By Tim Kane
STURBRIDGE, MA – The ability to play accurate yet creative drum fills at just the right moment during a song – and with a sense of dynamics – is a critical ingredient in your drum kit arsenal.
Even celebrity drummers become stuck at times in repetitive, overzealous, or overly simplistic fill patterns. Hopefully, this blog post will inspire you to further hone fill skills and play your drum kits better.
One obvious way, whether you have taken drum lessons and music education courses or not, to both evaluate and further develop your chops with drum set fills is to play a simple rock beat and navigate around your kit’s toms and cymbal arrangements at a slower tempo.
At the end of every four or eight measure phrase, play quarter, eighth, sixteenth and 32nd note fills using a standard 4/4 time signature for counting (4 beats per measure). Move from snare to tom-toms, and then on to more complicated variations integrating the various note values above with triplets, flams and quads alternating between toms and kick drum.
A video of my own drum set fill playing linked directly here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4oCfNXUGJM) demonstrates those basics and how to adapt and weave them together to add more sophistication and individuality.
The governing concepts behind ad-lib drum set fills require not only these basic chops, but also a good ear and ability to recognize the need for simplicity vs. complexity.
I find my best drum fills are ones stolen from rhythms already being played in that cover song or original jam by a guitarist, keyboardist or bassist. I try to echo their phrasing to an extent and then build upon it.
Understanding the mechanics of song structure is important, too.
Drum fills fall into two natural categories. The first kind is meant to lead in and lead out musicians from one musical sequence in the song’s composition to its next counterpart, such as verse to bridge or chorus. Drum fills essentially “queue” those chord and lyric changes.
The second aspect of filling utilizes playing off other musicians in order to fill gaps in time when string players are positioning fingers and chords elsewhere on the frets, allowing the music to breathe during a phrase, or leading up to an accent or stop in the tune.
What is crucial to effective drum fills is keeping time and tempo consistent, which is our primary role as drummers. That’s where the bass drum comes in. Unlike jazz where the kick drum is used primarily as a sporadic accent piece, basic rock drum patterns mandate a kick hit on the 1&3 beats of a standard 4/4 measure. Snare usually occupies the 2&4 beats. So, play your kick through drum set fills to help keep time and introduce another accent element. As shown in my video, many fills are built off the bass drum. I use the kick drum on most every fill as both part of that phrasing and to not lose sight of where I am in the measure.
An awkwardly placed or played drum fill with a band can affect the song’s outcome, if not your own motivation. Remember, drum set fills don’t have to occupy an entire measure or be flashy, and they are not limited to just snare and toms. Cymbals make great fill tools as well.
Build from the basics and bottom up to discover new fills and improve your flow around the drum kit.
– Tim Kane is a professional writer, editor, and drummer of 30-plus years. http://www.kanedrums.com