As a Jazz drummer, your Jazz drum groove has got to provide a rhythmic foundation for the music. To become a great Jazz drummer, you need to develop a strong ability to think and play in musical phrases.
In this blog post, I’ll share some of the essential elements of Jazz drumming phrasing including space, dynamics, and feel.
Phrasing in Jazz Drumming
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Phrasing is an essential component of a Jazz drum groove. It’s the way you organize your rhythmic ideas and express them through time and space.
In Jazz, you need to develop your phrasing into musical sentences. You want your phrasing to be the same as when you have conversations with people. It should be fluid, organic, and flexible, allowing you to adapt to different musical contexts.
One way to develop your phrasing is to listen to great Jazz musicians of any instrument. In fact, I’ve found that listening to pianists and horn players will help you the most.
Analyze their playing. Pay attention to how they use rhythm, space, dynamics, and feel to create interesting and engaging musical phrases. Try to emulate their phrasing in your own playing.
The album Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section is a super album to study alto saxophone phrasing. The first track, “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” is a marvelous example of super-musical phrasing in action.
You’ll notice how Art Pepper’s phrases include lot’s of space and dynamic shape. This is exactly the kind of phrasing you should strive for in your grooves, drum fills and drum solos.
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Space in Your Jazz Drum Groove
For drummers, space is probably the most underused part of music. As drummers, we often feel like when it’s time to take a solo, we suddenly have to become Animal from the muppets. We then launch into a “Sing, Sing, Sing” or “Wipe Out” drum solo.
Playing a groove is often no different. It’s just so easy to start playing more and more notes. Filling in every nook and cranny of the music is simple to do with drums. It’s actually much harder to restrain ourselves and let the music breathe.
When we are busy with our drumming, there’s simply no opportunity for space. Instead, it often becomes a showoff fest. The music is then completely lost.
If you have this tendency, think instead in 2 or 4 measure bite sized phrases and insert one or 2 beats of space in between each phrase. This emulates the breathing pattern of a horn player.
As drummers, we don’t have to breathe through our instrument to create sound so we have to discipline our mind to create natural phrasing. Try taking a breath during those one to two-beat rests.
This will give yourself a split second to think up new musical ideas and continue your Jazz drum groove or drum solo phrasing. It will also make the notes that you do play, so much more impactful.
Just adding some space in your phrasing will elevate your drumming art to a higher plane of musical expression.
Learn 4 secrets of Jazz drumming. #3 will probably shock you!
Dynamics in Your Jazz Groove
Dynamics are the variations in volume intensity in your playing. In Jazz, dynamics are crucial to create shape in your phrasing on the drums. Great Jazz drummers use dynamics to convey emotion and intensity in their playing.
To develop your dynamics, practice everything you play at different volume levels. For example, play all of your grooves, drum fills and drum exercises from very soft to very loud.
The muscle control required is different for each dynamic. When you can do this, your dynamics will start to come out in your playing on the bandstand too.
Also practice playing with rimshots, ghost notes, and accents. These are specific techniques that will add loads of nuance to your phrasing.
Check out my video below about how to add dynamics into your Jazz drum phrasing.
Feel in Your Jazz Groove
Feel is the intangible quality that makes music so special. For Jazz music, it refers to the groove, swing, and rhythmic flow. In Jazz drumming, a unified feel is critical for a band to sound good.
A great Jazz drummer knows how to adapt their playing to the other musicians’ feel and contribute to the larger feel of an ensemble. This is something you’ll learn mostly from playing a lot with other musicians.
If you can’t play with other musicians yet, a great way to start developing your feel is to play quarter notes on the ride cymbal with a bass only drumless track.
This is a drum practice track that only has a bass player playing a quarter note Swing groove. I have some terrific bass only drumless tracks at my store. You can also find them in my Drum Backing Tracks Collection here at Jazz Drum School.
Just playing quarter notes may seem too simple. If you can’t swing quarter notes with a walking bass line though, then anything else you play won’t swing either. In fact, many drummers rely on showy technique and playing many notes to cover up the fact that they can’t actually swing.
When I was at Berklee College of Music in Boston in the early 90’s, I had the opportunity to study with the great Joe Hunt. We spent 6 months just playing quarter notes on the ride cymbal.
They were the best drum lessons I’ve ever had and completely turned my feel around. Now people pay me good money for my feel and you can get paid too!
Get your jazz on! Perfect your phrasing, space, dynamics, and feel with drum practice tracks!
You can also buy the drumless track collections individually at my store!
Developing your Jazz drumming phrasing is a journey of listening, practice and playing with other musicians. Focus on space, dynamics, and feel to create expressive musical phrases.
Remember to think of your drumming as sentences in a conversation. Add that space to separate your musical ideas, insert dynamics to give your ideas shape and always focus on playing with great feel .
Adding these things to all of your drumming will make you one of the most in demand drummers in your town! Keep swinging my friend!