Help, I'm treading water


Silver Member
I am in a college jazz combo this semester. (6pc: Kit, Bass, Keys, Guitar, Sax and Trumpet)

I have been playing drums for 7 years, with a lot of live performance experience, but mostly in Rock/Church music. I also played percussion in the concert and marching bands in high school. Last time I played in a jazz band was 8th grade.

I love jazz, but just don't have a lot of jazz playing experience. Today in class our instructor called me out for playing 1 and 3 on the kick in a pretty straightforward swing piece. He didn't do it in a mean way, but I felt pretty stupid - that's just what my experience had led me to do. Our instructor is the head of jazz studies here, so I'm sure he knows what he's talking about.

I guess jumping into this combo I've been shown how ignorant I am on some of this (I did give the instructor full disclosure on my drumming experience in the audition, so he knows my level of experience)

I am planning on meeting with him to talk about my role and what I need to do to fit and serve the group well, but in the meantime, what advice can you give me? Any tidbits of wisdom? Suggestions on concepts and theory? Have you been in a similar situation?


Silver Member
Talking to him is surely the best idea; you'll get an idea of what he's after.

However, if you're looking to deepen your knowledge of this style, I can't recommend anything higher than John Riley's 'Bop Drumming' series of books. They cover all aspects of jazz drumming and are very intelligently and articulately written.


Platinum Member
You're there to learn, so don't be embarrassed about not knowing, but do get up to speed quickly. Get some records and listen a lot, see as many people play as you can, play as much as you can, and crack a couple of books. The Riley is good, or also Peter Erskine's Drum Concepts and Techniques. Either one of those will fill in some conceptual blanks if there isn't someone more experienced you can talk to. Try to find recorded examples of the tunes your combo is playing (or might play- ask your instructor).

Here are a few records you might try:
Thelonious Monk - Bags' Groove, Trio, Misterioso
Miles Davis - Kind of Blue, Milestones, Relaxin'
Sonny Rollins - Saxophone Colossus, Tenor Madness
Oliver Nelson - Blues and the Abstract Truth
Any Clifford Brown/Max Roach


Pioneer Member
Bass drum - heel down most of the time and develop a technique know as feathering where the bass drum is more felt that heard. Spend time listening to Count Basie; you don't have to be Tony Williams or Elvin Jones to do well at this. Focus on 2 and 4 on the hi hat with the left foot and the ride cymbal. Mark Schulmann once told me that in jazz, he thinks of tickling the drums.



Senior Member
I think you should sit down and talk with your instructor and find out what he's after and what you can do to fit in to what he's trying to do. What songs are you playing? Maybe look them up on YouTube and hear other peoples takes on them.


Silver Member
You're there to learn, so don't be embarrassed about not knowing, but do get up to speed quickly.
I totally agree. You are in college to learn your craft. If you already knew how correctly to play all styles of music then you wouldn't need to be there. He has every right to critique your playing, as long as he offers you instruction in how he wants you to play. If he isn't a drummer, then he needs to set you up with the school's percussion teacher to give you pointers.