Jazz Workshop

Developing A Four-Bar Jazz Solo

By Joe Porcaro Originally Published in DRUM! Magazine's March 1998 Issue

There are many musical elements that a drummer can use to invent and develop a musical drum solo. Some of these include rhythmical motif, musical thought, tension, and release. The following solo applies these musical elements.

A rhythmical motif is a self-enclosed rhythmic unit that consists of two notes or more and exists in some structural parameter, such as up-beats, downbeats, and so on (see Ex. 1). Anything can create tension, such as upbeats (syncopation), across-the-beat or across-the-bar phrasing, space, polyrhythms, odd groupings, and metric modulation. Release can be attained by anything that causes relaxation of tension, such as downbeat emphasis or the completion of an idea or phrase.

Let’s put these elements together in the following examples. Take a look at Ex. 2. You might think of the phrase as making a statement in the first bar and responding to it in the second bar. To complete the solo, we’ll develop the third and fourth bars in Ex. 3. Tension is created by applying a syncopated idea with a rhythmic organization of three that goes across the bar line. Note that the idea continues to develop the original motif. Finally, the release of tension occurs on the and of 4 in the fourth bar, which is typical in jazz drumming.

Ex. 4 takes the four-bar solo and applies it at the drum set, starting with four bars of time. For this example, I chose to use basic drum rudiments and orchestrated them to outline the rhythm of the solo.

Joe Porcaro has been one of the top session drummers in Los Angeles for decades, and has worked with such artists as Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Freddie Hubbard, Don Ellis, Frank Sinatra, Natalie Cole, Boz Scaggs, Toto, and Madonna. He is the author of Drum Set Method and Odd Times and is currently a department head at the Los Angeles Music Academy.

More Lessons