I meet many drummers at my performances. Most of them are amateur drummers that want to chat after the gig. They often say they’re too intimidated to learn Jazz drumming. Their image of Jazz drumming is that it’s very difficult and only a “chosen few” can play it.
In this article, I’m going to share 3 big reasons you should learn Jazz drumming. I’ll also share how you can easily start learning it today.
Playing Jazz with drums
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When I started out playing drums, Jazz wasn’t even on my radar. I was focused completely on Rock music. I loved (and still do), Yes, Van Halen, AC/DC, Rush and many other famous Rock bands.
One of my first drum teachers, Doug Auwarter turned me on to Jazz music. I mention him in my article about 5 things to be a successful professional drummer.
At one of my lessons, he gave me cassette tape of the great drummer Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers band. I had never heard anything like it. It was so different than Rock music.
Playing Jazz with drums seemed both confusing and cool. I didn’t know what was going on but the drumming was so interesting. It also sounded more free than the Rock drum beats I was practicing at the time.
Jazz drumming lessons
From that day on, my drum lessons became Jazz drumming lessons. I tried to learn as much as I could from Doug and from all of my drum teachers after him. Jazz drumming became a life-long passion.
If you’re looking for easy-to-follow Jazz drum lessons, check out my online drum school jazzdrumschool.com.
Reason 1 – Drumming freedom
When I discovered Jazz drumming, it showed me that it was okay for the drums to interact more with the music. In most contemporary music like Rock, Funk, Hip-Hop, R&B and Pop, drummers will lay down repeated drum beats.
For example in a Pop song, the verse, pre-chorus, chorus and bridge of the song may all have different drum beats. However, we strive to play each of these drum beats the same every time. Playing to how the song was originally recorded is really important.
In this kind of musical format, there’s not a lot of room for the drummer to change the grooves or drum fills each time the song is played. The drummer needs to “play it like the record.”
Don’t play it like the record
Jazz music is quite different than Pop music. No song is ever played the same way twice. As Jazz musicians, we value originality more than rigid expectations to play things the same every time. This is the freedom of Jazz drumming.
A good example this would be when I play the popular Jazz Standard Bye Bye Blackbird. I may count it off medium Swing for one gig and up-tempo Bossa Nova style for another performance.
Brushes for the A sections of the tune and sticks for the B part is also an option. Sometimes I may play with drum sticks throughout the entire song. Every time I perform the tune, I will make small and sometimes big changes to how I play the drums.
This is Jazz and it’s expected and appreciated by the other musicians in the group. It’s also something the audience has come to expect and enjoy.
Basic Jazz drumming
In Jazz music, we of course play specific drum beats. The Swing beat and Bossa Nova beats are two great examples. It’s how we play them that makes Jazz drumming different from almost any other style of contemporary drumming.
In online drum courses like my Intro to Jazz Drumming course, I teach students some basic Jazz drumming beats to get them up and swinging as quickly as possible. As students move on to other courses like my Jazz Drumming Patterns course, they learn how to take those basic Jazz drumming beats and make them more spontaneous and flexible with the music.
The goal with all of Jazz drumming is to be able to adapt any drum beat to fit the music. This gives us flexibility to play better together with the other musicians in the band. Being able to improvise interesting rhythmic variations from the start to finish of a song is always our focus.
Jazz drums comping – The conversation
In Jazz music we think of playing as a musical conversation. We listen to the other musicians and think of musical ideas to play. These ideas then make the band and the music sound unified.
Check out my article about how to think like a Jazz drummer. It will give you some insight into how I think when I’m on the bandstand.
You might also want to check out my other article about how to listen when playing Jazz on the drums. It’s through the listening that we can really free ourselves to be more a part of the music.
To be an active part of that “band conversation” we need to be able to play rhythmic ideas that gel with what the other musicians are playing. Jazz drums comping (“comping” is short for accompanying) helps us to do this.
Jazz drums comping is when we take a drum beat and loosen it up a bit to throw in some rhythmic phrasing and fills. We do this a lot with our snare drum and bass drum.
Learn more about Jazz drums comping in the video below:
When we “comp” we are free to play more spontaneously and interact with the music. Comping is one of the hallmarks of Jazz drumming and allows us to have a whole lot more fun when we play a song.
We aren’t tethered to a repetitive drum beat anymore. Our status in the band is elevated from beat maker to music maker.
Reason 2 – Improve drumming skill
Jazz drummers are some of the most skilled drummers in the World. The reason for this is that Jazz is actually a World music.
In Jazz drumming, we use rhythms, drum beats and drum fills from Brazil, Cuba, West Africa, the United States, the Caribbean and Europe among other places. Jazz music has a long history of incorporating into it Pop, Rock, Blues, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and many other musical genres.
This diversity of music also means that Jazz drummers have to learn many different styles of drumming. Some of these styles like Afro-Cuban drumming really challenge your coordination ability.
In my Afro-Cuban drumming course, I break down the most important beats you need to know for Jazz drum set.
After you’ve mastered the Afro-Cuban drumming independence (coordination), your skill will improve a lot. This will allow you to learn more drum beats more quickly in other styles of music.
Each new style of Jazz drumming will help you to learn the next. They build on each other. What’s amazing too, is when you go back to play that Rock beat, it’ll be easier than you remember.
I’ve always said to my students, “Learn Jazz drumming first and everything else will be easy.” If we only learn Rock drumming (like I was in the beginning), it’s nearly impossible to leap into other styles of drumming that aren’t similar to Rock.
It all comes down to how you hardwire your brain and body. Learn Jazz drumming and you’ll hardwire yourself for many more choices in your drumming career.
Reason 3 – Learn music
One of my pet peeves in the music business is how people often separate drummers from musicians. Drummers have bad reputations for 5-beat drum fills in 4/4 time, not understanding song form and not knowing how to read basic rhythmic musical notation.
When we learn Jazz drumming, we fix all of those problems. We can finally align ourselves with musicians and gain the respect we deserve for our dedication to our instrument.
Jazz drumming will teach you many music skills but some of the most important are listed below.
- How to read rhythmic notation
- How to understand song form structure
- How to read music lead sheets (music scores) and drum charts
- How to arrange music
It’s really incredible how much more confident you will become if you can do the 4 things I listed above. You’ll feel so much more a part of the band and will really know what’s going on in the music.
Be a musician drummer
Knowing the music side of things will help you know what to play on the drums and make the music sound its best. A good example of this is using cymbal color to change the mood of a song.
On a typical Jazz Standard tune we might have 32 measures (also called 32 bars). In many songs with this AABA structure, the first and second 8 measures of the song are A sections. The next 8 measures are the B section and the last eight measures are another A section.
The chords are different between the A and B sections. As in the example below, that means that the A’s could be played on one ride cymbal and then the B could be played on a different ride cymbal.
If I change my cymbal color that will support the change in harmony. This makes it really feel like a different section of the tune. It’s a simple but powerful way of making the music sound great. Since I understand song form, I can use my ride cymbals in strategic ways to shift the mood of the music.
In the video below I teach about how to change your cymbal color to match different sections of an AABA song. I demonstrate this effect starting at 04:51.
I can also change cymbals at the beginning of a new chorus of a song (another time playing through the form of the song). See the video below where I demonstrate this on one of my gigs. The playing begins at about 01:59.
Cymbal color is just one of the many ways we as drummers can influence and interact with the music. If we know a little more about how music works, we can have more fun spontaneously arranging our drumming to the music.
Learn Jazz drumming. It will free you up to be more creative and expressive on the drums. You’ll be able to interact more with the other musicians in the band and really feel like you’re a part of the music.
Jazz drumming will improve your drumming skill and make it easy to learn many other styles of drumming. Being able to play many other styles of music will also open up new playing opportunities for you.
When you learn Jazz drumming, you also learn about the structure of music. Learning how music works will help make your drumming and the music sound even better.
Always wishing you the best with your drumming. Keep swinging my friend!
Do you think that Jazz drumming helps or would help your playing?
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