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How To Use Diddles to Texture Your Fills & Confidently Leave On ‘1’

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Most drum fills are made up of combinations of singles, doubles and flams. Sounds simple right? In principle, absolutely. Just to be clear, we’re going to be talking a lot about linear-context type things in this lesson, but the principles can be applied pretty much universally.

However, when you’re stringing combinations of these together around the kit – at fast or slow tempos – the sounds you end up making can confuse you as to where the downbeat is, making it tricky to come out of a fill and confidently land on ‘1’ with the rest if the band.

You’ve heard tons of advanced players performing mind-bending patterns that seem to defy the ‘laws of physics’ you might be accustomed to. What they’re (basically) doing is weaving together singles, doubles and flams (i.e. rudiments) to form interesting (amazing!) patterns.

The artistry comes in by playing different strokes at different volumes to make accents that pop out – if you do it right you’ll create a rhythm that enhances and maybe even mirrors the main feel of the song or the musical motif you’re involved in at a given time (i.e. matching the riff).

And of course, we have four limbs at our disposal, so playing some of those singles, doubles and flams with our pedals will add even more power or texture to our fills. Of course, this also distracts from the ‘traditional’ placement of ‘1’ between your hands and feet. But, it also makes coming up with these types of fills all the more fun and rewarding.

So – we have to develop control to make these notes sound good and make musical sense. More importantly, we’ve got to develop the way we hear how the notes are fitting together. JoJo Mayer refers to this ability as ‘how fast can you hear?’

We can develop our hearing by grouping the fill into pieces until each of its distinct sub-rhythms become clear to our ears. Then it suddenly becomes easier to put them together and start getting that fill up to speed.

The ‘how to’ part

So let’s focus on some things you can develop to improve your hearing and how daring you can be with entering and exiting fills. Remember, you don’t have to always crash using your dominant hand (or foot).

See, the beautiful thing about rudiments is that they’re often mirror images of themselves, or they have a symmetry that lends them to moving fluidly around the kit.

We learn rudiments like the essential words of a language, because they’re repeatable in so many ways. They’re brilliantly designed and perfect in their essential simplicity.

But we need to mix them together to make music – and sometimes we just want to rip and feel like we’re truly free at the kit, not hemmed in by the 1-2-3-4 way we’ve all probably learned in.

To start getting a handle on this, start by playing a two-bar single-stroke roll leading with your dominant hand:
RLRLRLRLRLRLRLRL / LRLRLRLRLRLRLRLR. Get that nice and comfy. Focus on where you

Now introduce a double on the first note – i.e. play the first two notes as rights/lefts:
RRLRLRLR – oh snap! The roll has turned around – if you’re going to mirror that, the next 2 bars are going to be – LLRLRLRL.

Can you see a link to a paradiddle here? Good. That’s the kind of thinking you need to carry through this whole lesson.

Try playing that whole phrase as part of a groove – not too tricky right?
RRLRLRLRLLRLRLRL – you’re good to crash on ‘1’ as you normally do. Try moving that double around the pattern – e.g. RLLRLRLRLRRLRLRL – the result is much the same in terms of getting out on ‘1’ without a problem. And if you start moving that around the kit, chances are you’ll starting hearing some new possibilities for fill ideas. Excellent!

However, sometimes you don’t have 2 whole bars to calmly make a fill, and sometimes you want to start the fill in a less ‘square’ place in the measure – because we’re musicians right? We’re not just ticking boxes. Let’s just take that first example of the double at the start of the roll as our fill: RRLRLRLR / LLRLRLRL

Now we have to crash out on ‘1’ using our non-dominant hand. Oh the ambidexterity! First, get used to performing this fill (go ahead and displace the double anywhere you like within the fill if you’re feeling confident) and coming down on ‘1’ on your left/right side. It’s a good co-ordination exercise and pretty essential to getting comfortable with freeing up your fill playing.

Once you’ve got that down (take your time, make sure all your limbs are landing exactly together so you can’t hear any difference between the way you come out of a fill on either side), it’s time to start introducing additional doubles within the 1- and 2-bar versions of the fill.

From there we’ll start to replace one note with a bass drum, then two notes, and then groupings of ones and twos between the hands and feet. Let’s see which rhythmic phrases we can come up with.

Next time I’ll publish 10 ideas to nourish your ears and season your chops.