Jazz drummer and educator John Riley’s book Beyond Bop Drumming is full of concepts that are extremely challenging yet musical. Recently, in addition to digging into many of the advanced four-way coordination concepts in John’s book, I attended multiple clinics by Steve Smith, who’s renowned for musically incorporating Indian rhythms and odd groupings into his playing. A combination of these two influences inspired this article’s concepts. We’ll focus on playing a five-note grouping in a jazz context, taking a figure and varying it several different ways against a typical jazz ride pattern.
It takes a lot of practice to become comfortable with five-note groupings, especially as they begin to cycle over the barlines. Benny Greb’s book, The Language of Drumming, provides a great introduction to playing three-, five-, and seven-note figures in more of a rock and pop groove context by fitting the groupings into one-measure phrases. This approach makes the rhythms digestible and removes some of the rhythmic illusions that these phrases can create. In these examples, however, to challenge and strengthen our phrasing and pulse over longer stretches of time, we’ll explore these concepts in four-bar phrases.
Here’s the grouping that we’ll be using in this lesson.
Now we’ll apply this grouping to the full kit. At first, leave out the bass drum and play only the snare. This creates an interesting tension and allows us to hear the five-note grouping in a different way. It’s also a good place to start developing the necessary coordination. Play the hi-hat with your foot on beats 2 and 4 throughout this lesson, unless otherwise notated.
Next, try the same grouping with the bass drum.
Now we’ll split the previous rhythm between the snare and bass drum. The first two partials of the five-note grouping are played on the snare, and the fourth partial is played on the bass drum.
The next example reverses the previous orchestration. The bass drum plays the first two notes of the original figure, and the snare plays the fourth. These two examples create an interesting rhythmic tension, and to my ears they make it harder to identify the five-note grouping as the source of this phrase.
Now let’s play the original five-note grouping with the jazz ride pattern.
Next, try reversing the snare and bass drum.
Also try replacing the bass drum with the hi-hat foot.
In the final two examples, keep the same five-note motif going, but alternate between the bass drum and hi-hat to create a challenging four-way bebop idea. Exercise 9 starts the pattern with the left foot on the hi-hat, and Exercise 10 starts with the bass drum.
Once you’re comfortable with these ideas, try them at different tempos, and rearrange the order of the notes to create new figures. You can use any combination of five-note snare and bass drum orchestrations and apply them to the previous examples to create new exercises and variations. I hope you find that practicing these exercises is as challenging and productive as I have.
Joe Bergamini teaches privately in New Jersey, runs the Sabian Education Network resource for drum instructors, and is the senior drum editor for Hudson Music. He performs regularly on Broadway and tours across the U.S. and Canada with the Doo-Wop Project.