How to Play the Moeller Method

Moeller Strokes: How to Play and a Quick History

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The world is full of ideas. If you’ve ever watched the shopping channel, you’ll know that there are some good ones, some bad ones and some incredibly ugly ones.

But imagine if I told you that there was an invention which did make life easier. Imagine I said to you that if you used this invention, you could drum faster, more effortlessly, expressively, and more healthily than ever before.

Imagine if I told you that it was free, at your fingertips and that all you had to do was practice a little to use it properly.

Interested? Read on.

History of the Moeller Technique

In 1925, Sanford A. Moeller released a book called ‘Instructor in the Art of Snare Drumming.’ I don’t know for sure, but I don’t picture it being a light read!

The Moeller Book

Nevertheless, this New York-born drummer was a man on a mission. He’d learned a few things while drumming in the army, which changed his entire approach to kit drumming, and he took every opportunity to pass this new knowledge on to others. 

The techniques he’d picked up were perfectly suited to playing a high number of strokes effortlessly and in quick

succession. It also made it easier to play louder strokes and to play with a greater range of dynamic variation in general. 

Sanford Moeller counted Gene Krupa amongst his students, and Krupa is rumored to have found Moeller’s single-minded pursuit of his new method a little overwhelming. He saw a need to adapt Moeller’s technique before using it to play with jazz and dance bands.

Nevertheless, the method grew in popularity, and it’s now a staple for any drummer who wants to pursue creative freedom on the kit. If practiced carefully, this technique really will make your playing faster and more relaxed. It’ll also make your playing more expressive, and it makes life a little easier for your wrists and forearms as well.

What is the Moeller Stroke?

There are many different strokes and techniques that all come under the ‘Moeller’ heading. We could talk about the low Moeller, the half Moeller, and the full Moeller—to name but three—and there are various other strokes besides.

Many of these other strokes are needed to play different subdivisions, and especially tuplet groupings like triplets.

So the Moeller Method—properly described—is more than just one thing; instead, it’s an entire approach to playing.

We won’t spread ourselves too thin today. Instead, we’re going to work on the low Moeller, and we’re going to presume that we’re working with eighths and sixteenths.

The low Moeller is excellent for quick, agile playing on the drum kit. Just like all the other Moeller strokes, it’s so effective because it makes every movement significant.

No action is wasted; at every point, the stick is either striking a drum (or a cymbal) or preparing to. That might sound very ordinary at first, but dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that it’s a stroke of genius (literally)!

You see, if we’re not using Moeller strokes, we have to play a downstroke and then have to recover by lifting the stick before we can play another downstroke.

In the end, we get one note for every ‘up/down’ motion with our forearm. Without the Moeller Method, there are two movements needed to play one note.

When we’re utilizing the Moeller Method, the previously unused upwards motion plays a note too. Now, we have two strokes in two arm movements. In math terms, we’ve just made our playing 50% more efficient!

Take a seat at your drums or your practice pad, and we’ll try it out.

Before We Begin

Before we continue, I ought to say that learning to use any of the Moeller Method techniques takes a lot of self-discipline. 

To give you an idea: as I’m typing this, my fourteen-year-old niece is sitting next to me, and she’s playing a pretty good low Moeller. It took her five minutes of practice to start getting it right but, alas, after just one minute of success, she’s already begun to slip again!

If you don’t notice that you’ve slipped and you keep playing anyway, you’ll be practicing bad habits, and you’ll be no closer to reaching your goal of using the low Moeller in your playing.

You need to be strict with yourself and practice everything carefully if you’re going to make proper headway. Luckily, this hard work will pay off later when you see the low Moeller become second nature.

So, perhaps consider this a mid-term goal and work on it alongside other things when you practice. Don’t expect to nail it in two days, instead allow yourself a couple of weeks at least. That way, you’re less likely to get discouraged and give up when things don’t go to plan straight away.

If all else fails, you can always imagine Sanford Moeller standing nearby as you practice, frowning at you – drum stick in hand—ready to hit your knuckles if you cut corners…!

(Disclaimer: there’s no evidence that the real Sanford Moeller frowned and hit his students with sticks. That’s pure fabrication on my part!)

Getting Started with the Moeller Technique

Now that’s been said, let’s get stuck in.

  1. Take a drum stick in your strongest hand.
  2. Hold the stick above the snare drum, and allow your hand to fall so that the stick strikes the head. If you can, let your stick to bounce back up again. Make sure you don’t ‘kill’ the bounce by burying the stick into the head. It might take some practice if you’re not used to it. Try step two several times before moving on; we’ll need it later! –
  3. Place your strongest hand above the snare head again. Place the stick about two centimeters above the drum. (Here’s where it gets tricky, so remember—be strict with yourself!)
  4. Imagine someone has tied a piece of string around your wrist. Imagine them pulling the string upwards. Your wrist—and only your wrist—should lift so that your forearm, wrist, and hand create an arc. If done correctly, your hand may be raised by a centimeter or two, but by no more than. It should slant down towards the snare head. Your elbow should stay low; your forearm should slant steeply upward.
  5. When you lifted your wrist in this way, your stick should have struck the drum as a natural extension to the movement of your arm. This is what we’re looking for. If the stick doesn’t hit the drum when you lift your wrist, you may have raised your hand a little too much along with it. Try steps three and four again, but remember to keep your palm angled downwards, even as your wrist rises.
  6. Next, lift only the palm of your hand in a natural extension of your wrist so that your forearm runs in a straight line from your elbow through to your fingers. Your fingers should lift towards the ceiling (though, of course, they’ll also be curled around the stick).
  7. From this position, your stick should be raised in a straight line from your forearm. It’s time to bring out your inner John Wayne at this point; we need to use a ‘whip’ motion as the stick leans back a little and then falls towards the drum.
  8. When you’ve played that big whip-like stroke, the stick will immediately try to bounce back again. However, before it does, we need to try and catch the stick two centimeters from the drum.
  9. At this point, you can jump right back to step three and repeat the process.

Be careful: when I teach this technique to students, they sometimes reach step four and jerk their wrist up forcefully. This movement shouldn’t require a lot of force, and if you over-do it, you’ll find your wrist hurting pretty quickly. Take it easy!

We’ve broken the low Moeller down into a step-by-step list of instructions, but the technique should flow smoothly and naturally in reality. Some people describe the stroke compared to a whipping motion with the arm—as mentioned earlier—while others describe it as a wave-like movement. 

The latter description gives a perfect picture of how smooth this technique should be. If your arm movements are too jerky, it won’t work well.

When you put these steps together in quick succession, the motion will be too smooth to notice each step’s separation. One movement flows into the next without interruption. 

When you’re ready, go back through the steps again with your weaker hand. To finish, you can pour yourself a drink to celebrate a job well done!

Taking the Low Moeller Further

As we noted earlier in the article, this technique can take a while to get right. It’s essential to take it slowly and to exaggerate the size of your arm movements. Relax with it for a while: it’s a process. There’s no rush!

Be careful to replicate the steps above as accurately as possible. Step four is especially important: don’t lift your arm then play the drum. Play the drum because you’re raising your arm.

After a while—if you’re careful to practice it well—the low Moeller will start to become more comfortable. And once the technique has started to flow well at a slower pace, we’ve managed to get half-way there!

The next step is to try and speed things up a little. This is where a click or metronome can be beneficial. Start at a 60bpm and play straight eighths on the snare like so. Speed up gradually—just a few bpm at a time. 

Moeller Method Exercise 1

You’ll find that it’s impossible to make the low Moeller feel good at fast speeds while you’re using big arm movements. Try to make your movements a little smaller with each jump in speed. 

It should eventually be the case that the low Moeller is barely noticeable. Instead, your wrist will start to take on that gentle wave motion that we talked about earlier. It bears repeating that this will take some time, so again: don’t rush!

Two More Exercises with the Low Moeller

Below, you’ll find two quick, simple exercises to help you play a great low Moeller. Exercise A focuses on snare drum accents. 

Moeller Exercise A

At first, we use a double stroke roll to practice both a down and an upstroke with the right hand before repeating the strokes with the left.

We play a single stroke roll in the second line: two downstrokes, followed by two upstrokes. Exercise B gives us a chance to practice the Moeller as part of a groove. 

Moeller Exercise B 1
Moeller Exercise B 2

You’ll notice that in the second groove, a kick drum falls on an up-stroke – watch out for that!

You may notice that using the Moeller technique on the hi-hat goes a long way towards making the groove sound extra expressive, as each accent leads into a quieter stroke. 

Moeller may not help you if you’re in a Sex Pistols cover band(!), but it will be useful in many other playing situations.

Wrapping Up

If you practice the low Moeller for a couple of weeks, it’ll slowly become second nature. Because we’re effectively playing two strokes for the price of one, our playing will necessarily become quicker and more efficient. 

Our playing will also sound more expressive because of the dynamic peaks and troughs which are naturally produced by using the

technique.

There are many other strokes within the Moeller Method, and each is excellent for maximizing efficiency and minimizing effort. The low Moeller is a great way to get started, and in future articles, we may dive a little deeper into some of the other Moeller techniques.

Keep going, and you’ll be playing like Gene Krupa before you know it (maybe)! Happy drumming!

Featured image: Jake Maciosek

About the Author

Chris Witherall is a pro drummer, producer and songwriter from London, England. He loves talking about music, and helping people to reach their music goals.

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