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Drum fills. The one brief moment in time where the drummer can improvise and fully express themselves in a way to best serve the song. Today I’m here to give you the perfect start to learning drum fills and getting fluent with the different parts of the drum kit. We’ll cover the most popular fills used in rock music which will act as the building blocks for future, advanced patterns you start to create.
Let’s get started…
Some drummers think it’s a time where you can play a complex pattern or perform a miniature solo. While this is technically correct, a drum fill is essentially meant to be a transition piece. They’re used when you want to move to different sections in the song, such as from a verse to a chorus. Basically, a drum fill should be a deviation from what you’re playing in order to introduce something new to the listener.
You can play a drum fill for as long as you want, but there are three common durations for fills that you’ll hear in rock music pretty regularly. There’s a full bar, half bar, and a quarter bar drum fill. The main goal is to internalize the timing of these fills so you know when to start, and when to stop.
Practice tip: When going through these fills, try to practice them in phrases. This basically means just play a drum beat, play your fill, then go back to the drum beat. Act as if you were playing it within a song.
“Wait… We’re playing nothing for an entire bar?” You’d be surprised how effective silence is at building tension. It’s situational, but sometimes this is the perfect tool for the job. Go out on count one, come back in on count one. Boom.
This fill is known as the “8th note build”. Start by playing 8th notes on the snare and floor tom at a low volume and slowly get louder at the fill goes on. This is called a crescendo. Add in the bass drum on the quarter notes and we’re ready to rip.
Arguably one of the most popular drum fills ever in rock music, this pattern consists of 16th notes all around the toms. You might think it’s boring, but it’s highly effective in this genre of music and perfect to start getting beginner drummers to explore the drum kit.
The famous Bonham triplet. We’re moving from 16th notes to 8th note triplets (twelve notes per bar rather than 16 notes) for this drum fill. You can whip this puppy out in both straight and swung rock making it a versatile pattern to have in your toolkit.
Our first half-bar fill! If you’re looking for a quicker, more compact pattern to play that’s not as intruding as a full bar fill, start your fills on count three. This pattern consists of eight note on the snare drum (alternating hands).
Another popular “breakdown” style fill that’s great for transitioning into another section in a song. The flam is a fun rudiment to incorporate into your fills, so try adding it into the other patterns on this list.
Lastly, let’s talk about quarter-bar fills. These are perfect to toss in if you want to add some quick flavor and subtle enough to duck under any vocal lines.
So there’s a handful of common rock drum fills to get you started. Remember, your main focus should be on the concept of full, half, and quarter bar durations spaces instead of only concentrating on the pattern itself. The key to a great drum fill is starting and ending on time with confidence. Experiment within those spaces and come up with your own ideas.