Over time, transcribing can become a hobby for serious jazz musicians. Jazz students in conservatories often hang together and share their latest transcribed licks. And part of the fun of writing out others’ parts is listening for hours and scouring obscure records to find material that speaks to you. With practice, experimentation, and time, the licks that you “stole” to imitate your idols can become a valid part of your personal vocabulary. In this lesson we’ll explore a transcription of a Roy Haynes phrase and vary it to demonstrate ways to make it your own.

Roy Haynes | Photo by Tom Copi

When you transcribe from a video of a live performance, there’s an advantage of seeing how a drummer executes ideas. However, when you write out the parts solely from a record, it’s usually difficult to make out exactly what sticking is employed. But with repeated listens, we can often logically discern right- and left-hand stickings. Also, the guidance of a great teacher can answer phrasing questions because those instructors may have seen first-hand how previous generations of drummers played certain phrases. It’s important to know the history to make informed choices about your language. Eventually, after spending time with transcribed material, you can diverge from the tradition and interpret what they hear.

Let’s check out a phrase Roy Haynes played during his solo on the track “Evidence” from Thelonious Monk’s Thelonious in Action. Note the accent pattern that Haynes uses in this figure.

Exercise 2 demonstrates one example of how Haynes could have performed the previous phrase. The right hand leads, embedding a swing ride pattern within the paradiddle-diddles.

Here are a few more sticking possibilities.

We can also modify this phrase by changing the rhythm and orchestration. Let’s apply a triplet subdivision to it.

By moving some notes to the hi-hat in an open-handed style, we get more contemporary ideas reminiscent of Mark Guiliana’s and Nate Wood’s inspiring styles.

By developing your craft in this manner, you can play with respect to the masters while carrying their torch. Happy practicing!


Mike Alfieri is a Brooklyn, New York–based drummer and educator. He has a bachelor’s degree in music education from the Crane School of Music and a master’s degree in jazz studies from SUNY Purchase. For more information, visit mikealfieri.net.