Dr. Joan Bushwell's Chimpanzee Refuge

Cross-body Co-ordination

Readers of this blog know that, as a drummer, I am very keen on left-right symmetry of co-ordination. The drummer’s world is often filled with patterns (get the pun?) and being able to execute them equally well from the left versus right side opens creative possibilities. Time to get those mirror neurons up and running! Today’s question, how’s your co-ordination between hands and feet?

Before lab the other day, I noticed that one of my students was banging out a little pattern on the lab bench with his hands. Better I should say he was working at it. It turns out he’s a drummer. What he was doing was a triplet exercise. A triplet is three notes in the normal space of two. So, a drummer will have one hand doing the twos, and the other doing the threes. Imagine a repeating sequence of six equally spaced notes, say one per second. Your right hand may be hitting on 1, 3 and 5 while your left hand is hitting on 1 and 4. Try it. As he was relatively new at this, my student was having some difficulty doing it the opposite way (left = 1, 3, 5 and right = 1, 4). I asked if he could do this with his feet instead of his hands. (I am always reminded of Bill Bruford’s comment from his book When in Doubt, Roll, to sometimes think of your feet as just another set of somewhat smelly hands. It’s a useful exercise to expand your vocabulary.) Apparently, my student had never thought of this and give me a quizzical stare. I suggested he just do them in tandem with his hands (i.e., imagine a rod connecting your left foot to your left hand and another connecting the right foot to the right hand).

I have always found that once I master a pattern with my hands, replicating with the feet is not so difficult (of course, the feet are not nearly so delicately tuned as the hands so you can’t expect the same sort of speed or the ability to apply grace notes and what not, but the basics are there.) I have always wondered if there is some sort of “borrowing” going on once your brain has established the connections for the hands, to make it easy for the feet.

At this point I began to think of moving the pattern across the body. In other words, have the right hand and left foot move the same while the left hand and right foot link up. This is pretty tricky stuff. I had no idea if I could do this so when I got home the first thing I did was to sit down at the kit and give it a go. It turns out I have a weird asymmetry in capability. I can do either version between two hands and one foot, but I can only do all four limbs if the right hand is doing the threes, not if the left hand is doing the threes. I have something new to work on!

Some might ask, “What does this have to do with music?” Well, certainly, technique for technique’s sake is not necessarily musical, but expanded technique does sometimes open creative doors. You just have to recognize that you may never use that particular thing in an artistic setting. Besides, just being able to do something a little odd can be entertaining. Many years ago I practiced that “Live long and prosper” Mr. Spock greeting with the double-finger “V” and learned to smoothly move between that and its reverse (double “V” with middle fingers together). From there the trick was to do it with both hands, and ultimately, both hands in opposition. You might be surprised at how a little co-ordination trick like that can raise an eyebrow (or two).


  1. #1 Michael Barton
    December 6, 2007

    Nice post…

    I find in my symmetrical journey that if I can start with a few basic concepts, I have a better chance of building more complex patterns…for instance…

    Drummers take note…an old Simon Phillips exercise.
    Paradiddle in quarter notes with the hands.; Rlrr Lrll repeat and at the same time Paradiddles with the feet but only twice as fast; eighth notes…Rlrr Lrll repeat…

    Once one has that, and believe me, it’s not easy, then switch the eighth notes to the hands and then the quarters to the feet…

    This concept is a total symmetrical exercise.
    And of course one can expand from there… this not only gives one a great ex. to conquer, but is great mind food!