Do you have any tips of drum fills? I want to be creative with my drum fills and not just play notes that don't mean anything.
Daniel, Houston, TX
Daniel, before I address the actual playing of fills, allow me to first give you some basic guidelines for doing fills that I have used. These guidelines are especially applicable when playing praise music but can apply to other genres as well.
1. A big misconception among many young drummers is that they see fills as an opportunity to show off their chops and prowess. This very well could be the case in some circumstances. However, the main purpose for fills in the first place is to enhance the song. Drummers should let the nuances of the song dictate the kind of fills they should do.
2. The best time to play fills is at the transition points of the song. Example, playing a fill when making the transition from the Verse to the Chorus, the Chorus to the Bridge, and perhaps a lead into a modulation.
3. Try to avoid playing fills in the key lyrical points so as to not create a distraction from the ministry value of the lyrics being sung. If you do, make sure that your fills are done in such a way that the words are enhanced or punctuated so you would be assisting in the ministry value of the song and not creating a distraction.
4. Remember that fills are like spice in your food. Some spice is good, too much spice can be bad. The more fills you put into a song, the less value and impact they will have. However, the fills can increase in their value and impact if there are less of them.
5. Remember that the kinds of fills you do and how you do them is just as important as the quantity of fills you play in a song. The “less is more” principle not only applies to the quantity of fills played in a song, but also to the kinds of fills being played. In praise music, it’s very rare that you would actually have to fill up an entire four beat bar with an intricate sixteenth note triplet round house fill. Many times a simple two beat fill consisting of a quarter note and a couple of eighth notes will suffice.
6. Consider doing some fills on your hi-hat. There is no law that says all your fills have to played on your toms. The same licks you play on your toms can be just as easily played on your hi-hat. The advantage to playing a fill on your hi-hat is that it is more subtle and less overpowering;
7. Listen to the recording of the original artist who produced the song you would be playing. Often times, the drummer (or the drum machine) in the original recording can give you a good idea of what kind of fills you can do and how often they should be played. There will be times when it may not be feasible to duplicate exactly what the original drummer did stroke for stroke on the recording. However, you should always try to duplicate the general effect of what was recorded;
8. When in doubt, don’t fill. It’s better to do error on the side of doing less fills and be asked to do more, than to do more fills and be asked to cut back. There aren’t very many bands in the mainstream secular genres or in church venues who like their drummers to over play their fills.
Now that I have established the guidelines for doing fills, let me address your question directly. While it’s good to be creative in everything we play, drummers (especially praise drummers) need to keep in mind that they are not the main focus. Our job is to keep time and be felt and not heard.
As for coming up with ideas for new fills, a good place to start is with the rudiments. Think of ways you can apply the various rudiments to create new fill patterns. Also, in addition to creating new fill patterns, try playing same fill patterns but with different sticking patterns and on different drums or cymbals. Example, if have a fill pattern where you are playing sixteenth notes with single strokes (RLRL RLRL), try playing those same sixteenth notes with double strokes (RRLL RRLL) or a paradiddle (RLRR LRLL) with each hand playing a different drum. The bottom line here is that being creative with your fills doesn’t always mean you have to come up with new fill patterns, you can play the same fill patterns and mix it up with different sticking and drum patterns. To the untrained ear, it will more often sound like an entirely different fill altogether.
I know that doing fills are fun and glamorous and many observers will evaluate drummers solely on their ability to do fills. But just remember, fills are only a small aspect of drumming. Playing grooves are far more important. Playing poorly on your grooves will get you fired a lot quicker that playing poor fills.