The art of Jazz drumming is known for some pretty complex drum stuff! But getting bogged down in the technical part really misses the point of why we play.
Jazz drumming is more about creating a conversation with the other musicians in the band. In this article, I’ll go through some tips to help you improve your Jazz drumming skills and be a part of that conversation.
Art of Jazz Drumming Basics
Table of Contents
Understanding some of the basic concepts in Jazz music will help you better understand Jazz drumming’s place in the music.
Improvisation In Various Meters
First off, Jazz music is improvisation from start to finish. You need to be able to create your own patterns on the fly. This is different than Rock music where we lock into a static drum beat and play it for most of the song.
Jazz music also uses more than just 4/4 or common time. We often play in 3/4, 4/4, 5/4 and sometimes 7/4. Knowing how to play well in all four of these time signatures will be helpful playing Jazz with other musicians.
Chord progressions or the harmony of Jazz songs is predictable but more rich and complex than Pop or Rock harmony. It’s helpful if you can hear the tension and release of the chords.
This will guide you through the form of the songs that you play. You’ll also have a much easier time hearing and feeling 4 and 8 measure phrases. This will help you a ton when it comes time to do four and eight measure drum solos.
Syncopation Texture and Sound
Syncopation is yet another part of Jazz music that is embedded into the art of Jazz drumming. Syncopation is a fancy word that simply means feeling and playing notes on the off beats.
For example, we count 1/8th notes as 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. All of the “ands” are the syncopated notes. Having a good feel for syncopation will also make your drumming more fun.
The last thing to mention here is texture and sound. Again, unlike Rock drumming, we have many more options for the texture and sound that we can create from the drum set. In Jazz ballad playing for example, we might use drum brushes, mallets or even our hands to create a mood that matches the music.
Jazz Drum Set Independence
Now that we’ve covered some of the basics about Jazz music and Jazz drumming, let’s talk about Jazz drum set independence.
Drum set independence is simply how well you can coordinate your hands and feet to play different drum grooves and drum fills.
Jazz drumming is actually the most challenging style in terms of drum set independence. Specific Jazz drum set coordination exercises can really help you get over this hurdle.
In my Intro to Jazz Drumming Course, I teach you 10 coordination exercises that will start to really open up your Jazz Swing drumming independence on the drum kit. This is a great place to start and once you’ve mastered those, you can move on to my Jazz Drumming Patterns Course.
By the end of both courses, you’ll be able to comp (accompany) better and play really cool things like you hear on famous Jazz recordings.
Listen to the Art of Jazz Drumming
Absolutely the most important thing you can do to master Jazz drumming is to listen to great recordings. Some drummers I recommend are Tony Williams, Philly Joe Jones, Jack Dejohnette, Jeff Hamilton, Mel Lewis, Ed Thigpen and Joe Morello.
Here’s a list of recordings I recommend too:
- Miles Davis Quintet – My Funny Valentine (Tony Williams)
- Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section (Philly Joe Jones)
- Keith Jarrett Trio – Setting Standards (Jack Dejohnette)
- Jeff Hamilton Trio – The Best Things Happen (Jeff Hamilton)
- The Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra – The Definitive Thad Jones, Vol 2 (Mel Lewis)
- Oscar Peterson Trio – Night Train (Ed Thigpen)
- Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out (Joe Morello)
Listen to the drums but also pay close attention to the other musicians’ playing. You’ll start to hear why the drummers are playing what they’re playing in response to the music around them. Again, it’s about the conversation.
Check out my article about 3 of the most important drumming skills to learn for Jazz drumming.
Play with Other Musicians
As you’ve heard me say a few times, Jazz music is all about collaboration and creating a conversation with the other musicians in the band.
The fastest way to learn the art of Jazz drumming is to play with other musicians. There’s no other kind of practice that can replace learning how to connect your drumming to the playing of the other musicians in a band.
Subtle changes in tempo, feel, rhythm, dynamics and others are part of the human experience in playing Jazz music. Playing other other humans will develop your musical instincts and help you to create a cohesive sound with the band.
These playing skills are a big reason people will call you for gigs.
Try recording yourself during your practices, rehearsals and live performances. As we used to say, “The tape don’t lie.”
When I was learning to play drums, I took a tape recorder with me (that’s how old I am) and would then listen back later to my playing. I could hear all kinds of inconsistencies in my playing choices, timing, note spacing, dynamics and feel.
I would then take that information to the practice room to work out some of those kinks. As I repeated process, I could see huge progress in my playing. I’m certain this will help you too!
I still do this today but now I use my iPhone with a great mic. Video has taken this process to a whole new level.
Check out my YouTube Short from a gig here in Japan.
Learning the art of Jazz drumming may be a challenge, but boy will it pay off in spades for your drumming enjoyment and even a career in music.
So work on your drum set independence, listen to as much Jazz music as you can, play with other musicians and record yourself in action. These are a few of the many things I teach in my private lessons and in Jazz Drum School courses.
Following these tips will also help you develop your conversation ability on the drums and drumming instincts. Use them if you want to be a working drummer or even just have more fun on the drums.
To go deeper, I encourage you to enroll in some courses here at the school and let me know if you need some one on one private instruction too. I’m always here to help. Keep swinging my friend!