Master Studies has been put together by drumming legend Joe Morello. Joe has had an amazing career and has an impressive cv with many top names on it. Here his book focuses on exercises to develop your hand techinque and control, so that you can play with speed and accuracy.
The idea is that you use this as a workbook to to get your hands and the sticks working as one. Coming from such a great player, you'd expect this book to really test you and make you improve. Let's see if it does...
The book has been layed out with 7 sections - Accent studies, Buzz roll studies, Stroke combination studies, Control studies, Fill-in studies, Ostinato studies, and Flam studies.
Things kick off with a short introduction and a note on technique and using a metronome. After that we're into the Accent studies section. Here there are loads of exercises that help you play accented notes on any beat in the measure, and play them well. 8th notes, triplets, and a combinatation of both are covered.
Once you've gotten through that, there is the Buzz roll studies section that again uses 8th notes and triplets with buzz strokes on different beats combined with accents on other notes as well.
A pretty interesting area is the Stroke combination studies section where you go from playing single to double strokes, single to double to buzz strokes and so on. There are also 5, 7, and 9 stroke roll exercises too. It all gets mixed up for a challenging workout.
If you're having trouble going from one sticking pattern to another, the Control studies section gives some good exercises to help you. As well as that, there are exercises to improve your subdivisions of time, endurance, velocity, and dynamics.
The last part of this section is the Stone "Killer", which is a tough exercise given to Joe by his teacher - George Lawerence Stone. The idea is to work each hand individually (LLLLLLLL then RRRRRRRR) then together whilst getting faster, adding accents, and playing each hand for longer and longer. It's hard work, but you'll reap the benefits. A real Killer.
Towards the end of the book are the Fill-in and Ostinato studies sections which both offer a range of exercises to increase your capability and confidence. The Ostinato section is good and gives you patterns to play with one hand, while developing total freedom with the other hand at the same time.
Last of all is the Flam studies section that adds flams and accents in to the mix as well as different sticking patterns. Like the rest of the book it gives a good workout and expands the list of cool stuff you can make the sticks do.
I got a lot from Master Studies while using it. The exercises really did work my hands and after a few practice sessions I was seeing some good progeress.
It is page after page of exercises...a lot of exercises. It can get a little repetitive - for example once you've spent 20 minutes playing 8th notes with accents on beats one and three, then the next exercise is the same except accents on beats one and four. But, this is what it takes to really develop your hands, it isn't always loads of fun, but it's still important. Short and regular practice sessions should help with this.
Every section begins with some more simple exercises and to get you into the flow, but by the end they can get quite difficult - the Stone "Killer" being a good example.
I found that playing through the exercises with a metronome helped me focus on being accurate. If you're strict when you train your hands, they'll reproduce that accurate, quality sound in your playing without you even thinking about it.
I like that you can start with any section in the book that you want to work on, there is no reason to go through it in order if you don't want to. If your buzz notes need some attention, head straight to that section and get started.
This is a book that has one purpose - to get those hands doing more intricate and musical things than you thought they could. And it definately helps you with that! It can get pretty heavy going at times, but like any great player will tell you, if you want to reach a higher skill level you have to put in the work.
One great thing about this book is that even when you've gone through the whole thing (which will take some time) and improved your abilities, you can always keep coming back to it for warm-ups, to increase your speed, and to keep your skills up to scratch.
Any downsides? Well, if you don't like work, you might not like this book. If you try to make it fun and practice in short sessions, you should be ok though. It looks daunting because there is a lot to get through, but rome wasn't built in a day so take it one step at a time and you'll get there.
There are loads of books available to help you improve your technique, and this book does as good a job as any of the the other good books.
Best place to buy? Amazon are often the cheapest, so I'd try looking there for the best price.
The Final Word: buy this book if you want to get some great hand technique, but be prepared to put in the work to get the results. If you want something more fun and easy going - this probably isn't for you.