Have Fun. Play In A Band. Start Playing Drums Today!

Hi, I’m Doug from LearnDrumsNow.com. Start learning to play the drums
now by signing up for my FREE guide and twice weekly email drum lessons here
Each lesson is packed with tips to help you learn to play the drum set in a band!

"Doug thanx a lot for this post i really appreciate your effort on making me a better drummer." - Ajose Tosine, LearnDrumsNow reader

What Are Drum Fills and How Are They Played?

I remember the day I got my first drum set like it was yesterday. The first thing I wanted to learn how to play was a rock beat like the one you learned in “Your First Drum Beat (No Drums Required).”  The second thing I wanted to learn was a short, 8 beat drum fill that started on the snare drum and ended on the left rack tom.  In this lesson, you will learn about drum fills and how to play them. We’re following a plan to play drums in 4 weeks and this is Lesson 11 of 12.  See the complete Plan by clicking here.

Drum fills are short passages used to “fill” the transition between parts of a song.  I like to use drum fills to indicate to the band and to the listener that there is a change coming in the song.  It makes the playing experience more enjoyable to the other members of your band and it helps the listener anticipate the next section of the tune.

Drum fills can vary in length and sound depending on the drummer’s preference.  There is no set way to play a fill; it’s totally up to you to make up a drum break that sounds good.  Fills are typically played while other members of the band continue to play but they can also be played when the band stops playing, like a short, mini-drum solo.

A fill can be played on one drum but the most interesting fills are usually played on multiple drums (and even cymbals).  In order to Remo 5-Piece Practice Pad Setpractice fills, it helps to have multiple surfaces to hit so you get the feeling of moving your arms between drums.  To practice drum fills, you may want to purchase a practice pad set.  This will help simulate the movement between drums of a real drum set and, with the padded surfaces,  allow you to practice fills repeatedly without damaging your hearing and driving your housemates crazy.  I have used a Remo 5-Piece Practice Pad Set for years.  The tunable pads simulate the feel of real drums and the flexible set up allows me to position the pads in a configuration close to a real drum set.  I use the bass drum pedal and hi-hat stand from my drum kit to imitate the feel of my real drum set.

It helps to be able to count as you play your first drum fill so follow these steps to make it easier:

  1. Start by counting and playing your favorite drum beat from “Play Your First Song with Drumsticks.”  You should be playing at about 60 beats per minute.
  2. Play the beat 3 times.  That means you’ll count “1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and” 3 times.  Each time through is called a “measure” or “bar” of music.  You’re playing 3 bars of music.
  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”.  Good job!  You’ve just played your first drum fill.
  4. Immediately start playing your drum beat again.  Repeat the pattern of playing 3 bars of drum beat and 1 bar of drum fill until you feel comfortable transitioning between the drum beat, the fill and back to the drum beat.  Make sure there is no hesitation between the beat, the fill and the next beat.  You should be able to count to 4 over and over without hesitation as you alternate between beat, fill and beat.
  5. Now try playing half your drum fill on the snare drum and half your drum fill on the left rack tom. If you’re using a homemade practice set, you will need to set up another chair/book combination to simulate the left rack tom.  Play “1-and-2-and” (right-left-right-left) on your snare drum and “3-and-4-and” (right-left-right-left) on your left rack tom.  The timing is the same as in the steps above; you’re just playing the second half of your fill on the left rack tom.

Now it’s time to play a more complicated (and interesting sounding) fill.  In order to play your next drum fill, however, you will need to count a little bit differently.  Follow these steps:

  1. Start counting “1-e-and-a-2-e-and-a-3-e-and-a-4-e-and-a.”  “e” is pronounced “ee.”  “a” is pronounced “uh.” Make sure each syllable takes the same amount of time to pronounce.  You should be counting at about 60 beats per minute.  In other words, you should say the number “1” about 15 times in a minute.  That means you should be counting “1-e-and-a” in about a second.
  2. As you count, start playing the drum beat from “Play Your First Song with Drumsticks.”  It will take some time to get used to counting twice as fast as you are playing because there will be no drum beats when you say “e” and “a.”
  3. Play 3 measures of drum beat and 1 measure of drum fill.  Only this time, play alternating right and left sticks on the snare drum whenever you say a syllable. Hit the snare drum with your right stick when you say a number and “and.”  Hit the snare drum with your left stick when you say “e” and “a.”  Repeat playing 3 measures of drum beat and 1 measure of drum fill until the fill sounds even and you can play drum beat, fill and drum beat without hesitation.
  4. Now try playing half your fill on the snare drum and half your fill on the left rack tom.  Play the snare drum when you say “1-e-and-a-2-e-and-a.”  Play the left rack tom when you say “3-e-and-a-4-e-and-a.”  Play 3 measures of drum beat and 1 measure of this fill until it feels comfortable.
  5. Next try playing the fill for half as long.  Play 3 and a half measures of drum beat and half a measure of drum fill.  That means that you will play your snare drum when you say “3-e-and-a-4-e-and-a” of every 4th measure.  Practice this until you can go from beat to fill to beat without interruption.
  6. The final variation is to play the same fill as in number 5 above but play half the fill on the snare drum and half the fill on the left rack tom.  Play the drum beat for 3 and a half measures.  Play alternating right and left sticks on the snare drum when you say “3-e-and-a.”  Play alternating right and left sticks on the left rack tom when you say “4-e-and-a.”  It will take some practice to make the transition from snare to tom without hesitation.  Just keep repeating until it sounds and feels good.

Congratulations! You now know how to play 6 different drum fills.  Number 6 above is the first drum fill I played when I got my first drum set.  I hope that hearing that fill will inspire you to try other variations around the drums.  Remember to use fills sparingly to indicate a change or transition in the song you’re playing.  Have fun playing music!