In the July, 1984 MD, in the Ask A Pro column, a reader asked Steve Smith about a fill Steve played on the Journey song “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart).” The notation looked like this:
Now, if you were like many of my students, the notation might have seemed confusing to you. Actually, that same fill could have been written as follows:
To get a fix on how this sounds, isolate the snare notes and you get:
Once you maintain this key pattern with the right hand, it is relatively simple to fill in the rest of the notes.
What Steve was employing in the performance and writing of this fill is a rhythmical device called artificial groupings. As ominous as that sounds, you are probably quite familiar with a very common artificial grouping: the triplet. A triplet is a group of three notes of equal value played in the same time value as two of the same notes. Similarly, a quintuplet is a group of five notes of equal value played in the same time value as four of the same notes. In this article, we will see how many drummers today are utilizing artificial groupings to create fills that are contemporary, unorthodox, and fresh.
One more item should be explained before we continue. Look at example 1 again. The ratio 4:3 simply indicates that the four triplet patterns are to be played evenly in the same time value as three quarter notes. This is another example of artificial grouping. If you have examples 1 and 2 down by now, let’s look at some variations.
Example 4 also makes use of the 4:3 grouping. Look at the first group of four 16th notes. Play that figure repeatedly until it is mastered. Now, go back to example 3 and get locked into that pattern, playing each note with the right hand. Now try example 4, equally reapportioning and placing the 16th-note groups against the key pattern in example 3. In other words, the snare notes in example 4 should coincide with the snare notes in example 3. Remember, those aren’t “true” 16th notes we are dealing with now. Those are 16th notes, artificially grouped.
Now that you have the hang of it, let’s put a twist on it. Example 5 is basically the same fill as example 4, but with a double stroke on the first two 16th notes of each group:
Let’s move on with an often-played fill that Neil Peart utilizes.
Do you see what is happening here? First, master the basic triplet riff, until you can play it smoothly. Now look at example 7 for the key pattern: 8th-note triplets (all RH) on a tom-tom. Now go back to the 16th-note triplets, and condense them within the framework of the 8th-note triplets. You’re simply tripling the triplets!
Let’s move on to one of my favorite fills.
Example 8 is another fill utilizing the tripling of triplets. Example 9 gives you the RH key pattern. Use a RLL triplet sticking on example 8.
Example 10 is basically the same rhythm as example 8, but with a Swiss triplet (RRL) sticking.
Finally, let’s look at two fills employing quintuplets. If you have difficulty playing quintuplets in the first place, try this exercise for a while to become familiar with them:
In example 12, the quintuplet is a little unorthodox, being distributed among both hands and feet, but it works.
In example 13, the first three 8th notes of each quintuplet are now doubled. I hope this look at fills with artificial groupings gives you some insight into a technique many influential drummers are using.