Twelve Classic Books for Every Jazz Drummer’s Library
It is my great pleasure to share these books with you. I reference them daily as have my teachers and those before them. If you’re discovering them for the first time, you’re in for a real treat. Each will present a quest and an adventure that, as worked through, will build skills you will own for a lifetime.
If you’ve ever wondered “What are those crazy things that jazz drummer is doing?” the secrets will be revealed by your hard work with these classic study guides. The reward is impossible to express in words. If you love what you hear and it sounds like pure magic when Max Roach or Tony Williams takes a drum solo, developing these skills will be a feeling I can only relate to being granted the ability to fly. Part of the human soul is set free when you have the tools to express your passion.
If you are serious about learning jazz drum set, you will definitely enjoy familiarizing yourself with these classics. Once you get a taste of why these books are so widely read, you won’t be able to put them down.
The Challenge of Online Learning
It is unfortunate that e-learning is hindered by copyright laws. Traditionally a good teacher would draw from these classics to lay out a path for a new student. A decade ago, every student was familiar with Syncopation by Ted Reed and Stick Control by George Stone.
A kid waiting in the local music store for his or her lesson might overhear rumors about how Philly Joe Jones keeps a copy of The All American Drummer in his hotel room while touring and considers it his secret weapon. A jazz student would hear of Berklee professor Alan Dawson, teacher of Miles Davis’ drummer Tony Williams and creator of The Rudimental Ritual.
In the online learning environment, teachers are limited in their presentation of copyrighted material and thus are forced to develop and sell their own methods. It is no secret that e-learning is a huge industry. The motivation to steer clear of the classics might be irresistible for some. It is a disservice to the student to guide them away from the legacy of the masters before us.
When I started creating online content, there was nothing I wanted more than to help students work through these books. They are already laid out like courses and are created by educators I will humbly admire until the day I die. I literally love these guys and they’ve enriched my daily life for so many years, how could I not want to share their teachings? Leaving them out is the equivalent of teaching an American literature course where I pretend Ralph Ellison and Walt Whitman didn’t exist and instead spend half of our class time building your excitement to buy a copy of my latest romance novel. I know what your thinking–“That doesn’t sound so bad right?” Ha! But I’m trying hard to give you some depth here, so read on.
I sincerely hope that wherever and however you learn online, you won’t miss out on the Ralph Ellison/s of our art. It wouldn’t be ethical to steer students away from these classics just for the benefit of selling a subscription to one’s own site or method.
The Advantage of Online Learning
Although impossible to share these books in the context of YouTube videos or online courses, the bright side is that the material is relatively universal. Knowledgable teachers can and do help students develop the same skills in a manner synthesized from the methods of Dawson, Riley and Chaffee without directly infringing on copyright.
Having access to good teachers is a greater benefit than just having access to good books. Teaching is an art and human interaction is the critical element. The internet provides open access to building student-teacher relationships and learning communities across borders, time zones and financial barriers.
The internet also provides teachers with a new set of tools to research the needs of their students and develop lessons designed to meet those needs. Do a YouTube search for “left hand drum exercises” and you’ll see the results of this research. There are fantastic benefits to technology and innovation. There are undoubtedly fantastic teachers online. There is more motivation now than ever for a teacher to hone their skills and create high quality course content.
A Note on Musicality
A drummer could read all of the books in the world and still not be playing musically. While just about every professional musician reads today, there have been ground-breaking players that didn’t read a note. That’s because music is an ear-art and improvisation comes naturally when learned and expressed as such. Some of my favorite lessons with Alan Hall were learning to sing the melody to Bop tunes by ear and apply them on the drum set in a variety of ways. Good drummers stress musicality first.
Use these books for guidance, to challenge and develop your skills but remember to always put music first. When it comes time to play, keep your head out of the books so you are free to focus on supporting the band, communication, pulse, dynamics, phrasing and orchestration. Simply put, listen hard.
Syncopation and Stick Control are the quintessential drumming classics. These books are in every teacher’s library. They have helped shape the vocabulary of drumming. Pick them up for the first time and you’ll immediately start to recognize phrases you’ve been hearing drummers play for years. There is a definite before and after effect. I’ve had students come to me who’ve tried anything and everything to improve, but feel they are missing something. They come back to these books as a last resort. There must be some reason those stodgy old teachers tote around Syncopation and Stick Control everywhere they go right? After making the commitment to work through them, they discover it isn’t just about reading. It’s about developing pulse, rhythmic accuracy and control. Everything we play has an underlying rhythm and sticking pattern. These two books iron out the wrinkles in our sense of time and give us fluid control throughout a variety of sticking patterns.
Progressive Steps to Syncopation for the Modern Drummer by Ted Reed
Syncopation teaches the basics of rhythm. It begins with quarter notes and rests, progresses through eighth notes, triplets, mixed 16th notes, dotted quarter notes, ties and basic accent patterns. The nine exercises near the end of the book (p38-p46) read like melodies. If you can read those nine exercises, you can read the rhythms of 90% of the material you’ll find in any collection of jazz standards. Add in what you learned in the first section of the book, and you’ll be reading all but the most complex melodies. That’s a beautiful thing.
With a focused application of your time and a minimal effort you will have gained the ability to read enough to communicate with a jazz ensemble while sight reading. Without having ever played a song before, you’ll be able to anticipate the changes, set up the band and communicate as if you were telepathic.
How do jazz musicians know where they are in all that madness? They are all singing (or reading) the same melody at the same time. While they may not explicitly play the melody, it is the common thread around which they circulate. It ties them together and allows them the freedom to spread out or tighten up at will. From a listener’s perspective, it is much more interesting to hear musicians improvise over a melody you know. You’re in on the conversation, and that’s part of the reason people call jazz an acquired taste.
You’ll see below, these nine exercises are the basis for Alan Dawson’s method of developing four-way coordination.
Stick Control by George L. Stone
The first three pages of Stick Control are the most commonly referenced. Each of these 72 exercises is 16 notes long, exploring the possible combinations of R (right) and L (left) hand sticking patterns. These exercises include The Single Stroke Roll, The Double Stroke Roll and variations of The Paradiddle. If you are new to Stick Control you’ll be amazed at how effective it is for developing just that, stick control. There is definitely a reason this book is still around.
As with Alan Dawson’s interpretation of Syncopation, the first three pages of Stick Control are popular because they can be interpreted to exercise many aspects of drumming. For example, the R(right) hands can be played on the bass drum while the L(left) hand hits are played on the snare drum. Add the hihat cymbal on every other beat and you’ve got a basic rock independence drill. My favorite of these interpretations is to read every R as Rll and every L as rrL. These are the two halves of The Six Stroke Roll and they are played as rolling triplets. My teacher, Alan Hall, called this exercise Morello after legendary drummer Joe Morello. Take a listen to Joe Morello playing a solo then give the drill a shot, you’ll be amazed! Every student who’s tried it has ended up incorporating it into their playing as a go-to jazz soloing approach.
The Drummer’s Complete Vocabulary as Taught by Alan Dawson by John Ramsey
As head of the Berklee College of Music Percussion Department from 1957-1975, Alan Dawson left a legacy that changed jazz drumming forever. His students include the hugely influential Tony Williams, Steve Smith, Terri Lyne Carrington and my own teacher Alan Hall.
This book contains an introduction to the rudiments as tought by Alan Dawson, followed by The Rudimental Ritual—a 15 minute song incorporating all the rudiments into polyrhythms at varying rates, on and off the beat, over the Samba foot pattern. This builds chops, phrasing and independence. It truly is meant to be a daily ritual, complimented by the material in the latter half of the book.
The second section of this book lays out the eleven ways of interpreting Syncopation by Ted Reed. The basic goal here is to develop the ability to move a melody through any limb while supporting it with time, or filling in triplets with the other limbs. This weaving of the melody through the drum set is what makes Dawson’s approach such a success. You’re not just developing amazing independence, fluidity and freedom, everything you do is strictly tied to a melody. You’re developing musicianship.
The Art of Bop Drumming by John Riley
Drumming legends Bill Stewart and Ari Hoenig spent time studying with John Riley. In contrast to Dawson, Riley’s approach is more recently developed. His effect on the evolution of jazz drumming is undeniable.
This book provides a much lighter introduction to the basics of modern jazz drumming and is far less cryptic than Dawson’s method above. The student isn’t required to do any in depth interpretations of the melody. Phrases are clearly presented. Riley shows you what to play, then challenges you to apply it. I like this book as an intro for the serious student. It includes an overview of time playing, soloing, brushes, a variety of grooves to build the standard bag of tricks and six play along tracks that cover the tempos and groove situations a jazz drummer is typically presented with.
If I notice students are falling asleep during my rant proselytizing Dawson’s method I’ll quickly move to recommend this book. Ultimately, you’ll want to learn the material in both books.
The All American Drummer – 150 Rudimental Solos by Charley Wilcoxon
This book is a collection of short, half-page rudimental solos. If you are already familiar with the Standard American 26 Drum Rudiments (this book was written before the Percussive Arts Society added 14 rudiments to form the PAS 40 International Drum Rudiments) and can read basic rhythms, each solo takes just few minutes to learn. They are fun, satisfying little achievements that have a great effect on your ability to apply rudiments musically.
In Charley Wilcoxon’s preface to the book he writes “This book of original Solos was especially written to enable the modern Drummer to understand more clearly the far reaching possibilities of the Twenty-six Rudiments. Based entirely on the tradition of famous Masters, a touch of ‘swing’ was added to give each a certain lift, Drummers of today prefer.”
Take a listen to Philly Joe Jones’ drum solos with the Miles Davis Quintet and you’ll hear exactly what Wilcoxon was talking about. Working with this book will give you the ability to take otherwise dry, square rudiments and make them sing. A great follow-up to the Rudimental Ritual, or a nice primer that is far easier to pick up without a huge life time commitment.
This book is dear to my heart if for no other reason than every time I sit down with it, even if just for a few minutes, I end up having a blast improvising snare drum solos as if his were my own.
Afro-Cuban Rhythms for Drumset by Frank Malabe and Bob Weiner
This book gives an authentic history and specific examples of how to apply traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms to the drum set. Published in 1990 it has since become the go-to source for jazz and rock drummers interested in deepening their knowledge of Afro-Cuban rhythms.
Every drumming legend from John Bonham to Max Roach has incorporated these rhythms into their style. They are so deeply a part of the roots of American music we can’t help but be influenced by them. If you’re looking to better understand the roots of the music we play, learn seed rhythms that can inspire and direct your improvisation or challenge your independence this and the book below are a great start.
Grooves covered include Songo, Mozambique, Cascara, Conga, Merengue, Bembe, Guaguanco, Clave and Cha-Cha-Cha.
Brazilian Rhythms for Drumset by Duduka Da Fonseca and Bob Weiner
Published in 1991 and coauthored by Bob Weiner, this book explores the background and influences of Brazil’s deep musical history. As with its Afro-Cuban counterpart, the book begins with a history of popular, religious and ritual processional music, introduces traditional Brazilian Samba instruments and their signature rhythms and goes on to demonstrate in-depth drum set applications.
Grooves covered include Samba, Partido Alto, Bossa Nova, Baiao, Caterete, Maracatu, Marcha and Frevo. Another endless source of ideas and inspiration.
New Orleans and Second Line Drumming by Herlin Riley and Johnny Vidacovich
Another roots exploration, this book is a deep history lesson filled with essays, interviews and transcriptions. It will take you from Congo Square through Ragtime, Brass bands, Jazz funerals, second line Street beats and modern applications.
If you want to get to the bottom of your jazz and funk playing, this is a great place to start. It’s an enjoyable read on or away from the drums.
Beyond Bop Drumming by John Riley
A continuation of Riley’s The Art of Bop Drumming, this book covers the concepts of broken-time playing, implied time, metric modulation, and soloing. It includes solo transcriptions and analysis of drummers Elvin Jones, Bob Moses, Tony Williams and Jack Dejohnette as well as analysis of the time shifting techniques used on Wynton Marsalis’ album Standard Time vol.1
While Riley’s first book lays the foundation for classic hard bop drumming, this book explores freedom and abstraction, challenging you to expand your concept of the role of a drummer from time keeper to lead instrument and equal voice.
Portraits in Rhythm by Anthony J. Cirone
This book is the go-to for drummers ready to explore orchestral snare drum. It is a fantastic tool for refining control and sensitivity. A thin book of 50 snare drum studies, it is deep enough to inspire a 120 page companion study guide. It is used around the world as the standard for training college percussionists.
Rhythm and Meter Patterns by Gary Chaffee
This book is a challenging exploration of odd rhythms(quintuplets and septuplets), mixed meters, metric modulation and polyrhythms. In the beginning it feels a bit like getting to know the gears of a bike and learning to shift smoothly between them.
After a review of basic hand position and dynamic control the book dives into an exercise in switching between all possible combinations of subdivisions of the beat. You will then be challenged with two studies that move from 8th notes to 32nd notes, and all possible combinations of subdivisions in between, like a wild rollercoaster.
These studies are meant to be played first on the snare drum, then applied on the drum set in an improvisational fashion where you maintain your focus on the rhythm while freely moving around the set. This is a fantastic exercise on internalizing subdivisions. It will greatly deepen your sense of time and is a cure for the drummer who gets caught up in his or her hands and chops. It’s all about rhythm.
Next, there are studies dedicated to each subdivision. One page of just 8th notes with rests in ever changing time signatures, with ever shifting dynamics, followed by one triplet exercise, a 16th note exercise and so on up through 5, 6, 7 and 8 note groupings. Again you are to learn each study first on the snare drum and then explore ways to apply them on the drum set. After working each subdivision with rests, the book covers rhythmic mixtures with rests followed by all previous material combined with metric modulation.
The latter half of this book is intensely difficult. I have to admit I spent a couple of years practicing this material for hours each day and rarely apply it. Your mileage may vary. There are some heavy players that swear by this book. The first section is highly applicable.
This book is just one of four that comprise Gary Chaffee’s complete method. The books in the series are Rhythm and Meter Patterns, Sticking Patterns, Technique Patterns (finger exercises) and Time Functioning Patterns (independence and linear time playing). His books have been a huge influence on rock and fusion drummers.
Gary Chaffee was head of the Berklee College of Music Percussion Department from 1972-1976.
Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer, Volume 1. Coordinated Independence As Applied to Jazz and Bebop by Jim Chapin
This short and friendly book is a primer on jazz independence originally published in 1948. The basic jazz time pattern is played throughout the book while sections progress from eighth notes to triplets and sixteenth note rhythms played between the snare and bass drum. This was the first jazz study book I worked through after reading Syncopation and Stick Control.
In my teaching practice, The Art of Bop Drumming overshadows this book but it is still a great lesson in language and history. The introduction alone is worth the price, relating jazz drumming to independence in Balinese dance training and the independent control of each muscle of the body in Hindu drumming and dance.
What Did I Miss?
Yes, there’s a 13th book… how could I forget Modern Reading Text in 4/4 For All Instruments by former Duke Ellington drummer Louis Bellson. This is the next step in reading development after Syncopation.