How do I make my drum fills better? When drum students ask this, they have often hit a plateau and find themselves in a comfort zone of playing the same drum fills, or minor variations of the same fills routinely. The hidden question is often: How do I make my drum fills more creative?
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In my drum studio in San Diego, I have students of all ages and levels that look for guidance on how to refine and improve their drumming. Help with crafting creative drum fills is a common request, and the answer to this stems from the all important fundamentals.
There is no short cut to being creative on the drum set, and this applies to grooves and fills alike. The good news is that a basic understanding of the fundamentals is a massive stride in the right direction, and that is what Drum Ambition is all about.
"So how does one build the control to execute musical drum fills? The first step is by having a good understanding of rhythm in general, and we do this by learning to read music, counting music, and crucially when it comes to fills, understanding the sticking that leads to the successful orchestration of a drum fill."
Simon DasGupta, Founder - Drum Ambition.
We all hear fills in everyday songs that get our attention for sounding cool, original and musical. It is true that we can learn them by ear, and perhaps even embellish to make them our own. But without the necessary control to execute them, the exercise is only somewhat complete.
So how does one build the control to execute musical drum fills? The first step is by having a good understanding of rhythm in general, and we do this by learning to read music, counting music, and crucially when it comes to drum fills, understanding the sticking that leads to the successful orchestration of a drum fill. When we refer to sticking, we are referring to which hand plays which note. While this is a seemingly straight forward concept, learning effective sticking is a culmination of the previously mentioned rhythmic fundamentals: reading and counting. Drum Ambition has a series of Music Notation Videos that teach you everything from basic note values to counting, reading, and sticking more complex rhythmic phrases. The first notation video is free, and you can watch it here.
When we talk about "orchestration" of drum fills, we are talking about the order in which we hit the drums to produce our desired fill. But there are other important considerations beyond this. How long is the fill? Is it a rudimental based fill? How fast is the fill? Are there dynamics within the fill? Let's address these point by point.
How long is the fill?
Drum fills vary in length from one beat, two beat, three beat and full bar (or "measure") fills, to extended fills that stretch beyond a full bar. If you are not familiar with these musical terms, then look at them simply as short, medium, long and extended fills. All are common, and all have different uses depending on their placement within a song. Drum Ambition members can learn full bar fills in 8th note, 16th note and triplet combinations in Module 1.
Is the fill rudiment based?
The most common rudiments used in drum fills include single strokes, double strokes, drags and flams. Understanding how to play these rudiments, and essentially, how to blend them with basic sticking patterns is essential in playing these type of fills. At Drum Ambition, we are all about the basic fundamentals. Our recommendation is to build competency in non-rudimental fills first, otherwise you are in danger of putting the cart before the horse.
How fast is the fill?
Speed is nothing but a byproduct of control. If you aspire to play fast tempo drum fills, then you need to build the control through reading, counting and sticking. By this time, you are probably seeing a recurring message.
Are there dynamics in the fill?
Drummers have the potential to make grooves and fills musical by adding dynamics. Simply put, dynamics refers to how hard, soft (and anywhere in between) that we are playing any given note. We do this by refining our sticking technique in a series of motions, known as down, tap, up and full strokes. This is covered in great detail on Drum Ambition, and subscribers can see this in practice in Video Lesson 20.
How else can I learn drum fills?
If you have a good knowledge of reading and counting already, there are a number of books available that cover this topic. The one problem with this is that you often have to subscribe to the author's interpretation of how to stick these fills, and their successful execution can depend on it. I always used to find it frustrating learning from such books, because you have to navigate somewhat inconsistent sticking patterns. Drum Ambition teaches you a concept I call "root-note sticking", which you can apply successfully and universally to most fills, with a few exceptions.
Hopefully, you are seeing a clear message throughout our various blog topics. So much depends on understanding the fundamentals of drumming, and Drum Ambition specializes in this approach. Our videos walk you step by step through the important early days of drumming, to help start you on the right track, and build your skills methodically and consistently. More experienced drummers can also benefit from our platform, particularly if there is a need to learn basic reading, sticking and musicality. You can view our full curriculum here, and if you have any questions, please feel free to email us: [email protected].