The following includes excerpts from Andy Ziker’s book Drumscapes: The Essential Guide to Playing Drumset, which is recommended for teachers of beginning to intermediate students.
The 3 + 1 Exercise: A Fun Approach to Teaching Fills and Improvisation
In rock music, most musical phrases are in multiples of four.
A great way to begin feeling this phrasing is to play three measures of a rock beat followed by one measure of what is called a "fill."
A fill is a short phrase with an endless possibility of rhythms and sound sources. During rock songs, fills can be heard connecting one part of a song (for example, the verse) to another part of the song (the chorus). Sometimes, other musicians in a band play along with a drummer’s fill. Therefore, a fill is not necessarily a solo.
The 3 + 1 Structure
When you first start to play the four-bar phrase (as shown above), use a simple eighth-note rock beat (for three measures), followed by a fill containing one measure of consecutive eighth notes. By focusing on the spacing between hi-hat notes while playing the rock beat, the transition from beat to fill becomes much easier. The fill is therefore more likely to be played at the same tempo as the rock beat.
Here are some eighth-note fills to get you started. Apply these fills to the 3 + 1 Structure shown above.
Count and Play
So that you don't lose track of what measure you are in, count and play the four measures like this.
For now, just go back to the hi-hat and bass drum on beat 1.
Free to Jam
Play each four-bar phrase along with a metronome. At first, set the metronome at a comfortable tempo, gradually increasing it. Don’t be afraid to start at 40 bpm (or 80 bpm if you would rather hear an eighth-note pulse) or slower to get started.
Now combine all of the musical phrases one after another. Repeat this 16-bar phrase over and over again.
You are now free to create your own fills using continuous eighth notes on any sound source. If you write down your own examples, you are composing fills. If you make up the fills as you go along, you are improvising fills. I encourage you to try out both of these methods.
The End is the Beginning
The end of a fill is just as important as the fill itself. Ending a fill weakly is like writing a sentence and leaving off a punctuation mark.
Most rock fills end on beat 1 of the next measure. Drummers tend to hit the crash and the bass drum, the hi-hat and the bass drum, or the ride and the bass drum (you can crash into a ride cymbal by using the shank of the stick and jabbing gently). The decision of where to end a fill can be effected by the location of the previously chosen sound source. For instance, if you play a floor tom located on the right side of the drumset, it will be more efficient to end that fill with a right-side crash (or crash into the ride).
Here is a short exercise to practice ending fills using different sound-source locations.
You don't have to stop here. Play different rock beats and different fills, ending the fills in the ways described above.
Because 16th-note fills may be harder to keep steady than eighth-note fills, counting, at least for a while, is a wise thing to do.
Apply the following 16th-note fills to the 3 + 1 Structure.
Make up your own 16th-note fills. As long as you count, your fill will work out fine.
Play with the Pros
Playing along with recorded music really brings the 3 + 1 Exercise to life. The trick is to pick songs with a great groove that are organized in four-bar phrases and that bring forth creative sparks. Your favorite Frank Zappa song may not be appropriate in this case. Many songs by Beck and Red Hot Chili Peppers are perfect because they involve dense, overlapping rhythmic content, giving the fill-maker an array of rhythms to draw from.
The following is a list of songs that I currently use in my teaching practice for this purpose.
Note: Many rock and funk beats can be superimposed over the following songs. For more challenge,learn the actual grooves that the drummers in these bands are playing. Also, some of the listed songs have sections with two-bar phrases, added measures or beats, and breakdown sections. View those moments as creative opportunities.
|Show Me How to Live||Audioslave||Audioslave||Brad Wilk|
|Like a Stone||Audioslave||Audioslave||Brad Wilk|
|Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da||The Beatles||The Beatles||Ringo Starr|
|Broken Train||Beck||Midnite Vultures||Joey Waronker|
|Where It's At||Beck||Odelay||Joey Waronker|
|Nausea||Beck||The Information||Joey Waronker|
|Miss You||Blink-182||Blink-182||Travis Barker|
|Too Much||Dave Matthews Band||Crash||Carter Beauford|
|Stay (Wasting Time)||Dave Matthews Band||Before These Crowded Streets||Carter Beauford|
|How to Save a Life||The Fray||How to Save a Life||Ben Wysocki|
|Feel Good Inc.||Gorillaz||Demon Days||drum programming|
|Crazy||Gnarls Barkley||St. Elsewhere||Eric Bobo|
|What You Waiting For?||Gwen Stefani||Love, Angel, Music, Baby||unknown|
|Chameleon||Herbie Hancock||Head Hunters||Harvey Mason|
|I Got the Feeling||James Brown||I Got the Feeling||Clyde Stubblefied|
|Always on the Run||Lenny Kravitz||Mama Said||Lenny Kravitz|
|Pain Lies on the Riverside||Live||Mental Jewelry||Chad Gracey|
|Cissy Strut||The Meters||The Meters||Zigabo Modeliste|
|Supermassive Black Hole||Muse||Black Holes and Revelations||Dominic Howard|
|The Hand That Feeds||Nine Inch Nails||With Teeth||unknown|
|Hella Good||No Doubt||Rock Steady||Adrian Young|
|World Wide Suicide||Pearl Jam||Pearl Jam||Matt Cameron|
|Renegades of Funk||Rage Against the Machine||Renegades||Brad Wilk|
|Funky Monks||Red Hot Chili Peppers||Blood Sugar Sex Magik||Chad Smith|
|Give it Away||Red Hot Chili Peppers||Red Hot Chili Peppers||Chad Smith|
|Around the World||Red Hot Chili Peppers||Californication||Chad Smith|
|Aeroplane||Red Hot Chili Peppers||One Hot Minute||Chad Smith|
|Snow (Hey Oh)||Red Hot Chili Peppers||Stadium Arcadium||Chad Smith|
|Dani California||Red Hot Chili Peppers||Stadium Arcadium||Chad Smith|
|Guns Are Drawn||The Roots||The Tipping Point||?uestlove|
|1979||Smashing Pumpkins||Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness||Jimmy Chamberlin|
|Burden in My Hand||Soundgarden||Down on the Upside||Matt Cameron|
|Vertigo||U2||How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb||Larry Mullen Jr.|
|Perfect Situation||Weezer||Make Believe||Patrick Wilson|
The 3 + 1 Game
The 3 + 1 Structure can be used to play a fun and creative game. All that is required is two drumsets (and two players).
While playing along with music or a metronome, both players play three measures of a beat together. Player A then takes a fill during the fourth measure, while Player B either stops playing or continues to play the rock beat. In the next four-bar sequence, Player B takes the fill, while Player A stops or continues the beat.
This game is perfect for the teacher/student relationship. The teacher can model effective fills and good technique, while encouraging the student during their own opportunity to take a fill.
Don’t Stop Here
As you gain experience, you come to realize that most fills are less than one measure long. Experiment with shorter fills. The 3 + 1 Exercise would then become the 3.5 + 0.5 Exercise or the 3.75 + 0.25 Exercise. Fills longer than one measure are rare, but can also be fun to explore.
Try many different kinds of fills.
• Broken or Syncopated Fills–Use rests or accents to accomplish this sound (popularized by Ringo Starr of The Beatles.).
• Use the bass drum or hi-hat (with your foot) as a third and/or fourth hand.
• Rudiments–Learn to apply these to your fills. Try displacing these rudiments.
• Learn fills or parts of fills from your favorite drummers.
If you are still having trouble creating fills, relax and completely empty your mind before you attempt one. Place a stick or one of your feet on a sound source and allow the sound of the drumset to lead you. A low-pitched sound could be followed by a high-pitched sound. A short sound could be followed by a long sound.
Finally, don't be afraid to put in space (rests). Borrow from the Miles Davis’ philosophy: “Less is more."