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Palen Music Center Quick Note

Monday, September 23, 2013


Palen Music Center is dedicated to helping children experience excellence, personal growth, and joy through involvement in music. We carry out this mission by supporting area band directors through weekly service, support, educational programs, and quality products. This weekly Quick Note newsletter strives to highlight topics that are immediately helpful in the classroom. Comments, suggestions, ideas, and articles are always welcome.


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Basics of Jazz Drumming by Micah Martin

Let’s be honest. Most band directors are not drummers. Many will even admit they don’t know a lot about drums. If you are a band director that is not a drummer and you admit to not knowing a lot about drums then this article is for you!

In a jazz band the drummer needs to be an active participant. There is more to jazz drumming than simply keeping a beat. With a little guidance you can have your drummers driving the band. As you’ll see there are no hard and fast rules to jazz drumming. What you and your drummer need to keep in mind is to serve the song. Some songs may keep your drummers very busy and others will have them keeping a simple beat. Below is a list of rules that I give new drummers in my jazz band.

Stay off the bass drum.

Most method books that teach the swing pattern make your drummers do this:

I have heard directors brag about hiding the bass drum pedal. Please don’t do that. While drummers shouldn’t keep “four-on-the-floor” throughout the entire song there are times when the bass drum is useful. Do not handicap them by saying to NEVER use the bass drum. The bass drum IS a note to be played. Just not too often!

Use the hi-hat!

Now that you’re not pumping the bass drum the standard swing beat looks like this:

Regardless of what ride cymbal pattern you are playing the hi-hat should stay on 2 and 4. This is the time-keeper. I’ll echo this in #4

If you’ve ever listened to big band music from the 1930’s and 1940’s you’ll notice a lot of hi-hat work like this:

The quarter notes open on 1 and 3 and closes on 2 and 4. This keeps the left foot tapping on 2 and 4 even when they move from the ride cymbal to the hi-hat.  Personally, this seems like a lost art. When I’m out at jazz contests I don’t hear a lot of hi-hat work. When DO you use it? If one of your selections is from the 30’s or 40’s; use it. When there is a soft ensemble shout chorus or a shout chorus with drastic dynamic changes; use it. The above pattern is not sacred. If there is a bass or piano solo have your drummer get on the hi-hat and keep it closed. They should only open it occasionally. A soft, solo, “comping” pattern might look like this:

(The slash through the circle means half open). While this looks varied and inconsistent the drummer should return to the standard swing pattern. The drummer should communicate with the soloists by playing back some of their rhythms and “comping.”

Keep track of 1.

This is crucial. You need to know where the measure starts and what part of the beat you’re on.

Stay with the bass player.

The bass player is your friend. The bass player is your friend. The drummer and bass player need to work together as a cohesive unit. The hi-hat should be locked in with the walking pattern from the bass player.

Listen to the bass player.

The bass player should be the time keeper because they are playing quarter notes 98% of the time! The hi-hat needs to be locked into that time. You do that by listening and:

Practice with the bass player.

The bass player is your friend. Make your drummer and your bass player practice together outside of rehearsals. This will make them tighter. Not only that, the entire rhythm section should have a weekly sectional.

There was semester in my college career where the jazz band had two bass players. Ben was a great bass player but we never clicked. We were never tight. We never completely lined up. Robert was also a great bass player but we were tighter. Why? We played together more. We played in another group outside of school and we knew what to expect from each other. Your rhythm section needs a symbiotic relationship!

Learn to set-up AND kick the band.

This helps to push the band dynamically. A little fill before the ensemble/section hit followed by a crash adds significantly to the music.

If the band plays this:

The drummer should do something like this:

If the drum part doesn’t have the ensemble rhythms written in simply give your drummer a copy of the lead trumpet part.
The drummer needs to drive the band dynamically. Bands that have more impact have a drummer that sets them up!

Don’t be static. (Vary ride/hat patterns).

Remember the standard swing pattern from #1 and #2? It’s not set in stone. That should be what your drummer always goes back to, but spice it up. Especially if it’s a fast swing tune they should stick with quarter notes and only add the dotted-eighth sixteenth every once in a while. For example:

Listen to other drummers.

To learn how to vary ride cymbal patterns I recommend Tony Williams when he was playing with Miles Davis. The Jamey Aebersold books have a list of musicians for each instrument. Check them out. Here’s my personal list. It encompasses some early drummers, combo, be-bop and a newer generation. Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Tony Williams, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Joe Morello, Steve Gadd, Dave Weckl, Marcus Baylor, Brian Blade.

Micah Martin
Director of Bands - Diamond, MO

Micah Martin received his bachelor's degree in Music Education from Missouri Southern State University and studied Percussion Performance at the University of New Mexico. He performed in the MSSU jazz bands under Bob Meeks and Dr. Phillip Wise. His percussion teachers include Scott Schneider, Jeremy Kushner, and Scott Ney. He is currently the Director of Bands and Choirs at Diamond High School.

Drumming and percussion questions can be emailed to: [email protected].

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