Learn Simple Drum Fills to Spice Up Your Beats

Drum fills are breaks from the normal beat that emphasize transitions between two separate musical parts, such as the verse and chorus of a song. Fills are typically composed of fast successive drum notes, also known as rolls. This page will discuss how to use roll to play interesting and effective “killer” drum fills that are not very difficult to master.

The discussions and examples on this page use standard drum notation and music terminology, therefore if you are not familiar with either one, it would be useful to visit this drum notation tutorial first.

A simple drum beat with a fill

The figure above shows a simple beat interrupted by a drum fill in the middle. Use the sound player directly below the notes to hear how they sound. The drum fill here is a 16th note roll which lasts for a single 4/4 measure, and therefore has 16 notes in it.

The 16th note roll is only one of several basic rolls you can use to play a drum fill. The various types of rolls differ in their relative speeds.

The basic roll types are described below from the slowest to the fastest. The roll samples are written with bass drum notes that can be used for practice and are discussed later.

Quarter Triplet Roll

Quarter Triplet Roll

This is the slowest of the rolls. Three quarter triplet notes occupy the same time frame as two quarter notes. The quarter triplets are slow enough to play with a single hand, and therefore are also easy to play with both hands simultaneously. One possibility is to play the notes with one hand on a tom and the other on the snare. Another possibility is to play the notes as flams.

8th Note Roll

Eighth Note Roll

The 8th note roll is, not surprisingly, made of 8th notes. It is also usually slow enough to play with a single hand, or both hands simultaneously, but it won’t do any harm to play it with an alternating
L R L R L R L R …
stick pattern.

8th Triplet Roll

Eighth Triplet Roll

Three 8th triplets occupy the same time as two 8th notes. This roll is probably fast enough to warrant an alternating stick pattern, unless you’re familiar with the one handed roll technique.

16th Note Roll

Sixteenth Note Roll

This roll is somewhat faster than the 8th triplet roll and twice as fast as the 8th note roll.

16th Triplet Roll

Sixteenth Triplet Roll

This roll has 6 notes to the quarter, and is twice as fast as the 8th triplet roll.

32nd Note Roll

Thirty Second Note Roll

This is a very fast roll, but you can do it if you use proper technique and practice. The faster rolls are very difficult to sustain, but drum fills don’t usually require long sustained rolls. So practicing fast speeds in short bursts is okay.

Practicing the Rolls

The roll samples given here are written as single measures, but when you practice you can repeat as much as you’d like. Practice these with the metronome and start with a moderate pace you can handle. Playing with precision timing is at least as important as being able to play fast.

The bass drum notes are included with the roll samples for a reason. It is a good idea to actually play the bass notes when you practice, as they will help you keep the proper timing.

Practicing Drum Fills

After you’ve become comfortable playing the rolls individually, use them as fills within a beat. The first example on this page illustrates this. Just play your favorite beat and insert a single measure drum fill using any one of the rolls discussed above. One of the first steps toward becoming a good drummer is getting comfortable with breaking off from the beat, doing a fill, and then continuing with the beat again. This exercise will help you gain the confidence to do so.

The most important thing you must do when performing a fill is to keep consistent timing. The fill must never offset the beat by any amount of time. Playing the bass notes and using a metronome while practicing should help keep the timing straight.

For a bit more challenge, vary the lengths of the fills by adding or subtracting notes. For example, a 1 1/2 measure 8th note fill in 4/4 time has 12 notes in it. Do half measure fills, two measure fills, 1 1/2 measure fills, etc., and be sure to end and restart the beat at the correct spots. For instance, a 1 1/2 measure fill must take away half a measure of beat on one side of it. The following example illustrates this point:

1 1/2 measure fill

In the example above, a 1 1/2 measure drum fill is played. Because of the extra 1/2 of the fill, half of the second measure is taken away from the beat.

More Complex Drum Fills

Now that you know about the basic roll types, you can combine them to form more complex and interesting drum fills. Here’s an example:

Complex Drum Fill

The example above has a 1 1/2 measure fill that starts with a 3 note quarter triplet roll played on both the snare and the small tom simultaneously. The fill then continues with 8 notes of a 16th note roll on the snare, and finishes off with an 8th note roll with two notes on the small tom and two on the medium tom. To really finish things off, it is also common to play the crash cymbal at the very beginning of the beat following the fill.

In terms of drum notation, the small tom is written in the space above the snare, the medium tom is written on the line above the snare, and the crash is written on a short line segment added above the hi-hat’s spot. Also present are suggested sticking (L R marks) positions for the fill.

As an exercise, come up with drum fills of your own combining different rolls played on different drums. The possibilities are endless!

When to Play a Drum Fill

Drum fills are a way for a drummer to show off, but there are good places to put a fill and bad places. An out of place fill sounds strange, and instead of enhancing the music it takes away from it. Drum fills should be played when there are breaks in the flow of music or transitions between two different sounding parts of a song, such as a verse and a chorus.

In transitions, the drum fills usually end by the start of the new section. Although, very often the fill “overflows” with a crash cymbal sounding as the new section begins.

Small breaks often occur at the end of a line of lyrics. If the singer is silent, it might be a good time for a fill. But be careful, small breaks call for small fills. No 2 measure roll bursts here. Small fills often include one or two extra drum notes or sometimes just a crash cymbal.

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