What are Drum Fills?
Drum fills are short, improvised drum, or drum and cymbal patterns, most often played when moving into a different section of a tune – as when a verse leads into the chorus, to name just one example.
Drum fills commonly take up anywhere from the last beat of the bar to the full bar leading into a new section of music (though they could be longer). They often end with a cymbal note on the downbeat of the first bar of the new section. I say cymbal “note” rather than “crash” because that “note” can be played as a gentle colour or a minor explosion – or anything in between – depending on the context of the music*. Fills can be rhythmically complex, but they are often simple statements. However, the goal is always to serve the music, to move it forward without drawing attention away from it.
*Note that when a fill ends on a floor tom note, it is easier – especially at quicker tempos – to play the downbeat cymbal note on the ride cymbal rather than a crash cymbal usually placed to the left of the drum set.
Challenges Playing Drum Fills
Students often have difficulty placing the drum fill accurately within the bar. For example, the two-beat drum fill that starts off on beat three might mistakenly extend well beyond the downbeat of the following bar.
To help students internalize the timing and execution of fills, we’re going to start off practising the placement of 2-beat drum fills.
The Music Download
In the PLAYING TWO-BEAT FILLS DOWNLOAD, you’ll find two, 2-bar exercises consisting of “Basic Rhythm #1” and “Basic Rhythm #2”.
Each Basic Rhythm is a fill written over the last two beats of the second bar. However, we’re going to build on that rhythm, and give it further interest by orchestrating it over the other drums. The subsequent orchestrations “b”, “c”, “d” and “e” – played among the snare and 2 or 3 toms – are only four of many possible orchestrations of that original, snare drum rhythm.
By playing and creating orchestrations in this manner, students will explore and internalize ways of getting around the drum set while solidifying their time feel.
On page 3, you’ll find 6 more “basic rhythms” with which students can create their own orchestrations.
Students can watch all of THE ORCHESTRATIONS ON VIDEO HERE, and practise them along with me.
Of course, there are endless possibilities when it comes to playing drum fills, and students should expand on the ideas presented here to explore fills of different note values – such as eighth-note or sixteenth-note triplets, 32nd notes, etc., as well as combinations of those note values, and fills of longer and shorter duration.
Explore The Band Teacher’s Percussion Guide: Insights into Playing and Teaching Percussion (Oxford University Press)