Drum fills are rhythmic patterns that either elaborate on or break from the main groove of a song. They’re typically used as a transition between song sections, and often come after two, four or eight measures. Fill lengths vary and depend on the musical context. They sometimes last just one or two beats, or as long as one or two measures – and sometimes even longer.
Drum fills can be thought of as not just rhythmic, but melodic as well. A drummer can create a fill “theme” in a song; for example, every fill consists of 8th notes and starts on the 3 in a measure. In this way, a fill can be the drummer’s equivalent of a melodic hook – a “memorable musical idea” that catches the listener’s ear and comes up a few times throughout a song.
Fills create interest, excitement, and even tension/release when transitioning between parts of a song, such as from a verse to a chorus. They’re deviations from the main groove that introduce a new texture in order to “fill the gap” between melodic phrases and mark that something’s happening musically.
You could think of hitting a crash cymbal as the simplest drum fill: it takes up the space of just one beat but is still a break from the primary rhythm, usually emphasizes a musical transition, and signifies the end of a group of two, four or eight measures.
Dave explains how to play a drum fill perfectly in this video (even if you aren’t playing rock music):
Here are some of the most widely used drum fills – from beginner to advanced – that every drummer should have in their rhythmic toolbox. These popular and familiar fills have stood the test of time because of how well they work in a wide variety of songs.
Use this list as a jumping off point to building your own skills. Your fills can become your signature “voice” as a drummer – so improvise, experiment, and trust your creativity.
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