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How do I get better at "ad lib" drumming (or whatever you call it)?

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Hi all!

 

I've been drumming for about two and a half years and am doing pretty well - I'm not a prodigy or anything but it's going well. I enjoy learning songs and playing along to those and have built up a pretty substantial repertoire of those. However I find myself really wishing that I could be better at playing along with songs I don't know and don't have sheet music for. I've jammed with a friend of mine a couple times and I did okay, but I kept it pretty safe...was scared to try too many fills..and the fills I do know aren't exactly impressive. Does anybody have any tips or stories or ideas about progressing as a drummer in this aspect? I would love to be in a band someday but I just don't think I have good enough skills to come up with cool/interesting accompaniment on the fly.

 

Thanks! :)

Kristen

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My advice wold be to relax and enjoy yourself.

if you think about it too much it won't sound natural and if you do make mistakes, don't worry because not everyone will notice.

:D

SBD

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For your first band, you need to be a good timekeeper first and foremost. When you start practicing with a band you will play those tunes so many times that the "innovation" will just happen. Once in a band do some crap recordings of yourselves, nothing fancy, just good enough that you can play along with it during your private practice time. Then experiment!

 

In the mean time, perhaps try this. Get yourself going with the metronome doing whatever genre you are into. Play three measures of the basic beat, then mess around with the fourth. The important thing is that you are right on the mark when you start measure one again. One of the things that helped me with this is (sayings its 4/4), use a quarter note for one beat, two eighths for another, a triplet for another and a 4 16ths for the last one, all this on the snare. Mix their order up as you get them down. Once you are comfortable with any and all combinations then start dropping notes out (like the second 1/8th note or the middle of the triplet). Got that down, start moving your hands around the kit. Presto! Fills! And about a million of them...

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Mdainsd, sound advice for sure.

 

Always serve the song. Drummers should not drown out the music nor take attention away from the whole musical idea.

Keep the time and think of fills as attention getters for both the musicians to help them figure out the chord progression and the audience to perk them up to what is coming next.

Don't play a fill just to play it which can really mess with the overall groove.

Do not play it to be the center of attention or to show off.

Some types of music are more fill-forgiviing like some rock songs.

Use a fill between musical phrases. These in betweens are not alway every 4 bars.

Fills can "fill" holes in the music but every hole does not always need or want to be filled either.

Fills, ad lib, embellishments can be very simple and really fit the song.

They can bring attention to a section or another instrument.

They can be a simple as one bass beat or 2 snare hits. Half a bar, a full bar, 2 bars. An offbeat snare crack, a cymbal strike.

2 1/2 years playing is still early. Keep at it. Close your eyes and listen while you play.

Are you drowning out the whole point of the song with your fills or is the song begging for a little embellishment?

Less is more in my world. Serve the song.

Whatever you do, make sure you can make it back to the "1" or at least keep everyone apprised of where the heck it is. lol.

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One of my first auditions I was accused of "too many fills". The horror! >:D

 

Fast forward to starting with the band that Im with now. while just fooling around jamming and working out arrangements we started dumping all the drum fills into one number, that we referred to as "the fill song". Figuring we could always come back and harvest cool fills for other songs. Well that damned song kept evolving. finally settled on four fills repeating for the verses three others being used in bridges. The vocalist brought it to life and it became one of our favorites, now called "(Shes dead, but) She said Yes" LOL.

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You can get away with just about anything when the volume is super loud and distorted.

One of the best songs I ever heard from the late sixties with regard to drums and guitar from the perspective of me at 13 or so was this one.

It had it all. Fill city.

 

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Hello Kristen and welcome to OLD.   Your post relates to an issue I'm having at the moment.  

 

I play in a covers band. I learn the songs including the fills and don't usually have to bother with coming up with anything fill-wise on the fly so to speak.  However, one of the songs in our set (4/4 rock number) is specifically for the guitarist to solo for as long as he likes. It really requires me to do something more than just keep the beat and I have  difficulty with improvising in 4/4.   I've been taking the volume down and up as appropriate, and hitting a crash when he's going for a high note, and other than that I play safe with either 8th notes on the floor tom and snare, or just a half bar 16th note roll on the snare.   Which sounds pretty lame when the solo goes on for something like four minutes !  Like you, I get scared and just want to play it safe.

 

For some reason I don't have a problem with triplet fills for a shuffle rhythm.   I have a "repertoire" of them, they come naturally.  So  my goal at the moment is to come up with a fairly small repertoire of 4/4 fills that I can memorise and hopefully throw in at appropriate places in the solo.   I'm going to jot them down to have an "aide memoire" when we get to that number and I'm HOPING that as I get more comfortable with them I'll be able to vary them up a bit, as mdainsd suggests.

 

Good luck and I'd be interested to know how you get on.

 

And PS: it's true that in my experience bands are generally interested in someone who has good timing and is steady, and doesn't constantly speed up.   If you go for a covers band ... well, like I said you just learn the songs.  And for an originals band you'll probably have time to work out something to fit their songs.   I wouldn't hold back from joining a band just because you don't feel comfortable with improvising at the moment. 

 

 

 

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Depending on the type of music, one extra note can be a wonderful fill.

Listen to this double snare hit at the end of every second bar. It brings attention and assits in keeping the time without overplaying it:

 

 

In my humble opinion, Steve Gadd is the epitome of appropriate drumming. Immerse ourself in anythiing Mr. Gadd for a bit knowing full well that he is probably the most sought after drummer out there. There is a reason for that. He serves the music and never overplays it. Less can truly be more.

 

I realize the majority of drummers in here are rockers but the rules still apply. Serve the music always.

You guys get away with being a lot busier because it serves the music. There is nothing wrong with that.

I absolutely Love watching a busy drummer too.

 

Dave Weckl has the most amazing rock solid time keeping skills at speed and I have a lot of respect for what he can do and really enjoy watching him play but I think he goes a bit to far fitting too much into the space at times. I think I own every DVD and book Mr. Weckl produced so I am certainly not disrespecting him at all.

 

John Bonham always seemed to get back right on the 1. The 1 is important. Whatever you do, don't lose the 1.

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Hey Kristen,

 

First off, kudos for starting drums as an adult. Learning an instrument as an adult is tough. Most adult students I get don't last a year. Even though adults are more capable mentally and physically, it's just much harder to have a job and other commitments and make time to practice daily.

 

I agree with mdainsd's and OLD Big Cheese's suggestions, which both allude to this one.

 

Ad Lib

So you're asking about developing the ability to create your own drum parts on-the-fly. Ad lib is a good term for what you're describing. Drumming is made up of key elements: coordinations, rhythms, techniques, and styles. Developing the ability to ad lib requires that you master and accumulate a variety of these elements so that you can use them in various amalgamations as needed to suit the situation at hand.

 

Join a Band

This is my primary piece of advice for learning to ad lib. You mentioned wanting to play in a band someday. My advice is: do it now. I'll explain why I think this is important and a great way to achieve your goal.

 

Being in original bands was the single greatest development tool for me as a drummer. Nothing else could have been so effective in helping me find my own voice and establish my confidence in creating my own drum parts.

 

And it happened without even realizing it. I was just playing the drum parts I felt the songs needed. Not always instantaneously. There's a certain amount of tweaking when the song is new, but before long, you settle into the parts that work.

 

Years later I was able to look back and realize what a leap forward playing in bands gave me. Knowing key elements made it possible, but it's amazing how being in that first band gave me a command over making my own drum parts.

 

Find a Band Looking for a Drummer

It doesn't matter much how good the band is. If they have songs and can play them start to finish, they're good enough. In an original band, at least one of the members needs to be a natural song-writer. She needs to write guitar riffs or songs prolifically. Without such a member, the band won't have a supply of songs to learn and will dissolve.

 

If the other band members are better than you, you'll benefit from their musical maturity. If you're better than them, it's a serious confidence booster, and a great stepping stone to your next band.

 

How to Find the Right Band… Let Them Find You

Find bands that want to audition drummers. They'll either have you prepare for the audition or just see what you can do when you show up. You want an audition so the band can decide if you are what they want. If you're not what they're looking for (or not good enough), they won't offer you the position. If they do offer you the position, it means they like you and either think you're good enough or are willing to help you get there.

 

Most large cities have websites for bands seeking musicians.

 

Tip: Don't worry about not being good enough. Worst case is they find a replacement and you look for another band. If you're nice, work hard, and are honest with them, they're not going to defame you if it doesn't work out.

 

I remember the first several practices with my first band. My forearms got so fatigued I could barely keep up, or keep playing. If I had been practicing on my own, I would have stopped for a break. Before joining the band, I had spent a lot of time practicing, but I never pushed myself to play the fast cymbal rhythms for so long. That's some serious muscle-building.

 

Key: Practice with the band weekly.

A key to achieving your goal by playing in a band is the rigorous practice schedule bands have. By rigorous I mean once a week for 2 hours, every week.

 

Why I Think You're Ready

You've learned a bunch of songs. That means you've been exposed to a variety of songs and learned the beats. Feel free to borrow from the beats you've learned from your repertoire, or stuff you've made up while practicing alone. I recall more that once finding a place for a beat I'd made up while practicing on my own.

 

You'll find that most guitar riffs aren't that different from other guitar riffs you've heard. When you hear them, you'll naturally have ideas of drum parts that will fit. Sometimes the beat will be blatantly obvious, other times it will require some experimentation. It's normal, when a band-member introduces a new song, for the band to try different things and see what fits. This is perfect for what you are trying to achieve.

 

After 1 year of snare drum lessons, I got a drum set. One year later, I joined a punk band. This is about where you are, but I feel like you're a bit ahead. 1.) I'd only been on drum set for one year where you've been on it for two-and-a half. 2.) I had only learned from books where you've learned by playing along with songs, which is more like playing with a band.

 

How to Prepare to Audition and Be In a Band

You've already prepared by learning a bunch of songs. That's huge. However, those are songs you already knew. Auditioning and playing for an original band means you'll have to create drum parts for songs you've never heard before. (Exactly what you want to get better at; and exactly what will help you do so.)

 

Jamming with your friend is great. Another great tool is called drum play-alongs: songs without drums designed for drummers to play along with. You can find a bunch of free ones on Youtube. Just find some that appeal to you and have at it.

 

I've been teaching drums for 23 years. Each student is different, so follow advice that appeals to you. You can judge whether an approach is working for you. Feel free to ask any questions, big or small, here or through Sheboygan Drums.

Best!

Jamison

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^^^

 

I enjoyed joining my band as the obvious "weak link". It made me want to practice and try all the harder! I could not agree more that joining a band and playing with and collaborating with them has done more for my learning than anything else, period. The blasted metronome coming in second :-( LOL.

 

Now I drive the ship! If the damned vocalist is yammering on too long between songs, I just count off right over him! Its great! I liken being the drummer in a band to being the drum beater in the back of one of those Roman galleys of war. "I've got good news and bad news for you boys. The good news is, double rations for lunch! The bad news is the Emporer wants to go water skiing this afternoon,,,"

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I really envy you folks in bands. My old arm wouldn't take two sets on a good day.

 

Outside of fills, as far as ad libbing goes for solos which can be just a few bars up to far too long, think of it as a conversation.

Call and response.

Music is what feelings sound like. Convey the feelings. Benny Greb gets it. Join the "conversation when appropriate" (fillls, accents, crashes) don't interrupt right?

Keep it within the context of the song. Filling all over the place for no reason is like a kid on a suger high running around the couch.

 

Here is a great little clip by Benny Greb that explains the conversation concept although he has put out some great full DVDs on the subject and other stuff. Watch it all. There are some good words in there:

 

 

If you have an hour and a half to kill, this is a great eye opening video from Benny (time well spent):

 

 

Oops, I was playing along on my desk with the 6 minute intro and yet ano0ther screw fell out of the top onto the floor.

I like Benny's point of view which I share totally. I wish I had the chops to get it done better.

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Just wanted to add a word about "going back to the 1".   I have on occasions had a go at ad libbing a fill and part way through I just KNOW that fill ain't going where I thought it would, and I freeze.   But I NEVER miss getting back on the 1.    Just hit the crash on 1, and everyone will think that fill was what it was supposed to be.  (I have learned not to grimace when that happens!  It adds to the illusion!)

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Never let them see you sweat!

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I can't remember where I heard this, or who said it.  But, "If you make a mistake while playing drums, do it again in the same spot so people think it was on purpose."

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Drummers are their own worse critics.

 

I am amazed at the lack of listening skills that the average concert/show goer has in relation to the drums.

 

They get the singer and they get the guitar (lead at least).

 

But the drums? Usually not a clue/

 

At a show recently where a few in front of me where exclaiming just how good the drummer was. He might have been, I couldnt tell, the house had the snare and tom mics off, it was all bass and cymbals. 

 

\m/

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Interesting point mdainsd. When I got back into drums about 10 years ago, I was almost appalled at what it did to my listening to music. I was always trying to pick out the drums and it kind of ruined music for me a bit while opening an interesting door.

The last 4 years without a kit got me into guitar a fair bit.

Now I can hear all the instruments again. Weird phenomena.

I think I've only played guitar once since I got this stop gap kit a month or more ago.

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I can't remember where I heard this, or who said it.  But, "If you make a mistake while playing drums, do it again in the same spot so people think it was on purpose."

 

This works! 

 

I drum a lot on my own and a lot without music to either play along to or manuscript to follow.  I think I started doing it a few years after I started drumming, once I was comfy with the kit and where I could go.  I started creating rhythms in my head and trying to recreate them with my hands and feet and you can have so much fun doing this.

 

Be comfy, be confident, be happy with what you are playing, the beats will flow from you.  Keep your inspirations varied so you are exposed to all kinds of dumming styles to encourage and drive you on.

 

Experiment, imagine and express yourself - spending time alone with a kit is possibly the best way to learn how to free up around the drums.  

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I find a great way to practice fills is to just play a regular beat for 1 1/2 or 3 bars depending on the time signature and then play a different fill each time you get to the 3rd bar (or bar and a half). I always include 10 or 15 minutes of that each time I sit at the kit. Hit the kick on the one. 3/4 time or something with a triplet feel is great for practicing triplet fills too. Less is more.

The more you practice that, the better you'll find the one and your embellishments will thank you.

I mostly just play along to music and if I get bored, I'll use that as a metronome and beat/fill the whole song for practice.

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