Jazz Ensemble Problem w/ Dynamics


Senior Member
Hi all,
I always had trouble with dynamics in jazz ensemble (my first year) but I wanna know your view on how to play dynamics, comping a soloist in particular.
We went to play on a band trip last night but dynamics were bugging my teacher.
They would say, "play soft but with the same intensity?"
Any tips?


"Uncle Larry"
You could record yourself to see what the others are hearing. He told you exactly what he wants, which is you to play softer. It's not that simple though. Dynamics are hard to teach, you really have to develop a sense as to what the appropriate volume should be. And you have to know how to play your kit softly as well. One rule of thumb I follow...If I can't hear the soloist, that means I'm playing too loud.


Platinum Member
Soft and solid is easier to is easier to get your head around than soft and intense- maybe try thinking about it that way.

A few things you can play with:
- Dedicate a significant part of your snare drum practice to low dynamics- <4" stick heights.
- Concentrate on listening to the group, keeping your ride volume consistently low. Comp sparsely.
- Gauge your volume off the pianist.
- Make sure you're not fighting your instrument- especially make sure you're using an appropriate, non-rock ride cymbal, and lightish/maple/wooden tipped sticks.


When writing a recent article for MD, I asked one of the drummers I was interviewing, "how and what do you practice?" Now, this drummer, Mr. Tutty Moreno from Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, is an amazing and accomplished drummer with many years of playing experience. But, his answer was very clear. He told me he begins his practice sessions playing "as soft as I can". (He actually told me "as soft and as fast as I can".) Now, this is something you might want to try; practice as soft as you can, maintaining excellent time and touch.

Playing with dynamics is a skill which is sharpened by experience, i.e. time behind the drums.

Listen to Jimmy Cobb on drums, Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. This will definitely give you a musical example of dynamics, touch and class.



Platinum Member
To reiterate what Chuck and Todd are saying . .practicing quietly develops listening skills. If you are not listening, you are really not playing with anyone except yourself. Being able to play and listen is a whole new skill set.
Last edited:


Junior Member
I'm generally a lurker here but maybe i can chime in. Some good jazz players I know say that they got a lot of sensitivity and touch by working with the book Portraits in Rhythm by Anthony Cirone. It's an orchestral style book and has lot of dynamics and the use of buzz rolls. It's a good counterpoint to rudimental studies like Charlie Wilcoxon's books. Good luck.


Platinum Member
You can experiment with that stick in a low position - 1-3" from the cymbal. Now throw the stick down as you would usually do it. The result is probably what your teacher is talking about.

Now throw it down at a faster rate, with more velocity. Since you are still in a low position you will still get a soft sound - but it will have more intensity. The speed of the stroke can add to the intensity of the sound.



Gold Member
Everyone has great advice. My two cents is LISTEN AND WATCH. Youtube is a great resource to study how the jazz greats did it. Watch/listen to how they comp and use stick heights to play with the ensemble.

Jimmy Cobb on Kind of Blue is great because its particularly soft music. but every drummer especially in jazz uses stick heights to their advantage. Good luck!