Rock ‘N’ Jazz Clinic

The Odds Are in Your Favor

Three-, Five-, and Seven-Note Fills

by Mark Powers

Searching for a way to break out of the old four-16th-notes-per-drum rut when playing fills? Applying odd note groupings can equip you with some fresh ideas that also sound very hip. This article will explore a few ways to incorporate three-, five-, and seven-note phrases into your arsenal of fills.

THREES FOR MOMENTUM
Phrasing in threes can imply an overlapping triplet meter, and it can create a sense of urgency by making a fill feel as though it’s gradually getting more ahead of the beat. To ensure that you stay locked to the original pulse, practice all of these exercises while maintaining quarter notes on the hi-hat with your foot. This will keep you aware of where the beat is and will provide you with an added independence challenge.

Practice each example slowly, count out loud, and be sure to use a metronome. You should also play the patterns along to your favorite recordings, to give you an idea of what the parts feel like in a musical context.

Start by feeling where every third 16th note falls in a standard measure of 4/4.

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You can voice the three-note phrase around the drumset in many ways. For starters, simply move the right-hand accents to the floor tom and the left-hand accents to the high tom. This pattern works perfectly as a fill within a standard rock beat.

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Now incorporate the right foot by substituting every third note with a bass drum.

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Let’s go back to the snare drum, but instead of accenting every third 16th note, we’ll play two 32nd notes.

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When you’re comfortable with that, move some, or all, of the notes to the toms or other parts of the drumset.

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Now insert a bass drum in place of every third 16th note. This is a classic Steve Gadd–style lick that all drummers should have in their bag of tricks.

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STRETCH IT OUT
Now let’s move on to five-note phrases. Begin on the snare drum, accenting every fifth 16th note in a measure of 4/4. To stay aware of where each beat falls, practice playing quarter notes on the hi-hat with your foot.

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As we did with the threes, try voicing the pattern around the drumset by moving the right-hand accents to the floor tom and the left-hand accents to the high tom.

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To get the right foot involved, replace every fifth note with a bass drum.

 

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The five-note phrase also works well for triplet-based fills.

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Another option is to break the five-note phrase into smaller sections. Accenting the first and third notes gives you a 2+3 feel.

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Instead of always using an alternating hand pattern, try applying various sticking combinations. Here’s Example 11 with the accents played with the right hand while the left hand fills in the unaccented notes.

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Again, move the accents around the set to develop some fun and slightly odd-sounding fills. Note that this sticking causes the left hand to play the downbeat following the fill.

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One of my favorite five-note applications involves a sticking that my friend and teacher Marvin Dahlgren (coauthor of 4-Way Coordination) calls the “paradiddle-one” (RLRRL). When used as a variation within a paradiddle-based groove, it creates the feeling that you’ve modulated into a slower rhythm for a short time. Notice the inclusion of a paradiddle-diddle (RLRRLL) at the end. This allows the right hand to land on the downbeat at the beginning of the next measure, in order to smoothly transition back into the original beat.

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CHOPPING UP SOME SEVENS
Since the seven-note phrases are longer, you can make them more clear by dividing them into smaller sections. Accenting the first, third, and fifth notes creates a 2+2+3 feel. (Note that each measure of 4/4 will have two seven-note groupings and a single grouping of two 16ths.)

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Here’s that same pattern with the right-hand accents voiced on the floor tom and the left-hand accents on the high tom.

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Rather than using an alternating sticking, play all of the accents from Example 15 with the right hand, while letting the left hand fill in the unaccented notes.

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Again, move the accents around the drumset.

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To mix things up, you can move the two extra 16th notes to other places in the measure. Here’s 7+2+7.

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Finally, try exploring different ways to interpret the seven-note groupings between the hands and feet using 16ths and triplets, or by doubling up each note to create a 32nd-note fill.

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Mark Powers is a percussionist and educator residing in Portland, Oregon. For more info, visit powerspercussion.com.