"Rules" for fills ...?

Daisy

Senior Member
A while ago, I was practising with a band, the number we were doing ended with a repeated guitar riff, I got lost as to where we were / how many times we'd repeated that riff. I played a whole bar/measure triplet fill on the snare, and then realised it was the end of the number, not setting up another repeat, so I crashed on the 1 and stopped. The band all laughed and someone said "I thought we were going to go round again!"

Ever since then I've wondered if there are any "rules" (or perhaps "conventions" would be a better word) for fills? I know that triplet fill on the snare would normally indicate that we were going to "go round again", but I'm not sure why.

I had a friend come round a few days ago to play some songs he'd written and I tried putting drum parts to them. One of them had two "extra" bars between verses, where he just strummed, and I didn't know whether to end the verse with a fill, or set up the next verse with a fill at the end of the extra two bars. It got me thinking about this "rules/conventions" thing again.

I know there's no hard and fast rules to anything, depends on the song etc., but wondered if there might be some sort of "fills 101" to give a starting point for working things out ... things you just don't do, things that only work at a particular part in a number, anything like that ?
 

PDL

Senior Member
Yes and No.

No because music is an evolving beast and yes if you are strict within a genre... Say blues for instance.
 

evilg99

Platinum Member
You seem to be specifically asking about song form.
Listen to some different styles of music and do some internet research about basic form. Rock/pop is pretty easy/ obvious but also try to listen to some jazz or big band, they will teach you a lot about form. Try not to concentrate on fills specifically but rather, how a (good) drummer kinda steers the whole band with dynamics, setting up horn shots, MAYBE a fill into another 'part of the song...sometimes the best fill is leave some space!

A really big thing is to just be aware. Have big ears so to speak. Start out by trying to not play fills when the singer is singing, ever. No crashes, no open hihats. Just try it. It requires listening,

When you are playing fills, try to have a time/space reference for yourself. I don't know how much skill you have, but for example, having your hihat foot on 2 and 4 will help keep you in time, as will playing your bass drum within the fill to help give it some weight. It's difficult to get much more specific than that.....

And as everyone reading this is saying under their breath, there are no rules. But you know that.

Neal
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
I'll try Daisy. In lyric based music, generally speaking, no fills until the singer or soloist is done "speaking". (Even then might not be a good time either) You have to listen for the appropriate spaces. Not all spaces are appropriate to fill in. Spaces within a solo are fair game, it shows you're listening if you can drop a quick ditty in within a natural space in a solo. That usually works nicely, because you're not stepping on anyone. Music is like conversation. Don't be rude and interrupt. Don't think you have to mark every transition either (verse to bridge, chorus to solo, solo to verse etc.) It builds tension when you don't fill before the start of every solo. Small picture = "oh here comes a transition. A fill would fit there. Here I go. Wee! Big picture = "oh here comes a transition. I'm gonna save my ammo until the peak of the solo, right at the last second before it goes back into the verse. It will have much more impact there" Bam!

Seriously, fills should be necessary. Just because you can fit a fill in, doesn't mean it's necessary. I leave many a transition unfilled. Many. I hear a lot of drummers play things that aren't necessary, but the spot they pick is an "acceptable " place for a drummer to do something. IMO, that usually detracts, and tells me that the drummer doesn't have the big picture in their sights. Drummers typically play fills at the transitions. Fills aren't always the best choice at transitions. More times than not, just keeping the groove going during the transition works so much better. Fills release tension. Not filling builds tension. You have to pick the right spot to release. Just because a transition is approaching, that doesn't mean you have to do something there. You have to weigh if it's better to release, or better to hold off. Hey sometimes it is better to release. It's a musical maturity thing. When in doubt, don't fill, just keep on keepin on.

I try and keep the QNP going during a fill, lest you let it drop out and lose groove. In the blues based music I play, I pride myself in keeping the beat nearly all the time, because in blues, fills detract, unless they are necessary. I do ornament the beats with as much nuance as I can muster, that's where my focus is, and my fills are used only in spaces where it would sound worse not to fill.

When music goes from the one to the four, or from the four to the five, a lot of times, just marking it with a simple crash is better than leaving it alone. I don't consider that a fill though.

I cut loose on endings, but I don't hog anything or go on for another 10 seconds while the guitarist has his neck perched up in the air waiting for me to finish. That's rude. When someone lifts their neck up, I finish up whatever I'm doing, early if necessary, to make sure we look in sync. Very important for the guitarist to not leave them hanging. He/she will appreciate that. Endings....I like to think of them as a musical "dismount". Just like in the Olympics when they leave the balance beam. Gotta stick the landing.

Too many drummers think they are defined by their fills. That's their artistry. Hogwash, Drummers are defined by their beats and feels. Fills are a treat type of thing, not the main course. Drummers justify their overuse of fills by saying that the guitarist has so much freedom and can do almost anything at anytime, why can't I? Two different jobs, you cannot compare them. A drummer must know his role. No one else has the responsibilities a drummer has, and you can't compare playing drums to any other instrument, it's a different discipline.
 
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Otto

Platinum Member
yes, I think there are rules...

They are referred to as your style.

Most players use imitations of what they have heard others do...some go on to incorporate those commonalities into their own style...some players depart...some vary widely within their style...others are conservative.

The term "rules" has suffered under the baby sitting intentionality of our primary/secondary educational systems...and continue under collegate environments...and have the worst abuse of meaning in law...so the strict negative reinforcement aspect of the word "rule" should never be adhered to when talking about music...but the use of the word "rule" to connote "a measurement" should. The meaning and intended use of the words in your vocabulary will go a long way to painting the world you live and create art in.

Stripping both responsibility and freedom seems to be the order of the day reflected in our language and art...and invades both in a way to make that invasion obvious.

...my 2 cents...
 
A

Anthony Amodeo

Guest
I personally have never thought in terms of beats ( or grooves) ...and fills as separate compartments of drumming

it's all just drumming to me....they sort of blend as one in the same in my mind

.if a piece of the music moves you to play patterns around the kit ....then do so

but try not to think of it as a "fill" so much.......think of it as just part of the flow of the tune........something you played when the musics tide would swell, rise or fall
I find that this helps with continuity


I hear a lot of players that sound like beats and fills.....then I hear players that sound like a flowing piece of music
 

Otto

Platinum Member
try not to think of it as a "fill" so much.......think of it as just part of the flow of the tune
Love it!

The thought reaches its apex when the pattern you are "grooving" reaches peaks that corrospond to where most drummers consider placing a "fill"...but it is truly a part of the pattern and has no distinction as "fill" or "groove".

I cite STAIND's song "Right Here" as an example of such an idea.
 

Dr_Watso

Platinum Member
I personally have never thought in terms of beats ( or grooves) ...and fills as separate compartments of drumming

it's all just drumming to me....they sort of blend as one in the same in my mind

.if a piece of the music moves you to play patterns around the kit ....then do so

but try not to think of it as a "fill" so much.......think of it as just part of the flow of the tune........something you played when the musics tide would swell, rise or fall
I find that this helps with continuity


I hear a lot of players that sound like beats and fills.....then I hear players that sound like a flowing piece of music
This puts my thoughts into shape. I never really consider or "practice" fills as a specific thing. I've never been one to have a quiver of fills that I select from because they "fit" into a space. I like to try and play dynamically and in the moment. I think this is why I get complements on my "creativity" at the kit. People are used to straight beats with subdivided "fills" in the open spots. Even my "beats" aren't usually set in stone. One go-round of the same passage might not have the same exact pattern as the last where my drums are concerned, but people still like it because it will have the same feel and texture so as to be interesting while not distracting, and of course, I'm not moving the quarter notes.

As Gvd says, it's all drumming. I'd rather focus on complimenting a cool guitar lick with a short pattern that's sonic-ally similar than fitting a bunch of notes in somewhere or having "rules".
 

Daisy

Senior Member
Larry, thanks. The concept of a fill "releasing tension" is entirely new to me. I've always thought of fills in terms of an introduction to the next part of the song, rather than relating to what's gone before, and letting go of that before the "next bit" comes along. Is that what you meant?

That song with the 2 bars between the verses, I'm thinking now ... release the tension at the end of the verse (it does build a little, and he's not singing in the last 1.5 bars of the verse), then keep the beat going in the following two bars to build up the tension for the next verse? That seems right to me now.

I've always been a lot more comfortable playing a "dismount", but never really knew what I shuold doing with fills during the song, except if it was a big build up to something. But knowing where to place something mid song - big? small? leave it alone? - has always been a bit of a mystery to me. I would generally opt for "leave it alone" but that's not always appropriate. I want to be tasteful. I need to know what I should be listening for, to know what to play. The "tension" thing - I never thought of it. Thanks again.
 

Mad About Drums

Pollyanna's Agent
I personally have never thought in terms of beats ( or grooves) ...and fills as separate compartments of drumming

it's all just drumming to me....they sort of blend as one in the same in my mind ...
I'll agree with Anthony here, generally, the music, the feel, the pulse tend to dictate what I'm gonna play, and very often, I need the song to be able to play the parts right, if I do them on my own during my practice for example, they're not right, I need the music to get it "perfect", the fill(s) are part of it and often unique to a particular song.

Having said that, I do and did practice certain type of fills, you know, these licks that every drummers do, quads, sextuplets between kick, snare and toms, that kind of fills/licks.

I want to be tasteful. I need to know what I should be listening for, to know what to play. The "tension" thing - I never thought of it. Thanks again.
Heck, we all want to be tasteful :)

When you play a song, sometimes the fills comes very naturally, and it's not necessary a fill around the kit, but a tension build up within the groove with some interaction/syncopation between the snare/kick and hi-hat, which is also a "fill" but stay within the flow of the groove.

As for what to listen for in a song, I'll try to find a "pulse" from one the musicians and either play with his/her pattern/figure or to be complementary to that pattern, rhythmically, thus creating a tension, it's whichever feels the best, the vocal(s) can have an influence on fills too, in any case, knowing the song intimately and being aware of everybody's part plays a major role, it takes time and big ears to come up with what the song needs.

Rules? ...is there any rules to play music?
 

Otto

Platinum Member
LOL!(assuming I am interpreting what I think I am)

ah...pop song length standards...always a sticky thing.

Gives a new meaning to fill that approaches meander. ; )

..hmmm..."Land Fill" ...an interesting idea...gotta ponder that one...how would I play a "Land Fill"...it would have to stink, cause the resulting ground to sag and be full of garbage...and possibly omit a foul odor.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
I personally have never thought in terms of beats ( or grooves) ...and fills as separate compartments of drumming

it's all just drumming to me....they sort of blend as one in the same in my mind

.if a piece of the music moves you to play patterns around the kit ....then do so

but try not to think of it as a "fill" so much.......think of it as just part of the flow of the tune........something you played when the musics tide would swell, rise or fall
I find that this helps with continuity


I hear a lot of players that sound like beats and fills.....then I hear players that sound like a flowing piece of music
Ahh nice Anthony...This illustrates the BIG picture...beats and fills, that's a great ob, I never thought of it like that. You don't want to feel disjointed like that. Beats that transition naturally into fills (I hate that word), so there is a flow, so the fill is part of the beat... that's the goal, as Anthony says in his rising and falling of the tide, perfect analogy. Of course there's always exceptions. But I strive to make my drumming feel smooth, not jerky or shortsighted.

Daisy, tension and release...it's a very subtle thing....playing through a space that 99% of most drummers would fill in sounds so fresh because 99% of drummers can't leave the space alone. So if you KIS and just play through it, it's easy on your part, and it sounds awesome. That's what I call tension. Not taking the duck shot, holding out for a cooler spot. Knowing that there's a better place to bust a nut so to speak, instead of taking the first available opportunity. It heightens the pleasure when you hold out.

I treat solos like verses initially, many times with no lead in fill, meaning I play the same as I would behind a singer going from verse to verse, then during the 2nd progression of the solo, I ramp it up dynamically, maybe go to the cymbal, try and keep those quarter notes prominent, and eventually move it up to a peak, then dynamically transition into the next part, whatever it is. I hate to make it into a formula but that's how I break things down in my mind. I have a game plan for songs, an agenda.
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
I didn't fill for an entire band set at a restaurant once. It actually worked out really cool.
 

Anon La Ply

Renegade
Good topic. I could improve my efforts of picking up on where everyone is going.

Agree with the "in the moment" comments - you need to be alert to the momentum of all players. It's common in jams for one player to lead towards another round while another is trying to wind things up. It's great when you have a boss musician who cues stops and endings.

I'm keen on the area between fills and beats - those variations that largely stem from the bass. Most bassists play runs in the same way as we play fills - very common for something to be going on at the end of four bars.

If you can guess what run the bassist is going to play you can augment with accents, ie. doesn't have to be a fill.

Having said that, I sometimes look for call/response opportunities in unusual places, especially the second bar. Ringo often did that and it helps to unsquare the music.
 

brentcn

Platinum Member
A while ago, I was practising with a band, the number we were doing ended with a repeated guitar riff, I got lost as to where we were / how many times we'd repeated that riff. I played a whole bar/measure triplet fill on the snare, and then realised it was the end of the number, not setting up another repeat, so I crashed on the 1 and stopped. The band all laughed and someone said "I thought we were going to go round again!"

Ever since then I've wondered if there are any "rules" (or perhaps "conventions" would be a better word) for fills? I know that triplet fill on the snare would normally indicate that we were going to "go round again", but I'm not sure why.

I had a friend come round a few days ago to play some songs he'd written and I tried putting drum parts to them. One of them had two "extra" bars between verses, where he just strummed, and I didn't know whether to end the verse with a fill, or set up the next verse with a fill at the end of the extra two bars. It got me thinking about this "rules/conventions" thing again.

I know there's no hard and fast rules to anything, depends on the song etc., but wondered if there might be some sort of "fills 101" to give a starting point for working things out ... things you just don't do, things that only work at a particular part in a number, anything like that ?
I often ask students "So when are you supposed to play a fill?". My own answers are:

1. Before the next part of the song. It helps the band to communicate the song's structure. It may even help your band remember things they might otherwise forget. The more skilled a band, the less the need for this type of fill.

2. At the end of musical phrase or idea. If someone else plays a melody, guitar lead, bass run, etc., then there's a good chance it will be followed by some silence, or that the last note of the idea will be held out for dramatic effect. This is a good, but not always necessary, spot for a fill. Note: it's good policy to know if the idea is actually finished before playing the fill.

3. When you want to emphasize a piece of music. It will help to match the rhythm of your fill to the rhythm of the piece you want to highlight.

4. Preceding a piece of music you want to highlight (a.k.a. a setup). A fill before an especially interesting part of the music can add "punch" and presence. It may also help your band to deliver that part of the music with more urgency.

5. At the end of a repeating song form. If it's a 12-bar blues, you probably won't need to play any fills until the 12th bar. If it's a 32 bar AABA Real Book tune, you might only play in bar 32 and nowhere else.

6. Whenever you feel like it! Young drummers need to be aware that playing in the moment is a skill to be practiced, and there's no substitute for heat-of-battle experience. Go ahead and play too many fills! Hopefully, you'll begin to recognize when they work well and when they don't. But you'll never get the chance unless you're willing to make some mistakes.

As for your question about the song your friend wrote: it's impossible to say. It would help to know the style of the song, the dynamic contrast(s) between parts, and the purpose of the 2-measure part. Will there be a short guitar solo there, or is it just a break so that the vocalist can catch his breath and remember the words? Remember, your friend probably is not thinking "gee, if I were a drummer, what would I do with this 2 measure section?" as he is writing the song. (This is why producers exist!)
 
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