How To Play Jazz On The Drums

“Learn how to play Jazz on the drums and it will transform your drumming.” This something I say a lot to my drum students. I’ve found in my 2 decades of teaching drums, that many drummers are actually scared to learn Jazz drumming. I’ll tell you though, any drummer can do it and you can too.

In this article, I’m going to share the advantages of learning Jazz drumming. I’ll also highlight some of the important drumming skills you’ll gain by studying this amazing art form.

With a little patience and persistence, you can be up and swinging in no time at all. Like any other style of drumming, Jazz drumming is made up of core techniques and skills. Mastering those first will then pave the way to your future Jazz drumming success.

Why learn how to play Jazz on the drums?

Check out the video below of my playing at a gig here in Japan.

The Swing feel in this video is the pulse of Jazz music. It’s what always keeps me coming back for more. It feels like floating when everyone is swinging together and every note I play is effortless.


Read more about the compact drum set up I’m using in the video above. I take this fantastic kit with me to many parts of Japan every year.


I’ve played Rock, Pop, Soul, Hip-Hop, R&B, Country, Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, Hawaiian, Caribbean and other styles of music. They all have their own form of “swing” but the swing feeling (pulse) in Jazz is something unique. It feels incredibly satisfying.

Where to start

Learning how to play Jazz on the drums starts with getting a good Swing feel on your ride cymbal. Everything in your Jazz drumming will come from your ride cymbal playing. If your swing on the ride cymbal is strong, everything else will be strong as well.

In my Jazz Drum School course Intro To Jazz Drumming, I share exactly how to create this feeling on your ride cymbal. It’s something I learned from my Berklee drum instructor Joe Hunt.

With Joe, I spent 6 months working only on my ride cymbal feel! That was the most important period of growth in my Jazz drumming. From that time on, my drumming really began to take shape and the playing opportunities began to come.

The video below shows all of the topics included in the Intro To Jazz Drumming course.

Reading music

One skill you will develop as you learn to play Jazz drums, is reading music. In regular drumming, we focus mostly on rhythmic musical notation. In Jazz drumming we also learn how to read drum charts (musical roadmaps) and how to play kicks (unison hits) with rest of the band.

Here’s the first page of a drum chart from one of my drumless tracks Bellmont Ave.

When you learn how to play Jazz on the drums, you also learn how to read drum charts.

Reading music makes all of this much easier. It also means that you can work anywhere, anytime and with anyone. Most Jazz band leaders use music charts for performing or recording music. Being able to read music opens up many more playing opportunities.

In my blog post series How These 5 Things Can Help Make You A Professional Drummer, I share more about the importance of reading musical notation.

In my Intro To Jazz Drumming course, I also have a very easy method for teaching drummers how to read music.

Jazz drumming coordination

Probably the scariest part of Jazz drumming for most drummers is the advanced coordination required to play the music. It’s important to say that this coordination skill is not the goal. It’s the means to be able to communicate musically with the other musicians.

Jazz music is a conversation between musicians. Just as we talk to each other, Jazz musicians talk to each other when playing a song. The coordination we learn playing Jazz drums enables us to speak through our instrument and be a part of the musical conversation.

Learning advanced drumming coordination is a gradual process. If you’re looking for a great way to start, I teach an easy method in my Intro To Jazz Drumming course. I’ve also got a Jazz drumming coordination course that will hugely expand your drumming ability.

Learning how to play Jazz on the drums will give you more confidence in other areas of your drumming.

Jazz drum solos

Trading fours and eights are the most common drum solo opportunities we get in playing Jazz. Trading fours or eights are, for example, when the pianist plays a four-measure solo and then the drums play a four-measure solo. Eights is playing eight-measure solos instead of four-measure solos.

Here’s an example of me trading fours with the band:

The biggest question for most drummers is what to play during their fours or eights. In my Intro To Jazz Drumming course, I give you 2 really simple and musical hand patterns to learn and start trading fours quickly.

I might also add that my Intro To Jazz Drumming course comes with 6 drumless tracks (played by A-list Jazz musicians). These help you connect your drumming to the music. Two of the drumless tracks also focus specifically on practicing your fours and eights.

Conclusion

It’s absolutely no problem for drummers of any age to learn how to play Jazz on the drums. I have taught 6-year-olds and 80-year-olds alike. Both had a great time and gained loads of drumming confidence.

If you’ve been thinking about learning to play Jazz on the drums, I encourage you to check out my Intro To Jazz Drumming course and all of my courses at jazzdrumschool.com. I also teach many drum lessons through Zoom.

Any way you “roll” I’m here to help. Many thanks for taking the time to read this post. Be well and keep swinging!

Do you want to learn how to play Jazz on the drums?


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Do you want to play Jazz on the drums?

Hey, I’m Von Baron. I’m determined to help you become an AMAZING Jazz drummer.  My only question is, are you ready?

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