How To Play Jazz Drumming – The Basics
Jazz drumming is a style of music that originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s characterized by its syncopated rhythms or “off-beat” feel. Improvisation plays a big part in how to play Jazz drumming and make it swing. This means drummers often create their own interpretation of the written drum chart. Although sheet music is often used for the phrases played by other instruments. Including brass stabs, other rhythms within the music, and phrases.
To be a successful jazz drummer, it’s essential to have a solid understanding of both groove and time feel. Groove is the pulsing, rhythmic foundation of the music. While time feel refers to the tempo and flow of the piece. Yet, groove and time feel are usually referred to as swing. “Does the drummer swing? that drummer/band swings,” and so on.
One of the important aspects of how to play jazz drumming is interacting with other musicians. This means being able to listen and respond to what everyone else is playing. To play within, and around what’s already being played by the other musicians.
Jazz drumming is an exciting and challenging style of music and can take years to master. Especially the “swing“ of it.
Getting Started With Jazz Drumming
When it comes to playing basic-level jazz drumming, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. The first of which is to remember that the only goal (to start), is to create a smooth flowing swing groove. This gives the other members of the band something to play around and along with.
This often means that the bass drum takes lead in many respects. Playing 4 on the floor with the bass drum is usually something to avoid in jazz drumming (unless it’s done right). And to instead follow the most basic bass drum pattern which is usually by playing on the 1st and 3rd beats of the bar. The downbeats.
Once the basic flow is going and the triplet feel is present yet unheard. Then you need to be aware of the melody and harmony of the tune, and make sure your playing fits in with those elements. Usually enhancing those elements by making them your secondary focus. And through the constant flow of triplets. And your interpretation of them.
Your primary focus is the conveying of the flow through the triplet feel.
That may not be as simple as it first sounds as creating a great swing is something of an art. But as with all arts, “the science” has to be in place first. Then the art follows.
One way to do this is to focus on playing the ride cymbal that in a way takes the place of the bass drum. It does this by being the underlying mechanism of the flow. From which the bass drum and snare drum partake.
All the time keeping a steady pulse (often on the bass drum), which as stated becomes the real driving factor. But it does that by being subtle. Almost unheard.
I would go as far as saying that most of the limbs should have the intention of pushing the flow
forward. But also supporting each other in such a way that each is hardly heard. But that is the nature of how to play jazz drumming in general.
That is, to keep the swing flowing underneath the lead instrument. Whether that’s a piano, bass, sax, or another instrument. The dynamics then come into play as the drummer lifts and lowers the dynamic contrast of the music. Along with the other musicians.
Jazz Drumming Improvisation & Development
Additionally, it’s important to be able to improvise. Both within the swinging groove you’re playing and during solo sections. This means being able to switch up the feel of your playing on the fly. As well as always being aware of what the other musicians in the band are playing.
Drumming in general carries with it a sort of contradiction or non-sequitur. To play real basic jazz drumming that swings, the more advanced skills you will need. And to the degree that you make your drumming practice complex. The greater that you are able to apply basic swing to a particular piece of music.
This of course is a matter of mastering the subdivisions. In this case triplets. And then playing a basic swing beat that hovers around the triplets. But then the triplets are hardly ever played. This is an analogy of course but it serves to instill the fact that the triplet flow is almost always silent. They’re an undercurrent of the drumming and music. Whilst all the time portraying the main pulse of the music.
How To Play Jazz Drumming Foundation
As with all styles of drumming, there is a set of foundational skills that first needs mastering. In this case, the skills are the 6 most fundamental jazz drum beats. Along with the general flow of the triplet rudiment. The triplet flow develops by building triplet combinations between the limbs. Atop the 6 fundamental jazz drum beats. Click the image below to get the info-grafic of the 6 fundamental jazz beats.
Once you have done that, you may also like the Drum Coaches books. The first of which helps you build a Jazz Drumming Foundation. The second takes you through the how to play Jazz Drumming Development process. They take you through a process of mastering the 6 beats and relevant drum fills. Then take you through the process of developing the jazz beats further, one at a time.
By practicing and perfecting as far as possible the basic triplet rudiment. Along with the 6 fundamental jazz beats, you set yourself up to become a great swinging jazz drummer.
How To Play A Basic Jazz Beat
Playing a basic jazz drum beat is pretty much the same as playing a basic rock drumming beat. And so, I won’t explain the precise limb movements involved. I already explained the process in the article about the basic rock beat.
But briefly, you play your right hand on beats 1, 2, 3, and 4. And you play your bass drum on beats 1 and 3, then add your left hand on beats 2 and 4. This is exactly what you do when playing a basic rock drumming beat as already stated. The difference between the two is the subdivisions.
- In rock drumming, each beat is equal to 4 x 1/16th notes.
- In jazz drumming, each beat is equal to 3 x Triplets (eight notes).
So, whilst you play the hands and foot patterns above. You are thinking in either triplets or 1/16th notes (jazz or rock, 3 or 4), all the time whilst keeping the basic beat.
Triplets sound the same as when you say “one trip let”, and 1/16th notes sound the same as if you were speaking “one ee and a”.
Then repeat each sound over and over to get the general flow of the beat.
Knowing how the repeated triplets sound, and how the repeated 1/16th notes sound. The basic feel of the beat is then altered to suit.
But as suggested, it’s important to understand that this is one of feel. And you feel in 3’s or 4’s depending on whether you are playing jazz or rock drumming.
Understanding the triplet and 1/16th note subdivisions will help you play the different styles more easily. Its a big part of how to play jazz drumming correctly.
You can then begin to add your own personal flair to the jazz beat. By experimenting with different combinations and coordinated beats between the four limbs. As you will learn in the books I mentioned earlier. For now, if you are a complete beginner, download the info-grafic below, and learn the basic jazz beats.
Then, with a little practice, you’ll be swinging along with the best of them!
The Drum Coach