September 2013
Jazz Drummer’s Workshop
Approaching Standards
A Framework for Musical Practice, Part 1: Phrasing

by Steve Fidyk

Jazz musicians spend a considerable amount of practice time learning standard tunes in a variety of keys. By doing so, they become versed in the tradition, while developing a repertoire of music to be played with other musicians. Many choose to learn these songs from The Real Book, which is a compilation of dozens of lead sheets that outline the melody and chord changes, while others transcribe music from the original recordings. (Transcribing can be especially beneficial because it teaches structure, chord voicings, harmonic movement, phrasing, articulation, and melody all at once.)

Tunes from Miles Davis, Jimmy Webb, John Coltrane, Lennon/McCartney, George Gershwin, and Thelonious Monk have become “standards,” because musicians continue to call them on the bandstand years after they were written. It’s a canon of music that has withstood the test of time, and we drummers should give it some attention. This article series is designed to expose you to different ways to apply the rhythmic material of the melodies of these standards.

When asked to play the melody of a tune on the snare drum, most drummers tend to lead with their strong hand and alternate. This is one way of playing, and it produces a specific feel and sound. To alter the phrasing, I suggest mixing in combinations of singles and doubles, while strictly adhering to the rhythm of the melody. (You should begin by limiting the instrument choice to the snare, because it’s more challenging to create different inflections of sound on one source as opposed to many.) By mixing up the sticking, you’re able to phrase the melody more accurately to match that of the original recording. In general, double strokes can help bring a sense of legato (smoothness) to an instrument that is naturally staccato sounding, like the snare.

In the video below, various sticking examples are applied to the standard twelve-bar blues tune “Straight No Chaser” by Thelonious Monk. As you get comfortable with the melody, experiment by employing different sounds and articulations, such as press rolls, to better replicate the actual length of each note.

Continue to work on “Straight No Chaser” until it’s firmly ingrained in your memory, while also beginning the process with other standards. In the next installment, we’ll explore ways of using a standard melody as a vehicle to comp and improvise around the drumset.

For notation and additional insight, be sure to check out the complete article in the September 2013 issue of Modern Drummer.

Steve Fidyk has performed with Terell Stafford, Tim Warfield, Dick Oatts, Doc Severinsen, Wayne Bergeron, Phil Wilson, and Maureen McGovern, and he’s a member of the jazz studies faculty at Temple University in Philadelphia. For more info, visit