Part 1: Solid 16th Notes
by Donny Gruendler
This five-part series will help you develop modest, effective, and solid fills, and they’re built using single strokes, right-hand-lead phrases, and more complex patterns, such as six-stroke rolls. Let’s get started!
Solid Singles: 16th Notes
Many of today’s drummers are trained in metronomic timing, reading, and stylistic diversity. However, some of these individuals overlook an important drumming concept: playing solid, assertive, and effective fills. Drummers with solid time and technique can enhance their groove by leading a band through an arrangement alongside simple and unyielding fills. Conversely, when drummers’ transitions are weak or erratic, they undermine the music.
To begin, let’s work though a series of 16th-note single-stroke exercises. Here’s our main pattern, or ostinato, followed by some fill fragments.
Using a metronome set to 80 bpm with an 8th-note subdivision, play the main pattern during the first three beats of the slash notation and play snare rimshots on the accented 16th notes on beat 4. Put together, the exercise looks like this.
Once the previous steps are comfortable, move the accented 16th notes on beat 4 around the drums. Here’s an example.
Follow this same procedure alongside another fill fragment. In this instance we’ll use measure 5 from Exercise 2.
Again, using a metronome set to 80 bpm with an 8th-note subdivision, play the main pattern on beat 1 and on the first 8th note of beat 2. Starting on the “&” of beat 2, play snare rimshots for the remaining accented 16th notes to finish out the measure. Here’s the full exercise.
Once the previous steps are comfortable, freely move the fill around the drums.
Repeat this process for each fill fragment.
Now pick any groove within your repertoire and practice fills using the following method. To begin, play three bars of time and then a fill in measure 4.
The following example demonstrates this method using the fifth fill fragment from Exercise 2.
Once comfortable, orchestrate the exercise around the drums. Here’s an option. Repeat this process for each fill fragment.
The amount of orchestrations and variations you can come up with using these fragments is unending. But remember that we’re striving to develop commanding, confident, and simple fills rather than intricate or syncopated patterns. See you next month!
Donny Gruendler is a Los Angeles–based drummer and president
of Musicians Institute in Hollywood. He can reached at