5 Challenging Jazz Fills!

Of all of the lessons that we have navigated our way through so far, this one will probably be the most challenging. When it comes to jazz drumming, limb independence is of vital importance. It will help massively towards improvisational playing, so adopting the ability to control, separate and coordinate your hands and feet is the ultimate goal. These particular lessons won’t have you doing anything to crazy, but will demonstrate exactly what is meant by limb independence.

These are simple polyrhythmic exercises that will help you to free up your hands and feet and start you towards orchestrating more interesting combinations. The first thing you should get to grips with here is the right hand ostinato vs left foot hi-hat pattern on the 2 and 4 of every bar. This is the main structure of each exercise, and played confidently will give you your basic jazz groove. These should be played at about 90bpm. Let’s take a look:

This first exercise is essentially a warm-up. It is designed to get you used to changing from one rhythm to another. I often like to refer to this as a transition rather than a fill. The only thing that changes here is the position of the last snare, which is played one 8th note early, to give it a kind of “skipped” sound. You will come across this transition in almost any classic jazz/swing composition.

This is more of a fill than a transition. You will notice in the last half of bar 4 that the ride pattern has gone, as your hands will now be required to play a total of six 8th note triplets (the first of which is played on the rack tom). Try to get your sticking as even as possible here. We want these fills to sound smooth and effortless. Be sure to keep the hi-hat pulse going with your left foot.

Once you have mastered exercise 2, you should have no trouble with this one. This is just a slight variation of the previous example, which encourages you to move around the kit. The fill should be led with the hand that was playing the ride; it will stop your hands crossing over and getting tangled as you move to the floor tom. In other words, the rack tom and floor tom strokes should be played with the same hand. This is a particularly satisfying fill to hear and plenty of fun to play.

Exercise 4 can be approached in many ways, but I would suggest playing the 2 and 3 of each triplet with the same hand e.g. (RLL, RLL, RLL, RLL). This will give you some trouble at first but will sound very exciting once you have got to grips with it. Note there are no accents in the fill. If you want to make this more advanced, try adding your own accents to the notation.

This final exercise is very tricky and the most polyrhythmic. In some places you will be required to apply simultaneous sticking and alternate sticking elsewhere. Again, it is designed for you to move around the kit and to also help you understand various combinations you can use. When you have mastered these fills try putting all of them together and making them into a short drum solo. You will be very surprised at how advanced and tasteful it sounds when played fluidly.