Allison Miller: The Melody Puzzle

Allison Miller: The Melody Puzzle

Aspiring jazz drummers often forget to learn the melody and form of songs. Learning the melody of a tune will inevitably improve your time, phrasing, soloing and most importantly, listening skills. The following exercises are guaranteed to help you learn tunes while improving drumming skills as well. Any tune will do fine, but for now let’s check out Thelonious Monk’s composition, “Bemsha Swing,” from the classic 1956 recording Brilliant Corners. Monk compositions are great for the “Melody Puzzle” because his melodies are very rhythmic and catchy.

Let’s start by playing jazz time (see Ex. 1) with the metronome at 60 bpm, clicking on 2 and 4. Once you feel relaxed and comfortable move on to the “Melody Puzzle” below. (You will continue playing time throughout.) Don’t move on until you feel comfortable with each example. Have fun and take your time!

The Melody Puzzle

  1. Sing the melody (Ex. 2) while playing time. Sing out loud! Don’t be shy!
  2. Play the melody with your left hand on the snare drum.
  3. Play the melody with your right foot on the bass drum. Are you still singing?
  4. Play the melody with your left foot on the hi-hat.
  5. Play quarter-notes on the bass drum and eighth-notes on the snare drum … you know, continue singing!
  6. Make up your own combinations. The possibilities are endless. Use your imagination and have fun!
  7. Try playing time for four measures. Then solo for four measures. Continue trading 4s and remember to sing, especially on the soloing!

Allison Miller is a Manhattan-based freelance drummer who has toured and recorded with Natalie Merchant, Kevin Mahogany, Rachel Z, Kenny Barron, and the band Betty. Check out her web site at

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