Jazz Drummer’s Workshop

Beyond the Noteheads

Part 3: Varying Your Transcriptions

by Steve Fidyk

This month we’ll apply variations to some of the transcribed phrases from Part 2 of this series (March 2017). This process truly has no limits. I find that being opened-minded to practicing transcriptions with this method helps energize my practice sessions as I delve deeper into the music.

I have some university students who might spend hours transcribing only to play a transcription once in a final jury performance. I prefer to extract phrases that grab my attention from complete transcriptions and develop them creatively so that I have options at a variety of tempos and styles when improvising.

Let’s start with Harvey Mason’s classic funk groove from the Herbie Hancock tune “Chameleon.”

Once you have control of the pattern, try playing the groove in retrograde (backwards).

Also try starting the original groove on beat 3.

Let’s apply a swing ride pattern to the original transcription while converting each written 16th note to a swung 8th note and each 8th note to a quarter note.

Now try applying a displaced dotted-quarter-note hemiola pattern on the bass drum, and orchestrate the snare and bass drum rhythms around the kit using a swing feel.

Fusing Ideas and Styles

Next let’s look at the phrase Jimmy Cobb played with Miles Davis on “Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise,” from the album In Person: Saturday Night at the Blackhawk. Use the first two bars, invert them, and play this new figure as a fill with the original “Chameleon” groove.

Another fun practice idea is to reorder the measures in a phrase at random. Let’s start Jimmy Cobb’s phrase on measure 8 before playing bars 1, 5, 2, 7, 3, 6, and 4, in that order.

For coordination, try repeating the pickup rhythm from the classic Roy Haynes solo in “Snap Crackle” (from his album Out of the Afternoon) with the hi-hat foot while playing swing time on the ride, and then read the solo transcription over the hi-hat ostinato.

Now try the solo in retrograde, utilizing the same coordination application.

These are but a few creative variations. Using this method allows me to practice transcriptions in a more thorough and exhaustive way. I encourage you to try this approach with other transcriptions to come up with your own variations. Have fun!


Steve Fidyk has performed with Terell Stafford, Tim Warfield, Dick Oatts, Doc Severinsen, Wayne Bergeron, Phil Wilson, and Maureen McGovern, and he’s a member of the jazz studies faculty at Temple University in Philadelphia. For more info, including how to sign up for lessons via Skype, visit stevefidyk.com.