Rhythm Drills: It’s Not What You Think
Updated: Jul 10, 2022
(Authors Note: I wrote this article because I found myself frustrated with rhythm drills. Not the drills themselves, but the way they were presented and explained. Whether in classes or on the internet, I wasn't satisfied with any of the explanations or "the why" that I heard. The catalyst was a video I watched a few weeks ago of a YouTube instructor explaining rhythm drills. While nothing he said was wrong per se, I still felt like the larger point was being missed. So I set out to write this article, our attempt at a more coherent explanation behind the what, the how, and most importantly, the WHY.)
Rhythm shooting, or shooting with “cadence”, has become something of a buzz-phrase in the last few years, and you see it everywhere. 4-6 shots, preferably static, at a stationary target between 3 and 7 yards away. According to Instagram, YouTube, and every gun forum under the sun, you should always shoot with a rhythm. Well…why? As with many practical shooting concepts, rhythm shooting has been taken out of context, mischaracterized, and incorrectly fed back into the training loop. This article aims to interrupt that negative feedback cycle, and place rhythm shooting and rhythm drills back into their appropriate context. Properly understood, rhythm shooting is a useful tool that we can use to diagnose, observe, self-analyze, and eventually push past our failure points and improve.
What Is Rhythm Shooting?
First let’s define some terms*:
Rhythm - a strong, REGULAR, repeated movement or sound (authors note: Just because you can shoot with rhythm doesn’t mean you have rhythm. Stay off the dance floor, Dave. You’re embarrassing us.)
Cadence - rhythmic flow of a sequence of sounds or words
*While rhythm and cadence are not technically the same, they have similar definitions. In the context of shooting they mean the same thing and I will be using them interchangeably.
Rhythm shooting is simply shooting any number of rounds with a steady, or even, cadence, e.g. firing 5 shots with .20 splits between every shot. Whatever the number of shots or the time they are shot over, the time between the shots remains as consistent as possible. Any time someone tells you to shoot with a cadence, you should ask “Why?” You’ll probably hear one of the following:
1) It’s efficient and maximizes rounds on target.
2) The human body/mind naturally work better in a rhythm
1 and 2 aren’t necessarily wrong, but they are incomplete answers, void of any realistic context. The counterpoint to these first answers will be obvious by the conclusion of the article. Answer 3, on the other hand, is by far the most common answer. Very few people actually stop to analyze the why behind the what. We need to understand what underlies our assumptions and be able to articulate, not regurgitate. So why do we shoot in a cadence? It just seems like common sense, right? But is it?
Why Is It Important?
Well, it's not. At least not in an application context (be it gunfight or competition). Shooting with a cadence is not inherently better than shooting without one. For example, if I shoot 5 rounds in 1 second, does it make a difference to the target what my split times are? No. What is more important is shooting within the confines of the information that our sight picture gives us. Write this part down... In practical application, we shoot as fast as our sights allow us to, not by some predetermined rhythm. But this doesn’t make rhythm shooting useless. Where it does have application is in training and in practice.
We shoot as fast as our sights allow us to…
What Rhythm Drills Are Really About
Rhythm shooting is most effective when used as a training tool that allows us to function check our application of the fundamentals. This requires a focused mind that is really seeing what the sights are doing. It requires a grip that is allowing the gun to recoil consistently. It requires a trigger press that doesn't disturb sight alignment. It requires tracking our sights and returning them to the desired POI as efficiently as possible, or follow through.
Let's take a quick moment to discuss the concept of follow through. Follow through is simply the process of readying ourselves and our weapon for a follow on shot on our desired point of impact (POI) while determining whether another shot is necessary.
1) Take the shot
2) Realign your sights on the target*
3) Reset your trigger*
4) Determine if another shot is necessary
5) Repeat as needed
*2 and 3 should happen simultaneously
So training to shoot with a rhythm and slowly ramping up the cadence allows us to find the edge of our ability to apply follow through efficiently, especially as speed and/or distance increases. We can then identify what aspect of our technique is breaking down and gives us the opportunity to rectify it. Your sights dictate your cadence. It’s not how fast you can pull the trigger, it’s how fast you can realign your sights on target and deliver an accurate shot. So understanding all this, let’s examine how we can utilize the rhythm/cadence drill in our training.
It’s not how fast you can pull the trigger, it’s how fast you can realign your sights on target and deliver an accurate shot.
How to Implement Them in Training/Practice
As mentioned earlier, rhythm drills are best thought of as a diagnostic tool. I use rhythm drills several times in my classes:
1) The first time I use it, we do multiple strings and pick up the speed each time, and do this at multiple yard lines. This is to allow students to see what begins to break down during their string as the speed increases. Usually it’s either their grip opening up or they stop actually seeing their sights. This also gives them a realistic picture of how fast is too fast for a given range at their current skill level.
2) The second use is a rhythm drill that lasts the entire magazine. This has the same learning points as the first usage, but adds a longer course of fire; longer than most students are used to. How long can they stay focused and continue to apply follow through and track their sights without losing a good grip? For many, this is more difficult than it seems.
3) The final iteration is when discussing target transitions. I have them shoot a rhythm drill with the same round count as the transition drill we are about to shoot (e.g. 3rds for a failure drill and 6rds for a box drill, etc.). I then tell them they must maintain that same cadence during the target transition drill. This enforces faster target transitions, which most shooters do too slowly (more on this in a different article).
These same applications can be adjusted slightly and transferred over when you go to the range by yourself.
1) To get a realistic feel for what kind of speed you can get away with at a particular distance, and where the wheels start to fall off.
2) Film close ups on your hands during high round count (full mag) rhythm drills and see how grip starts to deteriorate or adjust.
3) Use a pro timer and force yourself to try to keep your split between targets to speed up your transitions
The most important aspect of any of this is ensuring that your students (or you for that matter) understand the why behind using a rhythm drill. This MUST be articulated and understood so it doesn’t become what I have heard referred to as “ballistic masturbation”… it feels good, but it doesn’t accomplish much.
Very few people actually stop to analyze the why behind the what
Hopefully we could shed some light on what a rhythm drill is, what it isn’t, and how we can utilize them more effectively. Are rhythm drills useful for diagnostic or demonstrative purposes? Absolutely. Are they a buzzword worthy point of focus for practical application? Absolutely not. Understand the tools in your kit, and make them work for you. As always, question everything.
(This article was written by me and originally published on our good friend's website, appliedviolence.com, republished here with his permission. Thanks, Chuck!)