Free Drum Lesson: Beginner Lesson 3 – Learn How To Play Basic Drum Fills and Licks
The drummer’s most important job when performing is to keep time for the other musicians and to ensure that the music stays at a steady tempo. The main way the drummer does this is to play drum beats that compliment the pulse of the music and help drive the piece forward.
If you find that you are able to play these ideas already then you can skip straight to the intermediate lesson by clicking here.
The drummer can break away from the drum beat by performing rhythms around the drum kit known as “drum fills”. These drum fills are usually used to signify a new section of a song, to inject excitement or “colour” into a piece or to punctuate a rhythm/melody that has some significance within the song.
Examples of when to play a drum fill might include when going from the verse of a song into the chorus or from the chorus back into the verse.
Drum fills usually occur every 4, 8, 16 or 32 bars and it is up to the drummer to decide when and where to place them. They certainly shouldn’t be used too often within a song as the pulse of the music could be lost or it could start to sound like a drum solo! Having said that though, there are plenty of examples where a drummer’s over use of drum fills has worked and actually helped to make a piece of music more exciting – such as “Won’t Get Fooled Again” performed by Keith Moon in “The Who”.
The best way to learn where, when and what drum fills to use is to simply listen to lots of music and notice where other drummers use them. It’s very difficult to give one defining rule for this as it totally depends on the music and the context of the drum fill within a piece. You need to develop your “drum ears” and this can’t be taught unfortunately.
Here is a selection of basic drum fills for you to get started with. These fills are to be learnt off by heart (if possible) so that when used you aren’t having to think about how to play them. This allows you thinking time to be considering the more important questions, i.e. what fill and where.
Each drum fill has been written with a basic drum beat leading into it and all the examples either start on Beat 3 or Beat 4. This is where most drummers choose to play their fills. It’s more rare for a drummer to play fills over more than a couple of beats but again, there are plenty of examples where this is not the case.
Once each fill has been mastered it is up to you to perform them with varying drum beats and this is explained fully at the end of the lesson.
All the fills have the hands written beneath them (R for right hand and L for left hand) and the counting over the top. Remember that the suggested sticking (the hands used to perform the fill) are merely that; suggestions. It is up to you to experiment with different hand combinations but be aware that the stickings I have used here are the ones that I (and most drummers) tend to use and are a great starting point to work from.
Let me show you the drum fills now.
Drum Fill 1
This drum fill may look simple but it can be deceptively tricky to play due to the fill being executed with both hands. This drum fill is usually played too fast in my experience; pupils tend to rush the fill when first asked to play it. You have to remember that the two notes that make up the fill are performed at the same speed as the Hi-Hat; the fill and Hi-Hats are both Eighth notes.
Drum Fill 1 (Drum Kit Variation)
Simply play the first note of the drum fill (Beat 4) on the Low Tom (the Tom-Tom on the right if right handed) and the Snare drum on the “+” of 4. This variation is interesting because the unexpected placement of the Snare drum creates a push and pull of the backbeat (placement of Snare on Beats 2 and 4).
Drum Fill 1 – Basic And Variation Video
Drum Fill 2
This drum fill starts on Beat 3 and is played single handed (RLRL) on the Snare drum. Again, make sure it’s played steady and at the same pulse as the Hi-Hats, drummers do have a tendency to rush this fill.
Drum Fill 2 (Drum Kit Variation)
Both hands are played together for this variation with the right hand on the Low Tom and the left hand on the Snare drum. For added dynamics try increasing the volume of the fill towards the end of it to create excitement and interest. This idea is commonly known as a “build up”.
Drum Fill 2 – Basic And Variation Video
Drum Fill 3
Leaving a space at the end of Beat 4, i.e. not playing a note on the “+” of 4, can create a cool effect. It creates space in the music for it to breath and adds an exciting pause just before the drummer moves into a new drum groove or section of a song.
Drum Fill 3 (Drum Kit Variation)
This example shows a popular combination of drums used by many drummers. The Snare, High Tom, Low Tom combination creates a tonal effect from high to low and is pleasing to the ear. The sticking of RLR allows the drummer to play this variation without the hands crossing over each other.
Drum Fill 3 – Basic And Variation Video
Drum Fill 4
This is the first drum fill that uses Sixteenth notes and they have their own counting system of “4 e + a”. Hopefully you can see that the ‘4’ and the ‘+’ are still within the drum fill and that all that’s happened is the inclusion of two notes between them on the ‘e’ and the ‘a’. In this case the ‘e’ and the ‘a’ are played with the left hand.
Remember that Sixteenth notes are played twice as fast as Eighth notes so this drum fill has the effect of speeding up towards the end of the bar. Be careful not to rush the Sixteenth notes and that Beats ‘4’ and the ‘+’ are still played at the same speed as Eighth notes on the Hi-Hat. Simply insert the left hand in-between the right to create an even flow of notes.
Drum Fill 4 (Drum Kit Variation)
This variation allows the drum fill to move around the drum kit in a tonal order, i.e. from high pitch to low pitch. It allows the drummer to sound musical because of a logic to the order of the notes chosen. This is tricky to play fast due to the moving of the hands around the kit so be careful not to fall out of time.
Drum Fill 4 – Basic And Variation Video
Drum Fill 5
This is the same as Drum Fill 4 but with the addition of two Eighth notes on Beat 3 proceeding the four Sixteenth notes starting on Beat 4. The fill is interesting because it appears to speed up halfway through with the notes going from Eighth to Sixteenth. Try to ensure that the two Eighth notes take up the whole of Beat 3 while the four Sixteenth notes are played twice as fast, taking up the whole of Beat 4.
Drum Fill 5 (Drum Kit Variation)
Try playing the two hands together on different combinations of drums for cool sounding variations.
Drum Fill 5 – Basic And Variation Video
Drum Fill 6
Drum Fill 6 is the exact opposite of Drum Fill 5 so has the reverse effect of sounding like its slowing down. The same comments apply to this drum fill as Drum Fill 5.
Drum Fill 6 (Drum Kit Variation)
This moves around the Drum Kit in a very satisfying way and ends with two right hands on the Floor Tom. The sticking was changed because it was easier to execute the two Floor Tom notes this way.
Keep this in mind when playing any drum fill, changing the suggested sticking might make a fill easier for you to play – there are no rules!
Drum Fill 6 – Basic And Variation Video
Drum Fill 7
An interesting effect happens when playing this drum fill due to the fast Sixteenth notes suddenly ending on Beat 4 and the whole of the last Beat being left empty. It creates space and tension and can be very effective when used in the right context.
Drum Fill 7 (Drum Kit Variation)
Ending the fill on the Snare drum on Beat 4 is a clever little way of playing a drum fill without loosing the backbeat. A common problem with drum fills is that they can detract from the groove of a song by breaking up the flow of notes. This example gets around that by including the Snare on Beat 4 where it would normally appear (in most songs anyway) and so continues the Snare backbeat that proceeded it.
Drum Fill 7 – Basic And Variation Video
Drum Beat 8
This little beauty is simple but if played properly, with power and accuracy, can be very effective and head turning. A great drummer famous for his single stroke Snare drum rolls is Dave Grohl. His single stroke rolls were often compared to machine gun fire!
Drum Fill 8 (Drum Kit Variation)
Simply play this fill around the drums for a sweet and effective variation.
Drum Fill 8 – Basic And Variation Video
Whole Bar Drum Fills (LESSON UPDATE/ADDITION)
The last part of this drum lesson involves playing a drum fill that lasts for the whole bar (all 4 Beats of the bar). The following drum fills are only made from sixteenth notes. This is a classic idea used by a lot of drummers and can sound really impressive at fast tempos.
Here is the whole bar sixteenth note drum fill written out in full.
Whole Bar Drum Fill
Note how the bar has been split up into four groups of 4 sixteenths for easy reading, the counting is written above and should be played as alternating single strokes (RLRL). Remember that all 16 notes should be played evenly and smoothly.
The next set of variations show some of the many ways this bar of sixteenth notes can be split up between the different Tom-Toms and Snare drum.
The order of the drums chosen depends on how easy it is to move from one drum to another. These variations do not involve any arms having to cross over or under each other so that they can be played at faster tempos.
I highly recommend that you try out your own ideas by simply splitting up the 16 notes that make up the bar between your own choice of drums. Stick to using groups of notes on each drum such as two’s, fours and six’s to start off with though.
Whole Bar Drum Fill Variation 1
Four notes on each drum – Four on the Snare, four on the High Tom, four on the Medium Tom and four on the Low (Floor) Tom. This is by far the most common and easiest way of moving the drum fill around the drums.
Whole Bar Drum Fill Variation 2
The first two Beats of the bar have been split up into four groups of 2 sixteenths – Two on the Snare drum, two on the High Tom, two on the Snare drum and two on the High Tom. Then its four on the Snare and four on the Low Tom.
Whole Bar Drum Fill Variation 3
Four on the High Tom and four on the Snare drum. The rest of the bar is split up into groups of 2 sixteenths on each drum.
Whole Bar Drum Fill Variation 4
Hopefully you are starting to see how each group of four sixteenth notes can be split up into two groups of 2 sixteenths such as the first three Beats of the bar shown here. Careful moving from Beat 1 to Beat 2 as essentially four notes are played on the Snare drum.
Whole Bar Drum Fill Variation 5
Groups of six can be used such as shown here. Six on the Snare drum, six on the High Tom and four on the Low Tom.
Whole Bar Drum Fill Variation 6
Here is a combination of twos, fours and six’s. Two on the High Tom, six on the Snare drum, four on the High Tom, two on the Snare drum and two on the Low Tom.
Advanced Whole Bar Drum Fills
If you’re feeling confident or want the extra challenge then you can have a go at the next four drum fills.
The following ideas split the drums up into more complicated groups.
Note how they involve group ideas that repeat themselves at least twice within each bar. This is so that the drum fill doesn’t sound totally random. Its not a good idea to move the hands around the drums in a totally random manner as this can sound amateurish and unmusical. Its far better to find a rhythmic theme within the drum fill and play on it.
Advanced Whole Bar Drum Fill 1
This idea is very pleasing to the ear because the drums move from high to low pitch, its very satisfying sonically.
Advanced Whole Bar Drum Fill 2
The first note of each group of four sixteenths is moved to a different Tom-Tom. This means that three notes are left to play on the Snare drum.
Advanced Whole Bar Drum Fill 3
The first two beats of the bar are repeated in the second half of the bar so that the drum fill sounds more musical and thought out.
Advanced Whole Bar Drum Fill 4
The first three notes are played on the Low Tom leaving the left hand free to move to the Snare drum on the “a”. It then ends the bar with a group of two on the High Tom and a group of six on the Low Tom.
In order to learn how to use these drum fills properly you need to be able perform them with different drum beats. It’s no good being to play a drum fill on its own if you then can’t play it with a drum beat, or indeed, different drum beats.
I suggest that you take each of the drum beats from the Basic Drum Beats lesson found on this site and carefully play each beat with each of the drum fills written here. Yes I know, that’s A LOT of variations but then you should want to play lots of variations; it’s no good being a one trick pony or, in this case, a one groove drummer!
To start off with you want to practice playing the whole bar of the chosen drum beat once and then on the repeat of the bar insert the chosen drum fill onto the end. Simply play this two bar groove around and around without stopping until it is comfortable and effortless. You can then speed it up if desired.
When playing a drum fill that lasts a whole bar you can play the chosen drum beat bar once and then start the drum fill on Beat 1 of the next bar. This will create one bar of drum beat and one bar of drum fill to loop around.
As an example of what I mean I have taken drum fill 5 and placed it with Drum Beat 3 from the Basic Drum Beats lesson and shown you it below.
Drum Beat & Fill Suggestion 1
Note that the drum beat has a Bass drum on the “+” of 2 and so as the drum fill starts on Beat 3 this Bass drum note is still played in the second bar. The drum fill simply replaces Beats 3 and 4 of the groove and nothing before it.
Another example, using the same drum fill, is shown below. This time using Drum Beat 8 from the Basic Drum Beats lesson. The example shows another interesting variation for Drum Fill 5.
Drum Beat & Fill Suggestion 2
The next step is to play each drum fill at the end of four bars of drum beat and then eight bars and so on. The idea being that you are then able to “drop” drum fills into drum beats after any amount of time, or more importantly, when the music requires it.