How To Be A Good Jazz Drummer

If you want to know how to be a good jazz drummer, you should first learn how to be free. You should learn how to play with your fellow musicians rather than simply “lay down the beat.” Jazz is an artistic and creative type of music, especially since so much of the music is based on improvisation, solos and style.

  1. Jazz is a more “musical” form of drumming than rap, hip hop, heavy metal or standard rock and roll. One way jazz drumming differs from standard drumming is in the tempo. While most rock, pop and blues is based on a standard 4/4 tempo (four beats to a measure), jazz is often played in 2/4, 3/4, 6/8 and even 5/4 (as in the classic “Take Five” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet).
  2. Another difference between rock and jazz is the dynamics, or volume (the loudness of the beats being played). While standard rock, hard rock and rap/hip hop usually feature heavy bass drumming and loud sticking along with cymbal-riding, jazz is often played with brushes rather than sticks, bass beats are more subtle and less frequent and sticking, when present, is nearly always more subdued.
  3. To learn jazz drumming, you must learn to control your arms and feet independently. As is true in nearly all combo or band drumming, you are primarily responsible for keeping consistent time. However, in jazz, the bass (often a standup acoustic bass) is equally responsible. Together, the jazz drummer and jazz bassist are the rhythm section, the basis of the music. However, in jazz drumming, it is vitally important that you do not overpower the other instruments. In fact, it’s wise to keep the heel of the foot you’re using for your bass or kick-drum on the floor rather than raising it above the pedal. This helps facilitate what jazz drummers call “feathering,” or lightly tapping the bass drum. In jazz, the bass drum is more of a musical tone than a loud thump.
  4. The other big difference in jazz drumming is the nature of the drum solos that you will play. No more banging away for fifteen minutes while the band takes a break; jazz drum solos are brief, specific and in the same tone as the other instruments.
  5. To be a good jazz drummer, you must train your ears to hear and recognize good jazz drumming. Listen to the best jazz drummers, read about them and how they got good at it. Identify the common jazz tempos, pick up pointers from listening to all forms of jazz and strive to develop your own style. And, most importantly, play along with good jazz drummers every chance you get.


Dunscomb, J. Richard . “Jazz Pedagogy: The Jazz Educator's Handbook and Resource Guide.” Warner Brothers, 2004.

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