How do I play drum fills that are creative and interesting?

Author: Simon DasGupta.
September 15, 2022

In this article

If you are a beginner drummer or interested in learning the drums, you will come across the terms "beats" and "fills" all the time.

  • What is the difference between a drum beat and a drum fill?
  • Where do I play a drum fill?
  • How can I make my drum fills better?

What are drum fills, and is there a good example?

A drum beat is a generic term for the rhythmic pattern played throughout a song. But what on earth is a drum fill, where are they used, and how do beginner drummers (and more experienced drummers, for that matter) develop them into a tasteful and musical element of their drumming?

We hear drum fills a lot in music, and probably the most famous is from the song "In The Air Tonight" by Phil Collins. Check it out at 3:40 - the chances are, you've heard it many times before. As we will discuss, not all drum fills are as dramatic as this. It is, nonetheless, a terrific example.

Our definition of a drum fill.

In this article, we describe the definition of a drum fill. You'll find an extensive list of drum terms here, and it's a useful resource if you are starting out.

As a preface to this article, check out our free course preview from Course 2.

How can drum fills be made 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? There is no shortcut to being creative on the drum set, which applies to drumbeats 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. We all hear fills in familiar songs that get our attention for sounding cool, original, and musical.

We can learn them by ear and perhaps even embellish them to make them our own. But without the necessary control to execute them, the exercise is only somewhat complete.

How do we build drum set control?

The first step is to have a good understanding of rhythm in general. We do this by learning to read music, count music, and crucially when it comes to drum fills, understanding the sticking that leads to a successful orchestration.

When we refer to sticking, we refer to which hand plays which note. While this is a seemingly straightforward 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. You'll find these notation videos in our first course.

What does it mean to orchestrate drum fills?

When we talk about the orchestration of drum fills, we are talking about the order in which we hit the drums to produce our desired fill.

There are other essential 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 drum fill?

Drum fills vary in length from one beat, two-beat, three-beat, and full-bar fills, to extended fills that stretch beyond a full bar. If you are unfamiliar with these musical terms, look at them simply as short, medium, long, and extended fills. All are common and 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 Course 1. In Course 2, you will learn about 1, 2, and 3 beat fills.

Is the drum fill rudiment based?

The most common rudiments 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 types of fills.

At Drum Ambition, we are all about the fundamentals. We recommend building competency in non-rudimental fills first; otherwise, you are in danger of putting the cart before the horse. When ready, you can learn about rudiment-based drum fills in Course 2.

How fast is the drum fill, and what are dynamics?

Speed is a byproduct of control. If you aspire to play fast-tempo drum fills, you need to build control by reading, counting, and sticking.

Drummers can make drumbeats and drum fills musical by adding dynamics. Simply put, dynamics refers to how hard, soft (and anywhere in between) we are playing any given note. We refine our sticking technique in a series of motions: down, tap, up, and full strokes. These strokes are covered in great detail on Drum Ambition, and subscribers can see this in practice in Course 1, Lesson 20.

How else can I learn drum fills?

Many books cover this topic if you have a good knowledge of reading and counting. The 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. It can be frustrating learning from such books because you have to navigate somewhat inconsistent sticking patterns.

Drum Ambition teaches you a concept we call root-note sticking, which you can apply successfully and universally to most fills, with a few exceptions.

Our videos walk you through the critical early days of drumming to help start you on the right track and build your skills methodically and consistently. We keep our videos short and concise and always emphasize the importance of having fun along the way.

More experienced drummers can also benefit from our platform, particularly if there is a need to learn music notation, sticking, and musicality. You can view our full courses here.

Our FREE guide is packed with useful tips for beginner drummers!

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