One of the most iconic drum fill or drum solo sections found in the Top 350 Great Drum Fills list is the drum solo in the song “Aja” by Steely Dan and drummed by Steve Gadd. This amazing little piece of drumming history has inspired and excited drummers for decades, myself included!
The drum solo contains so many little cool licks and tricks that I didn’t know where to begin but I have managed to extract what I think are two of the coolest sections. This free drum lesson is going to take a look at these two great drum licks and where else you can take them.
For more Great & Famous Drum Fills you can view the Top Best Drum Fill List here. Let’s now take a look at the first cool drum section below…
“Aja” – Great Drum Fill/Solo (4:54 Album Version)
This first little lick occurs at roughly 4:54 into the song. In it, Gadd plays a kind of classic rock lick that I like to call the “Fa-Da-Le-Dump” based on what it sounds like. It’s a lick that many great rock drummers use all the time, such as John Bonham. It consists of four notes played evenly as a triplet; snare, high tom, floor tom and bass drum. It’s a classic!
What Steve Gadd does though is slightly different. He turns the lick into a new rhythm.
Firstly, Gadd starts the bar with a single bass drum and then continues to play a three note rhythm through the rest of the bar. This three note rhythm actually consists of four played notes but the first two notes (snare drum and high tom) are played as thirty second notes, taking up the space of just one sixteenth note. So the four notes, consisting of snare, high tom, floor tom and bass drum actually only take up the space of three sixteenth notes.
This three sixteenth note rhythm then moves across the bar before ending with a single crash and bass drum strike on the ‘+’ of beat 4. This crash is where the rest of the band are playing the repeating Vamp. Gadd then goes on to throw out more effortlessly easy licks and beats.
Next, lets take a look at my favourite section in the whole drum solo…
“Aja” – Great Drum Fill/Solo (5:19 Album Version)
Gadd plays a six note idea that has so many adaptions that this lick is worth learning purely for it’s possible uses elsewhere, as explained below.
The six note pattern starts with a right hand accent followed by two left hand ghost notes (quiet notes). The last three notes move round the drums in the same way as the “Fa-De-La-Dump” lick explained above.
To continue the lick and make it flow from beat to beat, Gadd removes the right hand accent found on beat 1 and replaces it with the bass drum. The lick can then repeat itself with two left hand ghost notes being played after the bass drum.
This little bar of drumming contains a six note lick that can be started with the right hand or the bass drum then. A really cool and adaptable lick if you experiment with it (see later on below).
The second bar then consists of Bonham style triplets played left handed. Each beat of the bar starts with the bass drum, in the same way as bar 1, followed by the left and right hand down the toms. In this way, Gadd has two bars of licks that can lead with the bass drum foot and so can be joined together as shown now…
“Aja” – Taking The Drum Fills Further (Suggestion 1)
OK, so for this first idea, I’ve taken the six note lick from the first bar and played in twice for beats 1 and 2. The lick in beat 2 has to start with the bass drum and so does not start with a right hand accent.
The bar then ends with four sets of the left hand triplets. See how easily these two ideas can be added together?
IMPORTANT NOTE: Both licks lead with the bass drum meaning that they can be joined together really easily.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Both the six note lick and the three note lick both end with exactly the same notes, i.e. left hand high tom, right hand floor tom and bass drum. Both the six note and three note ideas sound great together because they share this same melodic ending.
“Aja” – Taking The Drum Fills Further (Suggestion 2)
So this next idea is a lot of fun to play and one of my favourites. The bar consists of a group of six added to a group of three. This means that in total, these two groups last for a beat and a half of the bar. Moving across the beats of the bar in a very satisfactory manner.
This is just the beginning of where you can take these ideas. You will find that with a little experimentation, other ideas with suddenly pop out as they have with me.
Have fun and please email me if you have any great suggestions of your own!
You can also check out other great drum fills from famous songs here.