on jazz drumming

How To Start Playing Jazz Drums

by Tim Lake

how to play jazz drums - on jazz drumming

This first article serves as an outline for a syllabus for learning jazz drums. Each of these areas will be expanded upon and developed in future posts and drum lessons. The aim is to give you the fundamentals, the 20% of things you most need to focus on, that will give you the biggest rewards. That is not to say that the drum lessons I present will be simplisitic. Far from it. It is very possible to go deep, and you should, to explore on the drumset infinite complex possibilities from simple beginnings. The journey and the exploration are yours. It is my hope that I can guide you on the path to being a great jazz drummer. With that in mind, here are six things you need to work on in order to start playing jazz drums:

1.) Listen, listen, listen.

You need to listen to lots of records and also attend as many gigs as you can. This was, and in someways still is, one of my weak points. Wayne Shorter said "Listen to everything", and who are we to deny the words of one of the great jazz musicians. Although I will suggest some essential jazz records you should listen to, you should explore everything from Bach to Brubeck to Beyonce. It will deepen your musical knowledge, which in turn will transfer to how you make music on the drum set.

2.) Establish your jazz time.

Slow and steady work on the fundamental jazz drum beat. This is essential and I can't emphasize it to you enough. Even seasoned jazz drummers regularly spend time working on their jazz ride cymbal pattern. It is the foundation of good swinging time and from the cymbal everything else flows. It takes patient practice, but a steady swinging jazz beat will open the doors to great jazz drumming. Without good jazz time nothing else matters.

3.) Build your chops.

It is very important to develop strength and dexterity in your hands and feet. Focused attention on building speed and endurance with a small number of rudiments and exercises will provide you with the most reward. This will give you the fluidity to be comfortable in any drumming situation as well as to solo. However always remember that chops and technique are only a vehicle for musical expression.

4.) Work on co-ordination.

One of the great things about jazz music and jazz drumming is that it enables the performers to express themselves freely in a constant state of interactive creativity with the other musicians. To be able to do this on the jazz drum set requires a certain amount of co-ordination and independence on the drum set. Simply you need to be able to improvise with your snare drum and bass drum (and hi-hat) while maintaining that steady jazz cymbal pattern.

5.) Develop rhythmic awareness.

Jazz drummers should be the masters of rhythm. All musicians need an awareness of rhythm, but it is drummers that ought to go deeper. Even just focusing on the rhythmic possibilities contained in eight-notes, triplets and sixteenth-notes, will give you a deep rhythmic knowledge that supports your jazz drumming and a wide vocabulary for interpreting different music in your own way.

6.) Learn forms and tunes.

You are playing music, accompanying other musicians, you need to learn the forms and the tunes you will play. Learning tunes was (and still is) one of my weak points, but at the very least an understanding of the musical forms is vital for good jazz drumming. Knowing the tunes will also help you with improvising, and it is imperative that you know where you are in the chord sequence at all times will playing and soloing. Most importantly though your jazz drumming should always be connected to jazz music.


I think the most important thing though is having fun! Playing jazz drums is one the most exciting and creative forms of drumming. Enjoy exploring it and enjoy playing it.

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