How does one come up with drum fills? I hear this question asked a lot during my clinics, private lessons with students, and on the Drummer Cafe community forums. Chances are that if you are reading this article, you too are wanting some tips on how to come up with new, creative, innovative drum fills. Even if you're not in a rut, perhaps some of these ideas will help to further expand your musical vocabulary.
Here are just some (not all) of the ways you can come up with drum fills:
- Take rhythms and/or melodies from a song. It doesn't have to be from the same style or music genre as the one you are going to be playing in. Take a portion of that rhythm or melody and apply it to the drums. You don't have to follow the melodic contour per se, although that is another application.
- Expand the fills you already know by changing the instrumentation or stickings you typically use. Add voices (instruments) from your drumkit that you don't normally use in a particular fill. One example would be to use Kick drum as a substitute for one of your Tom Toms.
- Limit the number of voices (drums, cymbals, etc.) that you use in your set-up. Be creative just using your Snare drum or just one Tom Tom. See how many ideas you can come up with using minimal instrumentation. Sometimes limiting your sound choices can force creativity.
- Add or substitute any portion of your current fills with an accent, Flam, Flat Flam (aka French Flam), diddle, buzz or other drums/cymbals.
- Listen to recordings of other drummers; steal their licks and fills. Write them out (transcribe) if you know how. Sing the fills using whatever syllables you would like. Being able to verbalize what you hear will quickly aid your ability to replicate the fill, groove, etc.
These are just a few suggestions; there are hundreds upon hundreds of ways to create fills. Hopefully some of these will help get you started and increase your vocabulary around the drums. Keep in mind, these approaches can be applied to percussion (eg. congas, bongos, timbales, etc.) as well.
For more fill ideas and concepts, I recommend that you read my article entitled Expanding Stick Control for the Drumset.
Bart Elliott is a degreed professional musician and founder of the Drummer Cafe. His 35+ years in the music industry, over 100 albums to his credit, as well as his understanding of contemporary and classical music, makes him a complete and skilled master musician. A highly sought after drummer and percussionist, both live and in the studio, Bart is widely known as a top music educator and gifted teacher, appearing as a guest artist and clinician throughout the USA.