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How to Play Drum Fills Between Song Parts

It’s time to review the individual skills you’ve learned and use them all together to play a song.  What you’ve learned so far is how to play a basic drum beat (see “Play Your First Song with Drumsticks”), how songs are structured (see “The Parts of a Song and What They Mean To a Drummer”) and how to play a drum fill (see “What Are Drum Fills and How Are They Played?”).  In this lesson, you’ll learn how to use all three of those skills to play a song and sound like a professional drummer!  We’re following a plan to play drums in 4 weeks and this is Lesson 12 of 12.  See the complete Plan by clicking here.

As mentioned in “Quiet Verse plus Loud Chorus equals Dynamic Drums,” a song is more interesting if the drums are played dynamically using different volumes and drum beats.  Different sound levels and different drum beats for each song part makes the song sound better to your listeners and band mates. Playing at a soft volume on the verse of a song helps build tension that gets released by playing louder on the chorus.  As an example, listen to how Nathan Followill plays a closed hi-hat on the verses and an open hi-hat on the choruses of the Kings of Leon song “The End” from the album “Come Around Sundown.”

Drum fills are used to transition from one song part to another.  They help direct the band to the next song section.  Drum fills also help the listener anticipate that a change in the song is coming.  A listener should be interested in a song but not totally surprised by the song changes.

The most effective drum fills can also be the simplest.  The best example of this is, at the end of a verse, playing your two hands together, left hand on the snare drum and right hand on the floor tom, while increasing the volume with each beat.  The fill ends by hitting the crash cymbal with your right hand and playing the bass drum with your left foot on the first beat of the chorus.

This drum fill tells the band members that the verse is ending and it’s time to start playing the chorus.  The drum fill also tells the listener that there’s a different part of the song coming and it’s going to be louder.

Now it’s time to give it a try.  Review “What Are Drum Fills and How Are They Played?” and follow the steps below to learn how to use a drum fill to transition from one song part to the next.

  1. Start by counting and playing your favorite drum beat.  Pretend you’re playing the verse of a song by hitting the hi-hat with your right hand and playing the rest of the drum beat medium soft.
  2. Play the beat 3 times.
  3. On the 4th time, hit the snare drum with alternating right and left sticks as you count.  Play the snare drum with your right stick when you say a number and play the snare drum with your left stick when you say “and.”  This is the drum fill leading from the verse into the chorus.
  4. Hit your crash cymbal and bass drum together on “one” and immediately start playing your drum beat again.  Play the beat with your right hand on the ride cymbal and play the rest of the drum set medium loud.
  5. Play the beat 3 times.
  6. On the 4th time, play the drum fill in step 3 above as if you were going from the chorus back to the verse.
  7. On “one”, start playing the hi-hat with your right hand and play the rest of the drum set medium soft.
  8. Alternate between soft (with the right hand on the hi-hat) and loud (with the right hand on the ride cymbal) until you can play the drum beat, play the fill and play the next drum beat without interruption.
  9. Try playing all the different fill variations in “What Are Drum Fills and How Are They Played?

Now try playing the beat, fill, beat pattern to a real song.  I’m going to use the Kings of Leon song “The End” from the album “Come Around Sundown” as an example but you can do these same steps for any song.  The Kings’ drummer, Nathan Followill, plays a simple beat that fits the song and has a good feel (a nice “groove”).  Remember that each measure is 4 counts so 8 measures is 8 times of counting to 4.  Here’s the song map for “The End” (with song times in parentheses):

  1. Intro (start – 0:30): Total of 10 measures.  2 measures of drums only, then instrumental for 8 measures.  Notice how the hi-hat is slightly open and Nathan is playing medium loud.
  2. 1st Verse (0:30 – 0:54): 8 measures.  Closed hi-hat, not as loud.
  3. 1st Chorus (0:54 – 1:18): 8 measures.  Open hi-hat, louder.
  4. 2nd Verse (1:18 – 1:42): 8 measures. Closed hi-hat.
  5. 2nd Chorus (1:42 – 2:06): 8 measures.  Open hi-hat.
  6. Bridge (2:06 – 2:18): 8 measures. Closed hi-hat.  Similar to a verse.
  7. 3rd Verse (2:18 – 2:41): 8 measures. Closed hi-hat.
  8. 3rd Chorus (2:41 – 3:05): 8 measures. Open hi-hat.
  9. Outro (3:05 – 3:52): 16 measures. Open hi-hat.
  10. Ending (3:52 – end):  No drums.

Try these steps for mapping a song and then playing that song with drum fills:

  1. Map the song by counting the number of measures in each song segment and writing them down as I did above for “The End.”
  2. Next play along to the song, switching from closed hi-hat on the intro and verses to ride cymbal on the choruses and outro.
  3. Now play along with the song and add a fill before each chorus.  Play all the different fill variations in “What Are Drum Fills and How Are They Played?”  That means you’ll be playing “1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and” the measure before the chorus or “3-e-and-a-4-e-and-a” for the 2 beats right before the chorus.

Congratulations once again!  You now have the basic knowledge to play 80% of all rock songs. The beat may be slightly different, the tempo might be slower or faster, and the song structure may vary but, with a little practice, you will easily be able to learn how to play those songs.