Jazz drum comping is the one Jazz drumming skill most shrouded in mystery. Drummers everywhere, even as you are reading this blog post, are trying to figure out how to comp on the drums!

Comping is usually thought of as a coordination exercise between the snare drum and bass drum. Because of this, many drummers are never able to comp musically. They get stuck in drum coordination land rather than feeling the satisfaction of playing music.

The word “comp” comes from the word “accompany.” It means to support and play along with other instruments.

Drum comping is an important skill in Jazz drumming.

Comping is an essential part of a Jazz performance. In fact, all of the instruments in a Jazz band comp with each other continuously from the beginning to the end of a song.

Jazz drum comping is a conversation

Jazz is a unique style of music. It’s a democratic art form where everyone constantly communicates with each other in a spontaneous musical conversation.

Great Jazz drummers like Jimmy Cobb were masters of Jazz comping. Jimmy Cobb knew how to play the right number of notes at the right time to support the musical conversation that was going on around him.

He was able to do this by listening closely to what the other musicians played. He always contributed rhythmically by staying on topic. No over-the-top drumming here. Just everything to make the music sound great.

How to do Jazz drum comping

Jazz comping on the drums involves coordinating your limbs to play specific rhythmic patterns. It’s also usually played in the context of a Swing groove.

A lot of drum comping, is playing hits on the bass drum or snare drum. There is usually a lot of interplay between the snare drum and bass drum.

The hi-hat generally continues to play counts 2 and 4 and the ride cymbal bangs out the spang-ga-lang pattern. The ride cymbal will also hit unison accents with the snare or bass drum.

In my YouTube video about Jazz drums comping, I also talk about the importance if hitting your comping rhythms on the up-beats (last note of the triplet eighth notes) and on counts 2 and 4.

Placing your comping notes on those counts will more often than not line up nicely with the rhythm that the other musicians are playing.

More about the conversation

When I teach Jazz comping to my drum students, we start with coordination exercises. This helps to improve their ability on the drumset. From there, we work on connecting that new coordination ability to the music.

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We listen to great Jazz music and analyze what each instrument is doing throughout a song. At first we don’t listen to the drummer. Listening instead for space in solos and the rhythmic phrasing used by the piano or guitar, will act a solid guide for when we can comp.

Once we feel we understand the basic rhythmic conversation, we listen back to the drummer. My student then clearly understands why the drummer played what they played.

At a drum lesson with my former drum student Ian Wacksman. He has gone on to become quite the Jazz musician!

We then take this new perspective and use it play snare drum and bass drum notes in the appropriate places while playing along with the same music. I also have loads of drum practice tracks (drumless tracks) at my store to work on your Jazz comping.

Music is the goal with Jazz drum comping

So as we practice our coordination and think about the function of drum comping, we want to always keep our ears on the music. Music is and will always be our best teacher for how we play Jazz drums.

Here are some tips for Jazz drum comping that might help.

  • Keep your ears open, don’t listen to yourself. Instead, focus all of your concentration on the other musicians’ playing. When you can feel and understand the rhythmic pulse of the band, you’ll know exactly what you should play when you comp.
  • Try using both your snare drum and bass drum. This interplay will also create some contrast between the low tones and high tones of your drum kit.
  • Don’t overplay it. At the start of each song, take your time. Allow more space in your drumming and as the energy increases, you can also increase the number of notes you play. Still, remember not to overpower everyone else with your comping.
  • Use dynamics in your comping. Play accents on the snare drum or bass drum when the music is louder and softer notes when it’s quieter. Try not to play all comping notes at one dynamic range throughout a song.
  • Try not to copycat or play the exact same rhythm right after another instrument has played it. If used too much, this will take a cool idea played by another musician and make it sound silly.
  • Try not to anticipate and play the exact same rhythms at the same time as the piano, guitar or soloist. This will stomp on their creativity. Sometimes it’s cool but use this approach sparingly.

Wrapping it up

I hope my blog post is helpful for your study of Jazz drum comping. Please feel free to check out my YouTube video above as well. I hope I have also taken some of the mystery out of drum comping for you.

When you are totally in the flow of the music, your comping will feel effortless. Everything you play will sound musical and you’ll have a heck of a lot more fun playing Jazz!

At my jazzdrumschool.com I will have a course later in 2022 diving deep into Jazz drum comping so I hope you’ll check that out. I know it will greatly help you improve your Jazz comping.

As always, I’d love to help you in person too. Private Zoom drum lessons are only a click away! Let me know if I can help.

Be well my friend and KEEP ON COMPIN’! -Von

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