Click to visit the Palen Music Center website

Palen Music Center Quick Note

Monday, November 4, 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.


Looking for help on a particular topic? Be sure to check out our Quick Note Catalog of back issues!

The Big Band Drummer by Ken Crisp

One of the biggest challenges I faced as a music educator was not only trying to teach junior high and high school drummers how to be jazz drummers, but how to be big band jazz drummers. It didn’t take me long to see why my high school band director and even my college jazz band director developed a nervous twitch and a receding hair line at fairly early ages. As developing musicians we seem to be drawn to the type of music that interests us the most. When I was in high school that would have been late 60’s rock music. For those of you that enjoy the oldies, you can see that listening and playing music from that era would do little to re-enforce the fundamentals of jazz that my teachers were trying to teach.

Students of today face the same problem. The music they listen to and enjoy has very little in common with big band style music that junior high and high school jazz band programs are teaching and performing. Jazz band arrangers try very hard to arrange jazz band charts to be appealing to your students, and in some cases are successful. In other cases they fall very short.

So what can we do to help guide our drummers to be big band jazz drummers in a genre that can seem foreign to them.

Job Description:

It is important for the young drummer to understand exactly what their job is in the big band setting. Drummers come to us with varied amounts of experience. Some drummers have played extensively on drum set and may even take private lessons, while others may have little or no experience, especially in the style we want them to play.

In either case, we cannot over emphasize the importance of keeping confident, consistent time. If the big band drummer does nothing else, he must keep accurate time, and above all, KEEP IT SIMPLE. The drummer must have a good grip on his or her own feel of time before they can hope to work with or lead a large ensemble. Developing this can be done in many ways. A few might include working drum beats with a metronome, playing along with big band cds, and working independently with the rhythm section. Another suggestion might be to make sure that the bass of the rhythm section is very close to the drummer. The stand up bass should be close to the drummer, or the amplifier should be close to the drummer if you are using electric bass. The drummer and bass player really need to work together, so I suggest they also practice together.

Living The Part:

The best way to understand is to experience. If the drummer never listens to or experience big band jazz, there is very little hope that he or she will be a positive contribution to the group. The drummer should take advantage of any opportunity to listen big band jazz paying particular attention to what the drummer does. This means listening to how the drummer leads the ensemble, not just listening to the flashy fills and kicks. All of that will come later as experience is gained.

Reading the Charts:

Many times big band drum charts leave much to be desired. They can range from confusing the drummer completely to having so little information that they become unusable. The drum chart should be considered only a guide to reaching the goal. Most drum charts at least give the basics of style, tempo, location of “kicks”, etc. I used to have my more experienced drummers read off of a third trumpet part. It was less confusing and most of the “kicks” are in third trumpet part.

In conclusion, the big band drummer has more responsibilities than any other player in the ensemble. Good preparation is essential. The big band drummer that understands their job, is a good student of the style, and is able to lead will be a great addition to any big band.

Ken Crisp serves as a road representative for Palen Music Center at our Liberty, Missouri location. He has been with PMC since 2003. Ken has a Bachelor of Science in Education (Music) from the University of South Dakota. He has served as a music educator for nineteen years in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa. You can contact him by email at [email protected].

Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Facebook