Nucleo Vega : Modern DrummerMy name is Nuc, and I’m a drummer, educator, and Mel Bay author in the Washington, D.C., area. I’m working on a project that involves drum melody. Like my heroes Max Roach, Jeff Hamilton, Joe Morello, and Ari Hoenig, I’m approaching melody on drumset from a literal standpoint—trying to play the exact melody of the tune like a horn player. This idea came about when I was asked to take the head on a few gigs. I wanted to play something that the audience could immediately recognize and even sing afterwards. I have melodies translated to a four-piece kit for songs such as “Anthropology,” “A Night in Tunisia,” “Moanin’,” “Equinox,”  and “Seven Steps to Heaven.” To see the videos please visit I’ll be posting new ones each month.


Below is my approach to John Coltrane’s “Equinox.” Have fun!


Equinox : Modern Drummer


For this song, I’m using a four-piece kit with timpani mallets, tuned to the key of Eb minor. Some kits sound better tuned in higher keys and others lower, so I will also refer to scale degrees for transposing.


Tuning tip: Tune the top head to the desired pitch, and tune the bottom head for sustain.

In Eb minor, tune the drums to the following: 1, b3, 5

Mounted tom: 1 or Eb

Snare: b3 or Gb

Floor tom: Low 5th or Bb below the root note Eb.


While this tuning will take care of most of the notes in the melody, this tune also calls for the notes F (scale degree 2) and Ab (scale degree 4).  These notes can be produced by bending up the pitch of the drumhead as follows: press the drumhead with your left stick to raise the pitch, while striking the drum with your right stick. The harder you press, the higher the pitch. Pressing will be notated with a down arrow ¯.


Tom 1: When pressed gently, it can play the note F or scale degree 2.

Snare: When pressed gently, it can play an Ab or scale degree 4.

* The bass drum (no designated pitch) will play the string bass ostinato of the song.


Below is the drum key to help you read this transcription. The top staff is the actual notes played, and the bottom staff is the drum tab using scale degrees. In drum tab, each line represents a drum (see diagram below).

Modern Drummer


Suggested Practice Order

1. Learn the melody first.

2. Add a hi-hat on beats 2 and 4.

3. Play only the rhythm of the melody on the snare with the hi-hat and bass drum ostinato.

4. Play the real melody with the hi-hat and bass ostinato.