Drummers often experience periods in which they’re unable to think of new fill ideas. In this lesson we’ll explore what I call the last-to-first method, which enables you to turn any sticking into multiple useful fill applications.

We’ll take a four-beat fill and start it on the offbeat of beat 4, then beat 3, then beat 2, and finally beat 1. Practicing in this way opens up new fill possibilities at multiple places within a groove. We also end up with different-length fills in our arsenal.

Let’s start by mastering the following one-measure 16th-note-triplet sticking. Try counting a swung 16th-note subdivision (“1, e, &, a”) while practicing, and set your metronome to 30 or 40 bpm to start.

Once you can play Exercise 1 comfortably, apply it in the context of a groove. Play the sticking as a fill, but start it on the last two accents of beat 4. The backbeat of the groove is omitted here, which gives the fill a syncopated feel. You should also try incorporating the backbeat when practicing. Insert the fills within a four-bar phrase, with three measures of time and one measure of the fill.

Now we’ll start the fill on the offbeat of beat 3.

Now start the fill on the offbeat of beat 2.

Here’s the fill starting on the offbeat of beat 1.

In Exercise 6, we’ll start the fill on the offbeat of beat 3, and we’ll resolve it with a left-hand crash on the last 16th-note-triplet partial of beat 4.

Try continuing the previous fill over the barline and resolve it on the “&” of beat 1.

Now we’ll add the bass drum on every fifth and sixth 16th-note-triplet partial of the original fill.

Let’s start the fill on the offbeat of beat 3 within a groove.

Now try starting the fill on the offbeat of beat 2, and resolve it on the last 16th-note-triplet partial of the measure with the crash.

Continue the fill over the barline and resolve on the “&” of 1.

In this lesson we’ve created nearly a dozen different single- sticking applications. The possibilities are endless, so be sure to experiment using the last-to-first method with other stickings.


Dave DiCenso has played with Josh Groban, Duran Duran, Carole King, Hiromi, the Steve Morse Band, John Petrucci, and Cro-Mags, among others. He’s the co-leader of the soul-funk organ duo DiCenso/Clark Expedition and a professor at the Berklee College of Music.