You’re jamming your groove, and you’re solid. A drum-fill break is coming up, but you’re sweating because you have no idea what to play. Many drummers find themselves in this situation. It can be difficult to improvise drum fills, but improvisational skills can be practiced, developed, and ultimately mastered. This lesson outlines a step-by-step technique to progressively build your drum-fill confidence, allowing you to unleash the drum fills within you.
A big portion of the problem is the fear of leaving the written page or the fear of stepping outside of what you know. It’s too easy to get locked into one or two “safe” fills. It’s time to break out and start improvising! The easiest place to start is improvising the actual drums you hit, while maintaining a predetermined rhythm.
Play the rhythm below – a full measure of straight sixteenth-notes on the snare.
Now play the same rhythm, but move the sticks around the kit playing different drums. In other words, you will improvise the drums but not the rhythm. Exs. 2 and 3 show some possibilities you might play.
Once you become comfortable improvising this rhythm around the drums, it’s time to practice it with a drumbeat. Play a basic beat for three measures. On the fourth measure, play the improvised fill. Be sure to go back into the drumbeat after the fill. Repeat this exercise until you become comfortable with it.
It’s time for a new rhythm. Play the rhythm below, and then move it around the kit, playing it along with the drumbeat as above. Use this practice technique for the remainder of the fills in this lesson.
Don’t forget about including the bass drum. Exs. 6 and 7 show some possibilities you might play.
Here are two more rhythms for you to explore. Be creative with the drums you hit. Try hitting different drums each time through the fill. This will help break you free from getting stuck in patterns and send you on your way to improv independence.
Oftentimes a partial-measure drum fill is what fits best. You can use the same practice method to develop partial-measure drum fills, starting your drum fill halfway through the drumbeat during measure four.
Use the following rhythm to play partial-measure drum fills, improvising the drums you hit.
Examples 12 and 13 show some possibilities you might play. Remember to be creative, and to try hitting different drums each time through the fill.
Here are two more partial-measure rhythms for you to explore. Predetermine some of your own rhythms as well and use them to practice fills.