Jazz Drummer’s Workshop

Elvin Jones-Style Triplet Fills

Part 1: Creating a Rolling Melodic Feel Using Basic Stickings

by John Xepoleas

In this lesson I’m going to show you how to create high-energy Elvin Jones–style triplet fills based on common jazz rhythmic phrases, like those included in Ted Reed’s classic book Syncopation. This approach was first developed by legendary drummer and teacher Alan Dawson, and this is my spin on it. Let’s get started.

Here’s a typical four-bar syncopated phrase. We’ll use this to demonstrate how the concept works.

Jazz_Drummers_Workshop_Ex1-NEW

To begin, we’ll turn each measure into accented triplets. Where you see a quarter note written, play a triplet with an accent on the first note, using an RLL sticking.

Jazz_Drummers_Workshop_Ex2

If an 8th-note rest is followed by an 8th note, play a triplet with an accent on the last note, using an LLR or RLR sticking. (When you use the RLR sticking, the first right will be played softer than the second one.)

Jazz_Drummers_Workshop_Ex3

If two 8th notes are written, play a triplet with an accent on the first and last note, using an RLR sticking.

Jazz_Drummers_Workshop_Ex4

If a quarter-note rest is written, play unaccented triplets using an RLR or LRL sticking.

Jazz_Drummers_Workshop_Ex5

Keeping those rules in mind, let’s take the first measure from our four-bar syncopated phrase and turn it into Elvin Jones–style triplets. Here’s the original phrase.

Jazz_Drummers_Workshop_Ex6

Now here’s what that looks like with the triplets written out and with the accents added according to our rules. Practice this phrase until you’re totally comfortable with it and have it ingrained in your muscle memory.

Jazz_Drummers_Workshop_Ex7

The next step is to move the pattern around the drumset. To start, play the right-hand accents using the ride cymbal and bass drum. Play them with an aggressive feel, and make sure they’re treated as the lead parts in the pattern. Play all of the left hand notes softly on the snare.

Jazz_Drummers_Workshop_Ex8

You can also move the right hand between the snare and rack tom.

Jazz_Drummers_Workshop_Ex9

Now we’ll apply the two previous examples to create a two-bar fill played after two bars of swing time. To transition smoothly into the fill, stop the ride pattern with a quarter note on beat 4 of the second measure.

Jazz_Drummers_Workshop_Ex10-NEW

Let’s turn the entire four-bar syncopated phrase into triplets using the Elvin Jones–inspired stickings. Remember to practice the pattern until it becomes part of your muscle memory.

JDW_Ex11-NEW

Next, play the accents using the ride cymbal and bass drum.

JDW_Ex12-NEW

Now mix it up a bit and play the phrase as a four-bar fill after four bars of swing time.

JDW_Ex13-NEWEST

See you next month for the second part of this lesson series.


John Xepoleas has written two drum books, Style Studies for the Creative Drummer and Essential Drum Lessons With the Greats. He is also an active online educator. For more info, visit johnxdrums.com.