Teacher’s Forum

Practice And Jazz Drumming

by Charlie Perry

In my article “The Chorus Form and the Jazz Drummer” (December/January issue of Modern Drummer), I said that all practice material for jazz drumming should be practiced with, and without, records. Practicing with records will help the novice drummer assimilate the steady timing, feeling, and interpretive qualities of the recorded musicians. The elementary student—and even more advanced students—will occasionally drag or rush tempo. Practicing with a record on which the “time” is clearly stated, can help the drummer play figures, phrases, and fills in tempo, whether reading preparatory drumchart material or improvising. To stay in tempo, he must listen closely to the recorded music, paying particular attention to the bass fiddle line, as well as listening to his own playing. 

The walking bass line can serve as a beacon which the drummer can lock into. He can space the cymbal and drum rhythms across the 1,2,3,4 of the bass line.


The level of material practiced by the student depends on his own skill. Progress is a plateau-by-plateau process with intermittent leaps forward.

Here are some practice suggestions:

For basic time generating/timekeeping, and coordination, the following one-bar patterns serve the purpose. Play each figure against the ride cymbal.

Teacher's Forum 1

First, each bar should be played several or more times. When this is done successfully, the paterns (routines) should be practiced consecutively, once each going from #1 through #14. (If the student thinks this material is too simple, remind him that this is the stuff of professional drumming. As proof, have him listen to the last section of the piece “Whirly Bird” from the Count Basie album The Kid From Redbank, Roulette SR 42015. It contains similar time patterns played in a fast tempo.) When these routines can be played in a steady tempo, the hihat should be added on the 2 and 4.

Teacher's Forum 2

The student may find it difficult to play a fill and return to the cymbal ride-rhythm in the same tempo. Too often, the rhythm of the fill is played faster or slower than the recorded tempo. Also, some students play the cymbal rhythm well but lose time when attempting to play figures on the drums. The novice drummer must understand that the timing of every note, played on any part of the set, with either hand or foot, must also be in time.

Some young rock drummers seem to have difficulty playing the simplest “swing” figures and phrases with the Music Minus One, Volume 2 record—on which the “time” is as perfect as can be expected—and stay in tempo! The following material is designed to resolve such problems. Play the bass drum on 1-2-3-4, and the hi-hat on 2 & 4 (Ex. 1) throughout the following exercises. It consists of “fills” that evolve out of the ride rhythm:

Teacher's Forum 3

Teacher's Forum 4

Now, follow each fill with typical ensemble (drum-chart) figures, as shown:

Teacher's Forum 5

There are many method books made up of jazz-drumming material. For elementary, and some intermediate students, books that consist of relatively simple mainstream drumming material are best. Remember, there are quite a few students who have developed sticking technique, even drum-set technique, without having developed good timing, a working knowledge of rhythm-section playing, and the mechanics and principles of drum-band interaction and improvisation. They are, therefore, still at an elementary level in regard to the fundamentals of jazz drumming, regardless of their technical skills.

Some rhythmic examples are from the book Introduction to the Drum Set #1, by Charlie Perry, published by Belwin Mills.