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Free Download: Jazz Independence Exercises

Though drum set charts provide valuable roadmaps for the stage band drummer, the specific beats and fills written out are not meant to be followed literally.

Some charts are better than others, and the better ones may provide rhythms worth practising and incorporating into the music. They will also point out where shots should be played as well as providing the unison brass rhythms that the drummer must support.

Often, this kind of support demands the development of “independence” – the ability to continue playing the cymbal ride rhythm with the right hand while the left hand on the snare and right foot on the bass drum play other rhythms. Your drummers must develop independence in order to play the ride cymbal rhythm while supporting (mimicking) the unison brass rhythms on the snare drum. (Print out my Jazz Independence Exercises to get your students started. An extremely musical approach to independence can be found in John Riley’s The Art of Bop Drumming, Warner Brothers Publications.) I recommend that the study of independence be a regular part of your students’ practise schedule, or at least a regular part of the schedule of the students who are playing in the jazz/stage band. (See the related article: The Swinging Drummer)

The most important function for a drummer, of course, is to keep good time. Often, less experienced drummers are so uptight reading the chart that their time is all over the map, throwing off the entire band. If they can’t follow the chart and keep good time, lower their stress levels and let them play by ear for a while. You may have to discuss some basic points – the rhythm for a simple Bossa nova beat, or how to play the ride rhythm with the high hat on two and four and the bass drum lightly playing quarter notes on each beat. (Note the italics on lightly – the tendency with students not familiar with the idiom is to pound the bass drum.) You’ll want to discuss the structure of the piece, eight-bar phrases, and how something as simple as a tap on the snare drum on beat four of the eighth bar can signal the end of one section and the beginning of the next.

Finally, sight reading drum breaks can be terrifying for students. They think they have to play lots of notes, and they haven’t yet developed a feel for two beat, one or four bar breaks. If a piece has a drum break, prepare your drummer for it. Simplify the break, and have your drummer play something that you have worked out. You might notice a tendency to speed up during the break. If so, suggest that they practise simple breaks using a metronome. (Watch for the upcoming article: Drum Set Fills and Soloing)

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