sorta premeditated ‘fan art’ by the dopest Jess Brett
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sorta premeditated ‘fan art’ by the dopest Jess Brett
Here is an essay I wrote on drum fills that was supposed to be used on the blog for Brooklyn Music Lessons before I lost my job with them. It’s all good though I hope you enjoy :).
If I were to pinpoint a single moment that made me want to play drums, I think I can trace it back to the video for Basket Case by Green Day. The scene is set in a mental health clinic where the band has been committed. They are allowed to use their instruments in the common room for a brief recess. Billy Joe, lead singer & guitarist, gets his amp settings set & guitar handed to him by a nurse. Standing there for a moment in a catatonic daze, he all of a sudden dials in and starts off the beginning of the song like the precision rockstar that he is. As the bassist Mike Dirnt is being rolled out on a stretcher to his position stage right, Tré Cool (drummer) is being rolled up to his drumset in a wheelchair in the background. Tré too is gradually coming out of his daze by half consciously playing the beginning hi hat lick of the song. Out of nowhere he busts out the beginning fill in a ‘woah I can play drums!’ miracle display. This moment of contrast of him being nearly a vegetable to all of a sudden being a god-like drummer was enough for my 10 year old mind and forward to be forever entranced with drums.
The point of this story? The Fill. The pure and raw joy of playing a drum fill is at once a display of a drummers prowess & voice, in addition to serving many important purposes to the music being played. The fill is the essence of drumming. It was from this single moment in a Green Day video and forward that fills dictated my taste in most music I love. I am sure a whole dissertation on ‘fill science’ can be written but I will attempt to summarize what I think is effective and what I desire in a tantalizing fill.
There are a few elements that make up an effective fill. Firstly - it’s catchiness. I think it is safe to say the most widely known fill in the western hemisphere is in Phil Collins’ ‘I can feel it coming in the air tonight’. You know, the big epic one that leads in to the wind down of the song (also famously executed by a gorilla in this cadbury egg commercial http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TEc17j5GF8) (also before we move forward I realized u can refer to Phil Collin as Fill Collins and it checks out ;)). Anyways, this fill on a very basic level displays every property of an effective and catchy fill. By default it is catchy because it rips through a mostly drumless song. It is meant to grab the listeners attention and is just as memorable as any other element of the song. As the gorilla shows also, it is easy to picture it being played. This is also is a big part of what makes a drum fill catchy. Dave Grohl is quoted in saying that what he looks for or tries to create in a great drum part or fill is it’s ‘air drumability’. That is, how good it looks to air drum aka play the part with no drums in front of you. If it LOOKS fun and simple to play it is therefore a catchy and solid drum part or fill.
Another element I have noted that makes a great fill is flams. This of course is not a rule (truthfully there are no rules this is just in the opinion of someone who has played lots of fills) but something I have noted that adds to a fill’s catchiness and ‘air drumability’. A flam consists of two notes being played as one. The first note is played at a lower volume, while the second is played at a normal volume. The trick is to play the notes slightly off-set, so they have a fatter sound. Written out here
Simply, it’s the most primal maneuver one can do on drums. It’s the act of beating a drum with both sticks at the same time. It’s a stroke that mostly only makes sense when doing a fill. One of my favorite fills (it’s actually almost a ‘fill riff’ in that its not just a one time thing but repeated) is from the intro of Nivana’s ‘In Bloom’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0AqE9dapV0). Written out here
The second part of the bar with the 16th note tom run is what we are focusing on. This fill is all flams. Almost obnoxiously all flams. But it is a very memorable, anthemic, and purely fun fill to play. You can easily picture Dave wyling out and headbanging when cranking the tom runs. And this fill would not be what it is without each hit being a flam. It’s what sets it over and gives the fill it’s stylistic and primal edge. Flams are just a natural thing to play when the spotlight is on the drummer like this or most fill scenarios. It breathes life into the rhythm being played and helps demand attention more directly. It is an important element of a solid fill.
I was trying to think of one more unifying element that I look for in an effective fill like ‘it should start with snare and include at least 2 toms’ or ‘it should have a 2-3 clave as the underlying rhythm’ but I became aware of how inherently silly it is to write an essay on and set rules to playing a fill. A fill’s actual purpose is to signal that a change in the music is about to happen and it is used to segway into the next section. What really makes a great fill is how unconsciously the drummer can express his or herself in that moment with that task. The steps I have discussed can be a good starting point and food for thought but in the end - noticing fills when you hear them in songs you like & playing them on a kit or air drumming them will make you internalize them & help you naturally create your own voice and style when it comes time to play one.
Bottom line is fills can be just as important to the personality of a song as any other of the key parts of the song. They are the manifestation of the drummer exercising his free will while ‘doing his job’. It is one of the most basic joys of playing drums and essentially is what made me want to play. I compiled a list of some of the most influential fills to me that generally contain all elements I have discussed in addition to asking friends randomly what their favorite fills are when I was procrastinating and talking about how Im going to write an essay on fills. I hope this can be of some help in your quest to execute a head turning, classic, effective fill.
- Beginning of Two Princes by Spin Doctors
- In almost every song on the album Dookie by Green Day
- Beginning of Spiderwebs by No Doubt
- Beginning of Sober by Tool
- 1st fill in good times bad times by Led Zepplin
- In between Kurt saying ‘Merry’ in All Apologies by Nirvana
- Beginning of Riot Rhythm by Sleigh Bells
- Right after they say ‘Burning down the house’ in Buring Down the House by Talking Heads
- Beginning of Semi Charmed Kinda Life by Third Eye Blind
- After Ozzy says ‘o lord yea’ in War Pigs by Black Sabbath
- Throughout the Chorus of ‘No One Knows’ by Queens of the Stone Age
- Leading into the verses in Give It Away by Red Hot Chili Peppers
- Beginning of ‘Long Live the Party’ by Andrew WK
- In the beginning of all the songs and throughout ‘Bob Marley Live at the Roxy 1976’
- Leading into ‘drop section’ in 1st of the Year by Skrillex
- Fills in verses in ‘Got the Life’ by Korn
New Dark Sister out now! Goatse and A.D.i.D.A.S. (w. Joel Dahan on guitar) produced by D. Gookin :). This is some of the dopest stuff I’ve had the honor of working on with one of my fav bands. Very stoked. Please show some love.
Stream also on Acclaim Mag
Some excellent words written about the album and my production written here
Cop it now!
HEY it’s been a few it really has but it’s almost time for me & dark sister to show you some things we’ve been working on stay tuned won’t you?
tune that holds a deep special place in my heart. I needed to let it be known. Just hold this moment close to you. kazaa / trip hop heads know.