Perfecting Your Groove-To-Fill Transitions
The Cruel Tool
Are you terrified at the prospect of recording to a click track? Some of you may have begun trembling uncontrollably. Calm down and breathe deeply. Better now? Good. Today meter matters more than ever. Most professional recordings are done to a click and many bands use backing tracks live, so it’s best you begin to acquire this skill now if you haven’t already. If you have a metronome, find it, dust it off, replace the batteries, and start using it. However, when you first begin working on something new, I’d recommend leaving the click off and just counting it. Once you think you have it down, turn on the cruel tool and try to make peace with it.
The Tao Of Drum Fills
Now that you’re working on improving your fill transitions you may be wondering where, how, and why to add your newly improved skill.
Magnify The Mood
Musical drummers enhance the mood of the song, so it’s important to be aware of what the mood is for different parts of the song. Is it happy, energetic and rocking, slow, somber and sad, or something else? This can affect your choices greatly. This can be reflected via the tempo, of course (i.e., fast songs often have energetic fills), but the lyrics can also help cue you into the mood. More introspective songs often require fewer notes from us so knowing when to take the back seat can be important. If the song has a frenetic jam-band vibe playing busier with more frequent fills may be exactly what’s needed.
Ex. 2 Section Transitions
Fills are frequently used at song transitions leading from verse to chorus, chorus to verse, chorus to bridge, into solos, etc. Where the fill occurs within the song and how it functions at that point should influence your choice of what type of fill to play. For example, fills that lead into a chorus or ripping guitar solo are often longer and more energetic and driving to suit where the song is going. Those that lead back into the verse are often shorter and sparser to help bring the energy back down.
Ex. 3 Mile Markers
In some songs, fills are used to delineate the space. Often drummers may play a fill every four, eight, or sixteen bars to identify the midpoint of a verse or chorus. These fills tend to be short and to the point. These fills can also help a band stay together and often function like a GPS unit for everyone, especially in very repetitive sections of a tune.
Ex. 4 Groove Fills
By groove fill, I’m simply referring to a variation on a beat that functions as a fill. It really isn’t a fill; it’s just another beat, but it functions just like a fill. Groove fills also work great as mile markers. Groove fills are often busier than the rest of the groove.
Ex. 5 Hits
Certain fills are used to outline “hits” in the music. If you’re a big-band drummer, by hits I’m referring to the ensemble figures seen in a stage band chart. In rock, certain figures come up again and again primarily because guitarists don’t know that many rhythms … That was a joke (or was it?). Learning a few different ways to play those common figures can make your job more enjoyable and interesting. These figures are usually played loudly.