Fundamental Fills

Part 3: Right-Hand Lead

by Donny Gruendler

During the 1980s and ’90s, fusion monster Dave Weckl and session master John “JR” Robinson, among others, revived the silky smooth right-hand-lead 16th-note fills that were previously made famous by studio greats Steve Gadd and Bernard Purdie. Today these fundamental yet sophisticated fills have regained popularity in the playing of contemporary drummers like Anika Nilles, Chris Coleman, and Daru Jones.


This month’s installment of Basics will help you develop right-hand-lead fills on the snare and around the drumset. The following exercises build upon part one of this series and should open many creative doors for your own ideas.

Right-Hand Lead
Let’s work though a series of 16th-note right-hand-lead fill ideas alongside our 16th-note ostinato. Here’s the main pattern.

Right-hand Lead 1

The following one-measure fill fragments show the accent pattern that the right hand will be playing once we start creating our phrases.

Right-hand Lead 2

Fill Creation
Here’s a demonstration of how to work through each fill fragment alongside the main pattern. First, pick one measure from Exercise 2. In this case we’ll use bar 1.

Right-hand Lead 3

Using a metronome set to 80 bpm with an 8th-note subdivision, play snare rimshots for each of the six accented 16th notes, and fill in each unaccented 16th note with the left hand. Continue the quarter-note pulse from the main ostinato with the feet. Put together, the exercise looks like this.

Right-hand Lead 4

Once the previous steps are comfortable, freely move each of the six accented 16th notes around the drums. Here’s one voicing.

Right-hand Lead 5

Also try playing the accents with the cymbals and bass drum. The hi-hat foot will continue playing beats 2 and 4 as it did in the main ostinato.

Right-hand Lead 6

Follow this same procedure with another fill fragment. In this case we’ll use measure 4 from Exercise 2.

Right-hand Lead 7

Again, using a metronome set to 80 bpm with an 8th-note subdivision, play snare rimshots on each accent, and fill in unaccented 16th notes with the left hand. Remember to continue the main ostinato’s foot pattern.

Right-hand Lead 8

Once that’s comfortable, move the accents around the drums.

Right-hand Lead 9

Here’s another voicing.

Right-hand Lead 10

Finally, place the accents on the cymbals along with the bass drum. The hi-hat remains on beats 2 and 4. Repeat this process for each fill fragment.

Right-hand Lead 11

Fill Practice
Once you’re comfortable with the previous exercises, pick any groove within your repertoire and practice fills using the method below. To start, play three bars of time and then a fill in measure 4. The following exercise demonstrates this method using the fourth measure of Exercise 2.

Right-hand Lead 12

Once that’s comfortable, orchestrate the exercise around the drums. Here’s an example. Repeat this process for each fill fragment.

Right-hand Lead 13

Although the orchestrations and variations you can create using these ideas are endless, try to remain within the confines of the concepts discussed in this lesson. The goal is to develop commanding, confident, and consistent fills. Best of luck, and have fun!

Donny Gruendler is a Los Angeles–based drummer and president of Musicians Institute in Hollywood. He can reached at [email protected].