
Tom Pierard has been playing and teaching drumset professionally for 15 years, and specialises in a range of modern styles