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Guide to Playing Jazz Drums

By Joseph, published on 27/08/2018 Blog > Music > Drums > A Guide to Jazz Drumming

“To get your playing more forceful, hit the drums harder.” – Keith Moon

In jazz drumming, you have to be more nuanced in your approach More people like jazz than you’d first think. Generally, it’s the older generations that prefer it. It’s because of jazz that drummers exist as they do today.

Jazz made the drummer an important part of the band and put a focus on the rhythm and drum beat.

So how can you play jazz drums?

In this article, we’re going to look at what’s so special about this music genre and how the drums make it what it is.

What Is Jazz?

Jazz was born in the 20th century in the United States and has Afro-American roots. It came from gospel music and religious hymns used in ceremonies.

When was jazz music created? During your drum tutorials, you might cover the fascinating history of jazz music. (Source: tatlin)

Following a boom in brass bands, jazz sprung up in New Orleans. There were several influential eras in the history of jazz:

  • Swing in the 1930s with a trumpet and trombone.
  • Bebop in the 1940s which were quicker.
  • Cool jazz and hard bob in the 1950s.
  • Free jazz in the 1950s which broke away from standard jazz conventions (saxophone, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, etc.)

Jazz has continued to evolve other the years with musicians like Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, Buddy Rich, and Weather Report. Latin jazz, jazz rock, and jazz funk appeared.

Freedom is at the heart of jazz music. Jazz is seen as an uncompromising musical style. Some musicians consider it the creme de la creme and only for the very best musicians in the world.

Jazz music is a great way to broaden your musical horizons, experience new ways to drum and have fun playing interesting music. It’s also great for improving your creativity as it requires a lot of improvisation.

This doesn’t mean that a jazz drummer has to constantly be doing drum solos but rather that all the musicians need to be listening to one another. Thus, even though you can find sheet music for jazz, it’s more about the group and how they improvise. That’s what makes a lot of people think jazz is inaccessible to many.

Jazz drummers, saxophonists, guitarists, bassists, and pianists can all have a lot of fun when they play with other jazz musicians. However, before you start improvising, you need a good understanding of the fundamentals.

Brushes: The Drumstick of Choice for Jazz Musicians

In jazz music, drummers often prefer to use brushes rather than traditional sticks. Metal or plastic brushes are used instead of wooden drumsticks.

How do you use drumsticks and brushes? Jazz music often uses brushes rather than your typical drumstick. (Source: StockSnap)

While jazz appears to be unplanned, rhythm and timing play an important role. You can hardly compare a jazz drummer to a rock drummer and a jazz drum kit looks different to a rock one.

Brushes allow you to express ideas you can’t with traditional drumsticks and you’ll need to learn to play with them if you really want to become a master of your instrument. They first appeared in the 1920s as a way to decrease the noise created by snare drums. This is because jazz was first played in small venues and rooms.

Brushes allow you to play more quietly. They’re very useful for ghost notes. These notes are soft strokes on the snare drum.

You’ll find tonnes of different types of brushes in a drum shop: retractable brushes, metal or plastic brushes, woven metal brushes, etc. Light drumsticks are useful for those just starting out because brushes require a drumming technique that a lot of new drummers won’t be familiar with.

Jazz Drumming Technique

Jazz technique can be tricky for beginners. First and foremost, you need to have good rhythm and timing. It might be a good idea to start out with rock music first as the drum beats are better suited to a beginner.

How much do jazz drumming tutorials cost? While other musicians might steal the spotlight, the drummer is probably the most important musician in jazz music. (Source: SocialButterflyMMG)

However, for those wanting to get started with jazz music, it’s recommended that you start with blues music, which is a great way to prepare yourself for jazz rhythms.

No need for perfection when you first start learning. Jazz is for everyone and there’s nothing stopping you playing it just for fun. You mightn’t become a jazz master, but that mightn’t be why you’re learning the drums. You just have to get started with learning how to play the drums!

Triple Meter

Jazz is often in a triple meter. This means that each beat is divided into threes. You usually count a jazz beat like:

“1-and-a-2-and-a-3-and-a-4-and-a”

A jazz beat accentuates the first and third triplet of each beat. These beats are swung to create what we call the shuffle feel. It’s essential that you’re familiar with music theory if you want to know how to play jazz music.

Mastering the Drive

Percussion instruments (such as the drums) guide the other instruments. This is even truer when it comes to jazz music. You need to drive the group.

If there’s one thing you have to remember about jazz music, it’s that the drummer is essential. The drummer drives the group with the aptly named ride cymbal. It plays alongside the bass and double bass.

If you want to keep a big band together, you’ll need to carefully work the ride. This allows you to keep time.

Chabada

Chabada is when you play triplets on the ride cymbal. You do this with your right hand and replace the regular beats you’d find in a binary rhythm such as the Charleston rhythm.

Jazz rhythm can be counted in standard time (4 beats). In rock, the rhythm is binary. In jazz, the four beats are counted differently. The spacing is regular.

I’d recommend carefully listening to jazz music to get an idea of this, especially if you’re not familiar with it. It’s not entirely obvious at first. This allows more freedom for each limb. When you first start, just use the ride cymbal.

Why not learn how to write music for the drums?

Using the Hi-hat

Freedom is very important in jazz, especially in terms of your right hand and left foot. While the right-hand plays the ride cymbal, your left foot can open the hi-hat on the 2nd and 4th beats.

You lift your foot to open it and put it down to close it.

You can also count “1, 2 and 3, 4 and…”

  • 1: Ride cymbal
  • 2: Ride cymbal and hi-hat
  • “And”: Ride cymbal
  • 3: Ride cymbal
  • 4: Ride cymbal and hi-hat
  • “And”: Ride cymbal
  • Repeat.

Set your metronome to 60bpm and practice until you get it right. Then set it to 120bpm once you’re getting the hang of it.

This forms the foundation of jazz drumbeats.

The other drums, such as the toms and bass drum, are played in a ternary rhythm on the first and third triplet of each beat in the measure.

Advanced Jazz Drumming: Adding the Bass Drum and the Snare

Of course, the drums are more than just the ride and hi-hat.

Where can you learn to play jazz drums? Jazz drumming can sometimes be more complicated than it first seems. (Source: nadfrank)

Jazz drumming uses all four limbs independently:

  • Right hand: ride cymbal
  • Left foot: hi-hat
  • Left hand: snare
  • Right foot: bass drum

Once you can keep time with the ride and hi-hat, you can add the bass drum and the snare to get more of a jazz feeling.

Here are some examples:

  • 1st Measure
    • 1: Ride cymbal and bass drum
    • 2: Ride cymbal and hi-hat
    • “And”: Ride cymbal and snare
    • 3: Ride cymbal
    • 4: Ride cymbal and hi-hat
    • “And”: Ride cymbal
  • 2nd Measure
    • 1: Ride cymbal
    • 2: Ride cymbal and hi-hat
    • “And”: Ride cymbal
    • 3: Ride cymbal
    • 4: Ride cymbal and hi-hat
    • “And”: Ride cymbal

The second measure is there to give us more of a jazz feeling. The snare is played offbeat, which might seem strange to those used to playing binary rhythms like those found in rock music.

The bass drum is only struck lightly. We’re looking for nuance over power.

Make sure you keep time whilst doing this exercise.

Again, start at 60bpm before moving onto 120bpm.

If jazz isn’t your thing, have you consider learning to play metal or rock?

Jazz Drumming Glossary

You’ll not be able to improvise until you’ve been practising jazz drumming for a few months or years (in some cases). That said, you should still be familiar with some of the terminology.

Rim Shot

This is when the drumstick hits the rim of the drum rather than the skin. After playing drums for a bit, you’ll probably come across this in your drum lessons.

Groove

Repetitive rhythm which repeats with a few variations in order to keep time.

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