Jazz Drummer’s Workshop

Developing A Musical Approach

by Ed Soph

In my article “Reading and Jazz Interpretation,” in the August-September issue of Modern Drummer, I mentioned the necessity of practicing musically. One way we may do this is by actually playing tunes on the drums. The materials needed are either a fakebook of tunes or a book of standard jazz tunes such as comes with some of Jamey Aebersold’s, Play-A-Long jazz improvisation records. To start, get the Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderley, or Duke Ellington volumes. It is helpful if you have a recording of the tune so you can hear the melody, or play it on vibes or piano.Space prohibits dealing with an entire tune so I’ll use a simple melodic/rhythmic fragment to show the steps of practicing. The fragment is:
Jazz Drummers Workshop1. Play the fragment as rhythmically notated on the snare drum, alternate sticking. Play the hi-hat on 2 & 4.2. Same as Step 1, except play the figure on the snare with the left hand while playing the hi-hat on 2 & 4 and the basic ride pattern
Jazz Drummers Workshopwith the right hand. Lefties do the opposite.

3. Same as Step 2, except play the figure (our “tune”) on the bass drum.

4. To insure correct note placement we shall now play the rhythmic foundation of the figure, which is
Jazz Drummers Workshop

because we are “swinging” the figure on the snare. Alternate sticking, accenting those notes of the basic pattern.
Jazz Drummers Workshop

You might want to experiment with sticking combinations. e.g., LRR, RLL, LLR, etc.

5. Now, use all the drums in such a way as to outline the basic melodic directions of the figure.

Jazz Drummers Workshop

Written within the triplet (swing) framework:

Jazz Drummers Workshop

Practice it both ways: the figure as written and the figure within its triplet framework. Try different stickings.

6. Add the ride and hi-hat patterns and outline the melody, as notated in the example in Step 5, on all the drums with the left hand and right foot, (right hand and left foot if you play left handed).

7. The same as Step 6 except play the melodic/rhythmic figure on the upper drums and fill the rests with the bass drum.

Jazz Drummers Workshop

8. Use the hi-hat to fill in place of the bass drum.

9. Use the ride to fill in the rests previously played with the hi-hat. As you can see, the possibilities go on and on. The basic approaches to this melodic/rhythmic fragment and, hence, a complete tune, are as follows. Keep in mind that there are many variations, tonal and rhythmic, as well as sticking, within these basic approaches. The variations are your improvisations. The basics:

1. Three, two, or one limb(s) may play repetitive figures (ride, hi-hat, and/or bass drum) while the remaining limb(s) play the melodic/rhythmic line as notated.

2. All limbs play the melodic/rhythmic line. There are no repetitive “time-keeping” figures.

3. Consider unison figures. Two or more drums/cymbals played in unison produce color, contrast, and emphasis; all prime ingredients of phrasing.

4. Try to articulate the notes/rhythms as a horn player would, long, short, accented, etc.

5. Use dynamics.

6. Play the particular tune in many tempos.

There are many advantages to practicing with actual tunes. It develops one’s reading ability, both rhythmic and melodic. It increases one’s listening ability. It introduces new sticking patterns, new paths around and between the drums and cymbals, which are based upon a melodic as well as a rhythmic foundation. It is beneficial in breaking the habit of recurring, melodically unrelated patterns on the drums; in a word, “licks.” It develops one’s melodic and rhythmic sense as one total technique. It develops improvisational technique. It teaches one to feel phrases rather than to count them. Melodic practicing makes one aware of dynamics, accents, contrasts, and articulations. It develops one’s ability to internalize the time rather than to depend upon repetitive figures. It increases one’s repertoire. It reveals technical problems through a musical medium, not a mechanical one.

Obviously, all this is nothing new. Classical percussionists, blessed with a published repertoire, have practiced this way for years. As jazz drummers, our repertoire are the tunes, standard and soon-to-be-standard, which provide the foundation of the improvisor’s art. We must learn those tunes, play them, interpret them, assimilate them, and improvise upon them.