What’s the point of a fill in the first place? Perhaps a mini solo? Whilst the idea of this is cool, if we’re serving the music and playing what’s required for the song, a mini drum solo is probably the opposite of what would be considered ‘musical drumming’.
FLASH IS BEST RIGHT?
I admit that as a student I would try to go straight for the flashiest and most impressive fills I could. They were fun and more in tune with my deep desires for greatness. I know better these days (hopefully) but I do still crave the flashy stuff. I suppose we all do. The thing is, flash isn’t always required. As a teacher, I have written or provided students with ideas for fills based on rudiments, over four beats, aim to get as fast as possible and so on. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this and hey, the students need to have some flash fills too but I feel as though the simple stuff gets neglected from time to time and when the time comes to just play good time and outline a form, this is where things fall apart. When students sight-read charts, concentrate solely on the reading and forget to do a fill for the whole piece, it’s very noticeable.
I’ve always thought of a drum fill as being a signal to the band that a phrase has ended or that the music is about to move into a new section and this is true. To this end, the fill itself doesn’t have to be flashy whatsoever. The littlest change to a groove or addition of another part of the drums will result in a ‘fill’ and its purpose is clearly felt by the musicians in the band.
MEAN EVERY NOTE
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of a simple but effective fill is a shorter length. The fill doesn’t have to be four beats long. As previously mentioned, a slight change creates the desired effect so wait till beat three or even beat four to do a little fill. Looking at the notation provided, this idea is clear. Every simple fill here is no longer than two beats long and uses simple subdivisions/rhythms. I also imagine these types of fills at a slower tempo with clear attention to space between the notes and playing with real purpose - mean every note. Simple shouldn’t mean lame.
READING / RHYTHM
I remember asking a teacher of mine way back how to go about playing fills. The initial response was something to the effect of, “ya know, just make some rhythms up around the drums”. In some respects, this wasn’t far from the truth. If you’re not planning a calculated fill concept or lick then utilising your reading/rhythm practice is actually a great thing. As you can see with many of the figures in the notation - Fig 1, 2 or 3 for example, the fill itself, regardless of the orchestration is really just simple quaver or semiquaver rhythms. You could literally pick any phrase or rhythm and just apply this over the kit in some way and you can generate a simple fill.
A final thought is to not forget the bass drum. Treat it as another “hand” so to speak and incorporate into simple rhythms and you’ll have some simple but more interesting sounding fills. The changes in frequencies between the bass drum and snare drum really compliment each other when phrasing. The figures provided are merely some ideas or some improvised phrases that appealed to me. So, for a change of pace, I thought I would share. The flash fills have their place - think moving into a chorus, or feeding off a musician doing a solo and you want to compliment or raise the vibe. This is totally cool but it’s also good to practice keeping it real.