Last month we took a jazz melody, Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce,” and implied its melodic rhythm on the snare. This month we’ll phrase trumpet great Freddie Hubbard’s solo on “Make It Good” from the 1967 Duke Pearson album The Right Touch on the drums. First let’s recap some ideas for playing melodically on the drumset.

1. When playing a horn, higher notes are generally louder than lower notes. Use your lead hand for the higher notes and accent them.

2. Utilize diddles. Legato phrasing is more easily achieved by occasionally using double strokes as opposed to only using alternating strokes. (My lessons at artistworks.com regularly reinforce the importance of legato phrasing.)

3. If a solo seems too daunting to learn at first, try playing a simple bebop melody, such as “Billie’s Bounce” from Part 1 of this series, on the snare. If using brushes, employ dead strokes by pressing the brush into the drumhead. Also use dynamics and creative stickings to achieve the most melodic rendering.

4. Remove ornamentations, such as grace notes or appoggiaturas, from the solo to reveal the musician’s primary intention. Ornamentation is simply icing on the cake. The primary rhythmic thrust of the solo or fill can be revealed when the adornments are removed. Look for the soloist’s destination points, and listen for how the melody relates to the solo.

Now let’s check out Hubbard’s solo. Ask yourself, What’s the form? How many bars make up a chorus? Most jazz standards follow a thirty-two-bar harmonic structure that’s similar to George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,” which has an A-A-B-A structure with eight bars per section. “Make It Good” has a thirty-bar form with an A-A-B-C structure. While the A and B sections are each eight measures long, the C section is six measures. Try to identify the form when listening to the song.

Hubbard’s solo reflects a wealth of musical knowledge. It’s melodically and harmonically brilliant, and there’s plenty of rhythmic pushing and pulling of the time, which is almost impossible to notate. Hubbard adheres to all of the hallmarks of a great jazz solo—there’s swing, hipness, and wit. And his solo provides drummers with a terrific means to learn melodic expression on the drums. Be sure to check out the great Grady Tate’s drum performance on this track as well.

Here’s Hubbard’s full solo.

And here’s the solo notated for the snare.

Make a copy of this example and write down the accents and stickings that give your playing the most melodic shape. Experiment! Record yourself and listen back. Does it swing? Can you hear the melody? And remember: if you can sing it, you can swing it. I recommend that you make melodic playing a regular part of your daily practice routine.

Attentive listeners might detect an appreciable amount of sass in Hubbard’s playing. The man had some attitude, and it showed when he played. Ask yourself, How do I convey that feeling on a drum? Next month I’ll demonstrate my stickings, accents, and attitude suggestions for interpreting this solo on the drums. Have fun!


Peter Erskine is a two-time Grammy Award winner and an MD Readers Poll Hall of Famer who’s played on over 600 recordings. He is currently a professor at University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, and he teaches an online jazz drumming program at ArtistWorks.com.