Creative Combinations for Fills

This workshop is dedicated to what I refer to as hand and foot rolls, a particularly powerful and interesting way to orchestrate single-stroke rolls. Be sure to check out the QR codes throughout this lesson for links to video demonstrations of some of these patterns.

To dig into this concept, first play a single-stroke roll between your right hand and right foot. In terms of coordination, this can be quite difficult at first and can take a long time to learn. But it also can be a great concept to integrate into your playing.

Let’s start with preliminary exercises utilizing triplets. The right hand starts the roll and plays the floor tom. In Exercises 1 and 2, only play the right hand in the first bar. Add the bass drum in the second measure without changing the leading hand’s accented figure. I don’t play the following four preliminary examples within grooves, as they’re purely technical exercises.

Once you’re comfortable with Exercise 3, add the left hand on the rack tom, as notated in the second and third lines of Exercise 4. In the second line, play the rolls with the left hand on the rack tom, rather than the right hand. In the third line, play the rolls with both hands alternating and with accents on every beat.

Now let’s explore different ways of combining the hand and foot roll with figures you might already be familiar with. To make it easier to integrate this concept into my playing, I’ll often play a figure or motif that ends with a single bass drum stroke. The figure you see on beat 1 of the following example is a common one. Play this fill after three or seven bars of a groove.

In Exercise 6 we’ll create a longer phrase by repeating the first three beats of the previous fill until two bars are complete. Play this fill after two or six bars of groove.

When playing fills using 16th-note triplets, one powerful way of phrasing is to organize the triplets into six- and three-note groupings. In Exercise 7, the hand and foot roll plays the six- note grouping. We’ll use a R-L-F combination for the three-note grouping.

Exercise 8 demonstrates one possible combination of six- and three-note groupings. Combining these two groupings can be a simple yet powerful idea, as the six-note grouping alternates between the pulse and off beats when combined with three-note groups. Here we’ll use that phrasing to create a fill that utilizes the hand and foot roll.

When practicing Exercises 5, 6, and 8, you can also play the hand and foot roll between your left hand and foot, or use both hands as in Exercise 4.

If you’re interested in learning more about phrasing options or ideas on fills in general, please check out my latest book, 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