One of the basic skills required for playing jazz is the ability to trade fours, or improvise four-bar solos, with other members of a band. In this lesson we’ll look at some possible approaches to trading fours in 4/4 using three-, five-, and seven-beat phrases. The bass drum is omitted in this lesson, so play any kick pattern that you feel is comfortable and appropriate.

Three-Beat Groupings

Four bars of 4/4 contain sixteen beats in which to solo. Five phrases of a repeated three-beat figure in 4/4 take up fifteen beats, leaving one beat left over at the end of the phrase.

Instead of having the one-beat rest at the end of the four-bar phrase, it can be placed between any of the five three-beat figures. An example is notated in Exercise 2, but also try placing the rest between the other three-beat groupings.

To make this lesson’s examples musical, trade fours with yourself by playing four bars of jazz time between each solo.

Five-Beat Groupings

Next we’ll work with groupings of five beats. Three five-beat figures take up fifteen beats, once again leaving a one-beat rest at the end of the phrase. Just as we did with three-beat groupings, try moving the rest in between each of the five-beat phrases.

Combining Three- and Five-Beat Groupings

We can also combine three- and five-beat phrases within four-bar solos. Two three-beat figures and two five-beat figures take up a total of sixteen beats in 4/4. There are six possible permutations using this combination. Remember to trade fours with yourself by playing four bars of jazz time between each notated solo.

Trading Fours With Groups of Seven

In 4/4, two seven-beat groupings take up fourteen beats, leaving two beats to either rest or improvise at the end of the phrase. Try moving the two-beat break to different points in the following phrase.

Combining each of the three-, five-, and seven-beat figures in 4/4 takes up fifteen beats, leaving a rest that can be moved to different positions in the phrase. Experiment with moving these figures around to create different four-bar phrases. Also try developing your own four-bar solos in 4/4 that incorporate the concepts in this lesson. Have fun!

Joel Rothman is the author of nearly 100 drum and percussion books, which sell worldwide through his company, JR Publications. For more info, visit