While practice and experience are the keys to mastering the drums, there are also techniques and methods you can learn that will rapidly transform your drumming. The Moeller technique is one of those methods.
The Moeller technique uses a whipping motion for faster and more powerful drum playing with less physical effort from the drummer. The technique does this by combining three different types of drum strokes in a single arm motion with the assistance of gravity. It requires a relaxed control over the drumsticks and can be used for fast-paced rhythms and to master accented notes.
The Moeller technique is not simple to master but is well worth the time and effort needed to learn. Even if you don’t use the technique regularly when playing, mastering it will improve your speed and power control within different drumming techniques.
Read on for our complete beginner’s guide to the Moeller technique, starting with where it comes from. We will go through the fundamental hand movements that you need to master to learn the technique, and various exercises to practice to work towards mastery.
History Of The Moeller Technique
The Moeller technique is named for an early 20th-century American drummer, Sanford A. Moeller. He picked up the technique from watching drummers who had fought in the Civil War and who used this approach to play their drums loudly and for long periods of time without getting tired.
Moeller taught the method to the American jazz drummer Jim Chapin in the late 1930s, and Chapin did a lot to popularize the approach. Eventually, Moeller would define the technique in a publication that he called The Art of Snare Drumming, which became so popular that it was soon known just as The Moeller Book.
Watch the famous Jim Chapin playing the Moeller technique here.
Fundamentals Of The Moeller Technique
Fundamentally, the Moeller technique works by making a waving motion so that you can hit the drum on both the downward and upward motions of your arm.
In classic drumming, you use the downward motion of your arm to strike the drum, and the upward motion is a recovery for the next stroke. This eats up valuable time between beats, and playing fast music will tire your arms out quickly. The Moeller technique takes advantage of the upward motion as well as the downward.
Most players of the Moeller technique use the German grip. For this method, hold your hands out in front of you with your palms facing down. Curl your index finger and place the drumstick between your index finger and thumb. Try and balance the stick so that you can move it between your index finger and thumb like a fulcrum. Let the rest of your fingers curl around the stick to provide support. When you are playing, keep your hands parallel to the drum heads. This usually means pointing your elbows outwards to maintain a good wrist angle.
Read our complete guide to different drumstick grips here.
To master the basics of the Moeller technique, start by working with just the snare drum. Starting with your strongest hand, position your drumstick about two centimeters above the drum head. Allow the stick to fall from your hand so it strikes the drum head, then let it bounce back up. While this sounds simple, it can take some practice to ensure that you aren’t killing the bounce by burying the stick in the head.
Once you feel happy with this stroke, imagine that someone has tied a piece of string around your wrist and they are pulling your wrist upward while the rest of your arm stays in place. It should look like your forearm, wrist, and arm are creating an arc. When you extend your wrist in this way, your stick will naturally hit the drum head as a result of the movement. If you aren’t hitting the drum, make sure your hands are close enough to the drum and your palm is angled downward as your wrist rises.
Once that is working for you, lift only the palm of your hand in a way that extends naturally from your wrist. This should create a straight line from your elbow to your fingers. This should move your drumstick into a straight line from your forearm. It is at this moment that you need to whip the stick so it falls back down toward the drum. This should create a whip stroke on the drum with the stick hitting and bouncing back up immediately, but you need to control the stick to ensure the bounce back doesn’t raise the stick more than about two centimeters above the drum head.
Controlling the bounce back means you are close enough to the drum to lift your wrist and make another drum stroke immediately. You will alternate between lifting your wrists and palms to create powerful and rapid drum strokes.
Once you have mastered the movement with your stronger hand, work on your weaker hand, then the two together.
The secret to getting this technique right is to stay relaxed and minimize the amount of force and effort that you use for each stroke. It should feel like a wave motion when you get it right, rather than a forceful whip.
You can watch an introduction to mastering the Moeller technique fundamentals here with Claus Hessler.
The Moeller technique is sometimes described as using four different strokes.
The Full Stroke is a powerful downward stroke and is usually the first stroke in any Moeller series. The stick should go from its initial vertical position, down to the drum head, and back up to its starting position, setting you up to play the next stroke.
The Down Stroke is very similar, but the goal of the stroke is not to return the stick to the initial position but to keep the stick close to the drum head. This sets you up to play the upstroke and the tap stroke.
The Up Stroke is the hit achieved when you pull your wrist upward. This means the sticks are hitting the drum head at a more vertical angle, which means a lighter hit. This leaves your wrists in a good position to follow up with a full stroke or a down stroke.
The Tap Stroke is played from the position when the stick is only a few centimeters above the head. It strikes quickly and returns to a low position. It produces relatively gentle notes so is mainly used for ghost notes and accents. These are sometimes called rebound strokes, played on the rebound from the down stroke.
Moeller Exercises For Beginners
When you start to work on the Moeller technique, there are a number of exercises you can do to improve your mastery. These are mainly exercises considered useful for applying the Moeller technique to the most important drumming rudiments.
The three-note Moeller is an exercise to work on triplets, and it uses the down, tap, and up strokes. With the three-note Moeller, the strokes should appear in that order: down stroke, rebound, and up stroke. You can see exactly what it should look like in the video below.
When you train the four-note Moeller, hit on the eighth and sixteenth notes to accommodate the four-note rhythm. To master this exercise, you need to play the down stroke, two tap rebound strokes, and then another up stroke, as shown in the video below.
The hardest part of this exercise to master is the second rebound stroke, as it needs to be dropped in quickly and in a relaxed fashion so that your wrist is still making the wave motion to get the upstroke.
For the two-note Moeller, you just want to utilize the hits on the down and up strokes without the rebound. This is challenging because the wrist motion needs to be faster, which requires you to keep your wrist more relaxed. See it in the video below.
Putting It All Together
Once you have mastered these exercises individually, it’s time to start putting them all together and transitioning between the different note strokes.
The simplest approach for practicing this is known as the Moeller Flow in sixteenth notes, where you always start your technique on the sixteenth. Rap out the three-note Moeller four times, then the four-note Moeller, then the two-note Moeller, and then continue to circle around in succession, like in this video.
A little bit harder to master is the Triplet Moeller Flow, which uses the triplet rhythm and circles from three-note to two-note to four-note. See it in this video.
Benefits Of The Moeller Technique
You don’t need to play fast all the time, and the Moeller technique is not the best approach for every type of music, but mastering the technique will improve your overall drumming because it will help you develop full control over the sticks in your hands. Mastering the technique will help you gain a full comprehension of the fulcrum balance point and how to use it to your advantage, how to maximize your rebound, and how to manage every stroke.
Increase Your Power
One of the big challenges for many drummers is to master hitting with enough power to create a strong beat without becoming incredibly tired only a third of the way into a set. The Moeller technique teaches you how to make powerful strikes with minimal effort, so you can play better for longer.
Building up speed is another common challenge for learning drummers. Mastering the Moeller technique can help you get anywhere from two to six additional strokes per traditional hit of the drum, all without sacrificing power or control.
Is the Moeller technique good?
Speak to any experienced drummer and they will tell you that the Moeller technique is excellent for upping the speed of your playing and conserving energy so that you can play harder for longer! Even if you don’t use the technique all the time, it will also improve your overall control of the drumsticks.
Who invented the Moeller technique?
While the Moeller technique is named for the early 20th-century drummer Sanford Moeller, he said that he learned the method in the army from Civil War veterans. Who developed and popularized the technique before Moeller is unclear, but he is responsible for breaking down the technique for modern drummers and popularizing the approach.
Is push-pull drumming the same as the Moeller technique?
Push-pull and Moeller are not the same drumming technique, though both are designed to allow for speed and power. The push-pull is also known as the fingertip technique and relies on your fingers to control the rebound. The Moeller method uses a wave-like motion of the wrists to control the rebound and achieve hits on the up stroke.
Up Your Drumming Game
Learning the Moeller technique is a fundamental thing you can do to achieve big leaps forward in your playing quickly. While the basic stroke may not be that complicated to get your head around, figuring out how to play it for extended periods of time without falling into bad habits can take a while to master. The best thing you can do is start slow and work your way up using a metronome.
Check out our guide to how to become a better drummer for more advice on upping your drumming game fast!