Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Jazz Fills and Trading Fours

I had a question come in that I thought some other drummers might have, so I decided to post the question and the answer (As always, the person will ALWAYS remain anonymous on this site). Feel free to ask anything you'd like, or throw your two cents in on the topic...


"hey, im a drummer from singapore and have been lovin your videos!

i have a video request, can u make a lesson on how to trade fours or play jazz drum fills? i have only started learning how to do this for the past 2 months and my trouble is that i have a hard time phrasing when i solo myself, and i can only play the things that i hear on videos or written stuff. so do you have any advice or can make a lesson on how to improvise on trading fours?



Thanks for droppin' me a line!

I would love to do a lesson on that topic. I actually have a degree in Jazz Studies, so I actually do have alot of knowledge and advice in that area. My wife and I will be having our 2nd child this week, so that may put me out of commission for a couple of weeks as far as new video lessons (I have 6 or 7 taped, but not on that subject...a couple on beginner left hand and right foot jazz comping though). That being said, as soon as I tape my next lessons, this one will be the first I do.

Until then...

Listen, listen, listen...you say you have trouble thinking up your own ideas, or phrasing on your own...the cool thing is, EVERYBODY has trouble with this when they first start. The thing you need to remember is that music is actually a type of LANGUAGE...you need to learn how to phrase what you say, common phrases that other drummers use, how to carry on a conversation with the other soloist when trading fours, etc. The best way to begin to learn this is to LISTEN...Max Roach, Art Blakey, and Philly Jo Jones are a few of my favorites to listen to for a more traditional and structured approach to fills and trading fours. Take some of the phrases that they use and practice them...there's nothing wrong with doing that...it's actually very common and very helpful. When you're learning to speak a new language, you study the language in books, but you also talk with other people that speak that language and see how they use the words, how they put phrases together...and then you practice using those phrases. No one has to know you're using a phrase you learned off of a Steve Smith video. So listen, transcribe the fills and soloing, and then try them yourself...over and over and over. You'll be suprised that eventually you start to add little parts here and there...and before you know it, that Art Blakey lick has turned into your own thing.

The other thing I suggest is singing. Sounds silly, but it works and is also a very common practice. Jazz drumming and playing is all about the music, the melody, and how you present it. So sit at the drums and sing a simple fill..."Bap...Doom...Bap...Doom...bidibadoom crash"...sing it on the first measure, then actually play it in the second measure. Start out very simple...I started with quarter notes (what you DON'T play is every bit as important as how many notes you play)...then progress to eighth notes, then triplets, etc. You want to focus on a melodic fill instead of a fast fill with alot of notes in it. I also listen to other no drummer jazz players and sing their fills...Miles Davis and John Coltrane are two masters of melodic phrasing. Take a short phrase that they use, memorize it, sing it to yourself, and then interpret it on the kit the way you want to. Jazz drumming is different from rock and pop drumming...you're contributing to the song melodically whether you realize it or not.

This is a short answer to an in depth question, but hopefully it'll get you started. I'll get a video shot on the topic just as soon as I can.

I really appreciate you checking the lessons out and working on the stuff...if you ever have any other questions, don't hesitate to ask!

God Bless,
Stephen T.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Advice on Rolls and Fills

So I got a question earlier from a drummer in India (the internet never ceases to amaze me)...typed up a WAY to lengthy response...and decided I would post my answer (for what it's worth) here...


I've just recently started playing in my church and I need some hints regarding rolls and fills...any ideas?


Hints regarding rolls...hmmm...that's kinda've an ambiguous question, but I'll give you a long answer and hopefully it'll hit on something that will help...and if it doesn't, hit me back up w/ a more specific question. First let me say, kudos for playing in church! I started playing in church at 14 and it gave me 3 times a week to perform in front of a live audience...PRICELESS! You're gonna get TONS better just from learning and working through the music and getting that much on stage experience and time. Stoked for ya!

The most common problems I see w/ rolls are as follows:

1. The roll gets out of time with the song or the drummer comes back in incorrectly.

2. The fill rushes/drags.

3. The fill is to "Chopsy" (in other words, it's really flashy and shows off the drummers chops).

4. The fill doesn't fit the style of music being played.

Ok...now that I've diagnosed the majority of problems drummers have w/ fills, here's some quick fixes...

1. The roll gets out of time with the song or the drummer comes back in incorrectly.

This is very common w/ new drummers...lets face it, we didn't start drumming so we could play 30 minutes of groove timekeeping...We like the flashy stuff! And fills can be flashy. Alot of times a young drummer will get excited when they go into a fill, causing them to lose the beat and get "lost" in the fill. And when we're lost, we do the first thing that makes sense...we come back into the groove...and often we come back in on the "and" of 4...or two...or we turn the beat completely around...I did ALL of these when I first started! The cool thing about a church gig (and lots of others) is that you'll get the music beforehand, often up to a couple of weeks beforehand. THIS IS THE BEST GIFT THE BAND LEADER COULD EVER GIVE YOU!!! It not only gives you the chance to learn new music, it gives you the opportunity to PRACTICE to that new music. So pick out a simple fill you've been working on, listen to the song, learn where the transitions are, and then practice playing that same fill throughout the song. Once you get that one down, make up another fill and do the same thing, and another, and another...do this repeatedly. What repitition does is build confidence. When you go to play live in front of people, you're going to be nervous...and if you're not nervous, you're going to have extra adrenaline and endorphins kicking in, so the likelihood of you "screwing up" is higher due to the intensity and excitement being higher...and the way to defeat onstage nerves is to practice the things you'll be playing in front of people until you can do them in your sleep...that and stay away from the Red Bull ;^)

2. The fill rushes/drags.

My answer for the last one comes into play quite a bit with this one as well. That being said, this is where your metronome (Sounds of drummers moaning and cursing) comes in handy...and if you don't have one, please get one. There are several you can find online that will let you use them for free. Pick a groove, pick a fill, and pick a comfortable tempo. Play 4 bars of groove, one bar of fill (In time preferably). Repeat this eight gajillion times.

3. The fill is to "Chopsy" (in other words, it's really flashy and shows off the drummers chops instead of serving the music).

This is a HUGE pet peeve of mine...PLAY FOR THE SONG! When you're playing with a group of musicians (especially in a church setting), you're a part of a group, something bigger than your own individual playing. A huge out of place fill does nothing but detract from the song and draw attention to the drummer. Fills can often be one or two notes and fit the moment perfectly. This is very true in a church setting where the purpose is to draw peoples attention towards God rather than towards the musicians. Focus on simple fills that fit the mood and the moment...if you're going to the bridge of a song maybe an eighth note build between the floor tom and snare is all you need to build the moment. If you're going from the verse to the chorus maybe 2 beats of sixteenth notes on the snare will suffice. There are literally MILLIONS of options, just choose one that fits. The longer you do this, the more you'll actually stray away from the chopsy style of playing and aim more for the tasty style of playing...one that serves a purpose bigger than you...and you'll be suprised to find that there are a few places to throw some flash in AND serve the music!

4. The fill doesn't fit the style of music being played.

If you're playing reggae, there are certain fills that are native to that music...if you're playing funk, there are certain fills that are native to funk...if you're playing jazz...and so on and so forth. LISTEN to the style of music and the types of songs you'll be playing...take the time to transcribe and learn note for note some of the recurring fills you here in a certain genre of music. Take the songs that you'll be performing and try playing these transcribed fills over them. Any language has words and phrases that are native to it...and music is just another language...learn it, learn how to connect your phrases...the best thing you can do is listen...in the car, at the gym, while you're falling asleep...listen and learn.