Adding Color to Your Fills
Stopping a cymbal with your hand immediately after playing it creates a unique sound that I often employ in fills and grooves. This technique is referred to as a “cymbal choke,” and in this workshop we’ll explore patterns that utilize it. Be sure to scan the QR codes throughout this lesson to see video demonstrations of some of these exercises.
In the following fills, play and choke the cymbal with your left hand. As such, you’ll need a cymbal that you can easily reach with that hand. Also, play the choke in unison with the bass drum. (Throughout this workshop, the cymbal chokes are marked with an apostrophe in the notation.)
In Exercise 1, the first half of the 4/4 measure is repeated on beats 3 and 4. We’ll play the cymbal as a 16th-note pickup to this fill. For me, the first three notes at the beginning represent the most unusual part of the fill. First we’ll play the crash cymbal, then an accented snare, and then we’ll choke the sustained crash on the “e” of beat 1 while playing the bass drum in unison.
Now we’ll shorten the phrase so that it starts again from the beginning directly after the double stroke on the bass drum. This figure is now a six-note grouping that we’ll repeat over one bar.
Now play the previous figure over two measures.
As before, the first three notes at the beginning of this fill—a crash pickup, a snare accent, and a cymbal choke with the bass drum—make up its unique character. Whenever I’m inspired by a motif like this, I try to put it into other rhythmic contexts. This next example demonstrates the fill in another form as a five-note grouping, in which the first three beats are unchanged. Play the five-note grouping as a one-bar fill. I’ve included a flam at the end to give the phrase a nice conclusion.
Now play the same figure over two bars.
The next example demonstrates the fill in another form as a seven-note grouping. The first five beats are identical to the previous five-note grouping. Play the seven-note grouping as a one-bar fill.
Now play the seven-note grouping over two measures.
Finally, here’s a combination of the six-, five-, and seven-note groupings from this lesson. Play the six-note grouping twice, the five-note grouping twice, and the seven-note grouping once. We’ll also end the figure with a flam.
If you’re interested in more ideas on fills in general, check out my latest publication, Jost Nickel’s Fill Book.
Jost Nickel is a top session and touring drummer in Germany, as well as an international clinician and author who endorses Sonor, Meinl, Remo, Vic Firth, and Beyerdynamic products. For more information, visit jostnickel.com.