Review: Rhythmic Patterns by Joe Cusatis
Posted on April 30, 2023
Since the start of the year, I’ve felt like I’ve been spending too much time with practice pad books, so I’ve been building up a schedule of kit books to go through, and the first on the list is Joe Cusatis’ Rhythmic Patterns.
This seems to be a pretty well–known book, but I actually never heard of it until my senior year of high school, thanks to a video uploaded by Terry “Bonzoleum” Keating.
Terry got big on YouTube by talking about John Bonham specifically, but for a while now he’s been talking about whatever he wants, including a Neil Peart solo motif that’s notated in Rhythmic Patterns:
Terry points out that the lick is on page 79, but it’s actually in the book twice, first showing up as 8th note triplets on page 37 before showing up again as 16ths.
Published in 1963, Rhythmic Patterns is all about presenting note–for–note fills for the drum set (specifically snare and two toms), written with either 8th notes triplets or 16th notes. This is an old, somewhat revered book (that may have given inspiration to one of the most respected drummers in history), so it seemed like a good starting point for this journey.
I finally picked up the book this year, ripping through it in pretty short order. And honestly… I’m quite ambivalent about it, and I couldn’t help but notice several problems with this text, so let’s do something different and go through some topics.
The Patterns Are Pretty Basic
The vast majority of the fills that are in Rhythmic Patterns are kind of simple — steady rhythms, toms hits that land on the beats, and little in the way of syncopation. They’re perfectly usable, but kind of boring; especially the 16th note fills. The only way to get more mileage out of them is to take them to extreme speeds, saving them for moments where a song’s tempo precludes interesting syncopation.
Now, part of this seems like a “me” problem. I have been playing for almost 20 years, so it’s not surprising that these basic fills don’t excite me much. You might think the book would be better for beginners, but that takes me to another problem…
Rhythmic Patterns Goes Way Overboard with Crossovers
I obviously knew Rhythmic Patterns had crossover sticking patterns — after all, the cover of the book says so. I was skeptical of the usefulness of such content, and after spending some time with the book, I’m even more convinced that crossovers on the drum set are a waste of time.
There are a few exceptions, such as John Bonham’s famous crossover triplet, and the book does provide a few licks that can only be reasonably played using singles combined with crossovers.
But a lot of the crossover licks are really contrived. Take a look at this one (the arrows mark crossover hits):
I mean… why? Why would you play it that way? Just use LRR.
One of the goals of Rhythmic Patterns seems to be improving the physicality of moving around a drum set, but I don’t see the long–term benefit here. When would you have to play the above excerpt specifically as it’s written?
It’s one thing to drill dumb rudiments on the practice pad with the nebulous expectation that they will somehow translate to new skills on the drum set. But with a book like Rhythmic Patterns, we’re already at the drum set, so what’s the point of making things more difficult than they need to be?
The unfortunate thing is that some of the crossover licks are actually a lot of fun if you play them with a more reasonable approach. Check this one out:
Here’s how I would play it, truncating the solo into one bar and changing the subdivisions accordingly:
The sticking is a bit awkward, but with about ten minutes of practice, I got it going at a good clip. More importantly, I got it much faster than I would if I tried using crossovers, and it ends up being a great fill played when played like this.
You see, there’s a reason why we drummers spend so much time with books like Stick Control. There’s a reason why drummers spend a lifetime mastering the paradiddle. Taking advantage of these hand–to–hand sticking patterns is much better at producing orchestrations around the kit than crossovers are. And it’s really a bad idea to have a beginner drummer spend time with this nonsense.
The appeal of crossovers comes from the reason Neil Peart used them: it’s a showboating thing. And if you’re interested in that sort of playing, that’s your prerogative. But I highly doubt anyone needs a whole book dedicated to it.
4–Bar Drum Fills Don’t Work For Me
Most of the drum fills in the book are basically four–bar drum solos. But here’s the thing: when do you get opportunities to ditch the groove and fart around the kit for that long? And if you do have the chance, would you just stick to chugging around the kit with triplets or sixteenths for such a moment?
It doesn’t help that many of the licks are basically the same measure repeated four times. There often is a polymeter thing going on with the fills (i.e. patterns that last 3 beats played in 4/4), but there’s just something clunky and unmusical about much of them.
As I demonstrated earlier, I often split the drills up, combining two bars into one by halving the subdivisions of the exercise (i.e. turning 8th note triplets into 16th note triplets). Things work much better this way.
Left Hand Leads
One of the most bizarre things about Rhythmic Patterns is that most of the fills start on the left hand. I’m torn about this.
On the one hand (buh dum tiss) you do get some interesting orchestrations when you play singles starting on the left, but it seems incidental — I get the impression this book is about generic moves around the drum set, not specifically a method for creating fills starting on the left hand.
Moreover, there are still many contrived moments where the written sticking does nothing but hurt the pattern in question:
For god’s sake, just use a right–hand lead.
I wonder if Cusatis thinks that this is the natural way; since the left hand hangs out on the snare when drummers keep time, you might as well start drum fills with the left.
But here we have a big disconnect between lofty ideas of how to make drumming more efficient and the reality of how people actually play the instrument. When you’re moving rightward around the drums, you start on the right hand.
Archaic Engraving & Superfluous Explanations
Like many drum books published circa 1960–1980, Rhythmic Patterns uses a clunky engraving style, where every drum is on a separate staff.
The funny thing is I have an updated copy. As Bonzoleum shows in his video, the book originally looked like this:
The cover got updated sometime in the late 90s/early 2000s with a significantly uglier design, but the engraving remains the same.
I’ll concede that this next complaint is a bit of a nitpick, but I can’t deny that the text is ridiculously redundant. Every page has this spiel at the top:
This doesn’t really interfere with your ability to navigate the book, but it does lead to a heinous waste of paper, and the 87–page text could be cut in half if Cusatis didn’t feel the need to constantly repeat himself.
Speaking of extraneous material, do you notice the kick and hi–hat parts that are written out? Completely unnecessary. Don’t play drum fills like that.
Alright, I realize that I just spent nearly 1000 words complaining about this book, but I just don’t know who Rhythmic Patterns is for. Beginners will get more out of these basic fills but will be led down the wrong path with the crossover malarky. More advanced players can get some benefit with a bit of extrapolating, but much of the material will be of little interest.
And no disrespect to Joe Cusatis here, who seems to be a capable (if obscure) drummer. Here’s a short snippet of him playing:
His drumming is much more progressive than what you’d get from the book. Listen closely at 43 seconds and you’ll hear an early version of the linear drum roll that Vinnie Colaiuta made famous.
It’s possible that I misunderstood the philosophy of the book. Maybe these patterns aren’t meant to be more than conditioning exercises. If so, they’re not for me. Save the tedious conditioning for the practice pad — that’s what I say. When I get on the drum kit, I want to make music.
Well, I think I’ve said enough about this one. Joe has another book, Rudimental Patterns, which is next on my list.
Sorry that I missed last week. Life got… difficult, as it does. I’m looking forward to next week’s post.