Once you have established the basic techniques behind learning to play drums, you may feel comfortable playing along with many different songs, and playing using music notation written for the drums. There are some special considerations that you should be aware of when playing drums in other specific styles. Styles like Latin drumming and jazz drumming have their own distinct techniques, rhythms and sounds. If it is your goal to some day become a professional musician, you should become versatile in a variety of different styles so that you are able to perform in any venue that becomes available. The more flexible your musical skills, the more auditions you will be qualified to attend. This means more work for you as a professional drummer. That just makes sense, right?
There are other reasons to learn jazz drumming. Learning to play in another style increases your rhythmic vocabulary, and the number of combinations of beats and techniques that you will learn. You may find that practicing a technique used primarily in Latin drumming helps improve your approach to rock drumming. In general, the more you learn your way around the drum set, the better musician you will become. This is true especially if you choose to learn more about jazz as an art form, its history, and the great jazz musicians of yesterday and today. Knowing how jazz developed and how it is played will make you a well-rounded, educated musician. You may also find yourself spending more time practicing in order to develop the new skills needed to be a jazz drummer. Anything that makes you feel like practicing is always good! You might even decide that you really enjoy learning jazz drumming and you want to make it your specialty.
The first thing you should do once you decide to learn jazz drumming is to listen to as many recordings as you can in the jazz style of playing. You can find used CDs, at discount prices, on Amazon or eBay, or use your favorite file download service and search for ‘jazz’. When you listen, pay attention to the drum part (of course). Listen for not only what they are playing, but when they play it. Sit at your drum set and see if you can pick up some of the grooves as they play. Imitation is an excellent way to get a feel for jazz drumming.
Don’t plan to learn jazz drumming by ear alone. There are some excellent resources written by top musicians and music educators on jazz drumming. The books listed below contain great information for students of jazz drumming and are a good place to start. These texts are intended to teach students independence in jazz drumming and introduce the overall concepts of jazz to the beginning jazz drummer.
Attend as many performances of jazz music as you can. Even high school jazz bands can produce some outstanding concert performances. Check to see when the jazz band at your local college meets and arrange with the conductor to sit in on a rehearsal. When you attend, watch the drummer and talk with him afterwards about his experiences starting out as a jazz drummer. You probably also want to think about finding a local teacher who is familiar with jazz drumming. Taking a couple of lessons from a professional drummer can give you a solid foundation on which to build.
Jazz drummers also need to be aware that they are not alone on the stage in being the providers of the heartbeat of the music. The drum set is one component of a larger piece of the band, known as the rhythm section, that includes the piano and the bass. The rhythm section functions as a group and it is important for the drummer to know his role as a member of this section. The interplay between these three musicians is critical to achieve the classic jazz band sound.
Skills like reaction to soloists and improvising within a bass line just can’t be learned in the practice room. The more you play jazz music on drums in a live performance, the more you will develop the jazz skills that will make you a competent jazz artist.