Jazz Drumming

The jazz drumming section provides a range of jazz drum lessons progressing in difficulty. The lessons cover jazz comping, three-voice comping, the jazz shuffle and the jazz waltz.

Jazz Music

Jazz music was born out of African-American communities during the early 20th century. It was heavily influenced by African music, brought to America by the slaves as well as popular American and European styles of music. Since it's inception, jazz has given rise to many sub-genres and fusion genres.

Jazz is characterised by a triplet swing feel, syncopated rhythms, and improvisation - all derived from it's African roots. Jazz music typically uses complex chord progression and deliberately dissonant "outside" melodies and harmonies.

Jazz music can be played on many different instruments. A jazz ensemble typically consists of a rhythm section and a horn section. The rhythm section is made up of drums, bass (either double bass or bass guitar) and one or more comping instruments such as piano or guitar. The horn section usually includes saxophones, trumpets and/or trombones. A big band will usually have around thirteen horns while small combos typically have one to three horns.

Jazz Drums

The key stylistic features of jazz drumming are:

  • Strong quarter note feel on the ride cymbal
  • Ride cymbal pattern locks in with the bass line
  • Strong hi-hat on beats two and four played with the foot
  • Improvised comping patterns on the snare drum and bass drum
  • Swung (triplet) eighth note feel

The time feel comes primarily from the ride cymbal and hi-hat foot which are the dominant voices in jazz drumming. The snare drum and bass drum are played slightly quieter and are used for comping. This is the opposite of rock drumming, where the time feel is provided by the bass drum and snare drum. It can take a while for a rock drummer to get used to playing jazz. Beat one is not emphasized the way it is in rock and pop music and jazz rhythms are often highly syncopated to create a sense of unpredictability and surprise for the listener. The basic jazz drum beat is shown below.

Basic Jazz Drum Beat

Basic Jazz Drum Beat


Jazz music is played with a swing feel. Swing refers to a way of playing rhythms where notes off the beat are played shorter than notes on the beat. The swung off-beat notes are usually played as triplets but can also be played earlier or later than a triplet. Swung notes are typically played straighter at faster tempos and more delayed at slower tempos.

In swing, the following rhythmic notations mean the same thing:

Eighth Notes = Dotted Eighth Notes = Triplet Eighth Notes

In these jazz drum lessons, the swing rhythms are notated as triplets for clarity.

Jazz Drum Comping

Comping means to accompany and complement a melody or solo. The purpose of comping is to support and stimulate the soloist and to create interest and variety. Time is played on the ride cymbal and hi-hat foot while the bass drum and snare drum play improvised comping rhythms that fit in with the melody or solo. This can be by responding to the melody and filling in the gaps or by playing along with the melody and catching the accents.

When playing with a rhythm section it is important to listen to the other comping instruments (typically piano or guitar), so that your comping fits in and doesn't get in their way. Also be aware of any background horn figures so that what you play fits in.

Jazz Drum Technique

In jazz drumming the bass drum is usually played heel-down except in shout choruses and drum solos. Playing heel-down allows you to control the volume of the bass drum and play open notes more easily. In big band and traditional jazz music the bass drum is sometimes "feathered" on all four beats. This means the bass drum is played very softly and felt but not heard underneath the rest of the band.

In jazz drumming, the hi-hat is mostly played with your foot. The hi-hat is usually played heel-up, so that the full weight of your leg can produce a loud, crisp "chick" sound. This is executed by bouncing your leg with the ball of your foot on the hi-hat pedal. Another technique is to play heel-toe, rocking on the hi-hat pedal from the heel to the ball of your foot. The hi-hat can also be played heel down. This is only effective at slow tempos.

The ride cymbal is played by holding the drumstick with your thumb up (sometimes referred to as French grip). This allows greater dexterity and finger control. It is recommended that beginners play the ride cymbal palm down (American grip) and transition to playing thumb up over time as their finger control improves. Play the ride cymbal about halfway between the bell and the edge of the cymbal. For loud or up tempo playing you can play closer to the bell to reduce the amount of wash in the cymbal tone.