I’ve heard jazz drumming described as a top-down approach. And what that means is that the instruments keeping time or playing what we might call “the beat” are at the top of the drum set: the cymbals. Sing a jazz “beat” and you’re probably singing what the cymbals are playing; tisss ta ta tisss ta ta tisss. On the other hand, if you sing a rock beat you’re probably singing the snare and bass drum parts; boom-pap boom-boom-pap. On the rock beats, what we do on the cymbals or hi-hat is seasoning to create the right feel for the song. That might be called a bottom-up approach.
But then, in jazz, what do you do with the snare and/or bass? The answer is “comp.” That’s short for accompany. We play rhythms that complement, react to, mimic, answer, or in some way interact with what the rest of the band is doing and hopefully in a supportive and musical way. To do that you’ll need some comping vocabulary, and a good place to start is with your left hand on the snare. Last month I talked about bass drum comping. The examples here will help you to start the process on the snare. Ex. 1 shows the basic jazz-ride pattern. Working on this alone is important, as you should work on developing a smooth, relaxed jazz feel. It is often said that this swing feel is triplet-based. But the best way to understand it is to listen to jazz drumming. Then strive to keep that feel consistent and your limbs synchronized as you work through the rest of these snare drum comping exercises. There isn’t enough room here for all the comping possibilities but these will certainly help start to gain some rhythmic freedom with your left hand.