The level system?

I'm wondering what people think about the level system. I've studied with a few different teachers and heard competing arguments, not sure which I believe.

I've heard teachers say that the only proper way to play accents is to use the level system - prepare for the accented note on the unaccented note before it. And I've heard teachers who just laugh at that. One sat at the drums with both sticks way up, like in free stroke ready position, and said "Have you ever seen a drummer at the start of a song like this"? He then had me study lifting the stick for each stroke, rather than prepare the stick on the previous stroke.
 

jeffwj

Platinum Member
Since I wrote a book entitled The Level System, you can safely assume that I believe in the system. As a teacher, I would never mock or ridicule any technique. It is much better to point out the advantages or disadvantages in a professional manner.

To quote from the introduction of The Level System:

"The purpose of this book is to introduce the reader to the level system, a method of performance that allows the drummer to transition instantly between accented and unaccented notes. The level system is unlike most other methods of drumming because the hands always prepare for the upcoming note one stroke in advance. This allows the drummer to perform within an extreme dynamic range while remaining free of tension.
The use of the level system will allow the drummer to execute patterns which were previously out of reach. Most importantly, the level system will aid the drummer’s performance in a manner that works with both the body and the rebound of the stick."


This is the method that I studied with Joe Morello. He learned the concepts from his teacher, George Lawrence Stone. Jim Chapin used the same system. There are many people using the system today.

It is not the only accenting system, although it feels extremely natural to me. To paraphrase Jim Chapin - don't discard a technique until you have tried and examined it.

Thanks,

Jeff
 

jeffwj

Platinum Member
...He then had me study lifting the stick for each stroke, rather than prepare the stick on the previous stroke.
Regarding the full stroke, here again is an except from my book:

"Many drummers throw the stick down and stop the rebound. This requires them to pick up the stick before making another hit. Therefore they are using two motions and only getting one sound. The momentum is also broken during the process.

The foundation of the level system is the rebounding stroke, where the stick starts in an upright position. It is thrown down and rebounds back to the starting position. The stick is not brought back by the hand, but by the rebound – similar to bouncing a basketball. Therefore, one motion is used to achieve one sound. To accomplish this, the hand must be loose and free of tension. The full and tap strokes are the main rebounding strokes."


Jeff
 

BillBachman

Gold Member
Unless you're playing intentionally tight & weird on certain notes in order to manipulate radically different velocities of strokes from the same stick height (and nobody does this), the only way to play accents and taps & everything in between is to play different stroke heights where each is prepared ahead of time. This can be done with wrist turn strokes (the 4 basic strokes--full/down/tap/up) and Moeller whipping techniques which are the same, but driven by the forearm such that the hand & stick are whipped and the wrist can relax and do nothing.

I only ever use the sticks up position when playing stuff at one dynamic level/stick height where every stroke is a free stroke. As soon as there's an accent or tap to be seen anywhere the sticks go right down to the normal set position since there are generally more taps than accents and the control zone is down low. (If there are more accents than taps then they'd cease to be "accents.")

And, if you ask me, dismissing the free stroke "sticks up' starting position is bypassing far and away the most effective way to learn how to loosely rebound the stick and develop finger control. Many people who always start and stop with the sticks down end up playing with extra tension in their hands for life--it's easy to hide it when every stroke ends in a lock down set position. It's not wrong, just extremely cheat-able where-as the free stroke's "up" ending position with the butt end off the palm will call you out every time for any extra tension in the hands. This is actually step 1 on my Extreme Hands Makeover plan.
 
Thanks for the feedback, guys. Jeff, I just ordered your book and Bill I'm checking out your extreme hands makeover.

The levels system makes sense to me ... I think the arguments against it were mainly attractive because it kind of lets you be lazy. But I feel like I've hit a plateau in my playing and that's usually from bad technique. So I'm rebuilding, going back to basics, and studying the levels will probably help me with my dynamics. I just bought a mirror for my practice room and I'm taking my hands back to square one and working on technique.
 

Jeff Almeyda

Senior Consultant
At this point the thread should be closed because no one is going to answer these questions better than these two high level teacher/players.

We are lucky. This website allows us to get info from qualified pros that would have been extremely difficult to get even a few years ago.
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
Yep. There really isn't an alternative method to this, is there? People may emphasize it to whatever varying degrees, but there's really just paying attention to form and efficiency, using this system, or ignoring it.

This is the method that I studied with Joe Morello. He learned the concepts from his teacher, George Lawrence Stone. Jim Chapin used the same system. There are many people using the system today.
It's also in Gary Chaffee, Dahlgren & Fine, and Wilcoxon, off the top of my head. I wanted to check if it's referenced in Edward Straight, but the books are lost in my stacks right now...

Re: playing from a raised position: it's been a long time for me, but there is a call for that in concert percussion, especially timpani.

Bill and Jeff J (and Jeff A!), I'm curious about one thing: a lot of students will habitually always lift the stick a little bit before playing a note, even when they're already in position. I'm curious as to how strenuously you correct this-- or if you tolerate it, or what. I make kind of a big deal of learning to make the downward part of the stroke directly, with zero lift before it.
 

adamosmianski

Senior Member
I didn't realize that this was a "system". I've always called it "drumming". I certainly can't see how playing this way could be considered lazy. It's just efficiency of motion.

I make my younger students (or older students who haven't done it before) write in "Down", "Up", "Tap" and "Full" on many of their exercises and etudes until it becomes second nature.

Todd, I try to shake my students of that little lift as well. For full and down strokes I have them slow it way down and make sure that they use the entire time allotted to get their stick into position. For example, paradiddles with accents on the downbeat: I make sure that once they attack the upstroke they use the entire time of the two taps to reach the apex of the stroke so that the next downstroke begins right from the top. Taps are a different animal. I often resort to the classic, put your stick over their stick so they can't raise it. If you have other approaches I would love to hear them.
 

AudioWonderland

Silver Member
I have never seen it referred to as a system by this or any other name. It was simply taught as proper stick technique. Admittedly I have strayed from it a bit after a few decades now but a lot of it has stuck.
 

jeffwj

Platinum Member
Thanks for the feedback, guys. Jeff, I just ordered your book and Bill I'm checking out your extreme hands makeover.

The levels system makes sense to me ... I think the arguments against it were mainly attractive because it kind of lets you be lazy. But I feel like I've hit a plateau in my playing and that's usually from bad technique. So I'm rebuilding, going back to basics, and studying the levels will probably help me with my dynamics. I just bought a mirror for my practice room and I'm taking my hands back to square one and working on technique.
Thank you for ordering my book. I hope you find it to be valuable while working on your technique. If you have any questions about the concepts or exercises, please feel free to contact me - either on the forum or by email.


...Bill and Jeff J (and Jeff A!), I'm curious about one thing: a lot of students will habitually always lift the stick a little bit before playing a note, even when they're already in position. I'm curious as to how strenuously you correct this-- or if you tolerate it, or what. I make kind of a big deal of learning to make the downward part of the stroke directly, with zero lift before it.
Todd,

You know as well as I do that there are so many nuances that we as teachers need to address - and everyone has their own way of addressing things. I try to have the student focus on one or two key points in each lesson. So, if a student is lifting the stick back after he/she is in the "ready" position, I will have them focus on correcting it all week long. I found that having the student's attention go toward one or two specific goals allows them to correct their technique quicker than giving them a long list of corrections.

Jeff
 
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