5 Essential Tips to Play Drums for Jazz Like a Pro
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. Develop a strong sense of swing
  2. Learn the brush technique
  3. Embrace soloing in your play
  4. Study and replicate the greats
  5. Practice with a metronome

If you've ever tapped your foot to the cool, laid-back rhythm of a jazz tune, you've felt the magnetic pull of the beat. That beat is the heart of jazz, and it's created by the drummer. So, how to play drums for jazz? It's not as complex as you might think. This blog will guide you through five simple tips that will take your jazz drumming skills to the next level. Let's dive in!

Develop a strong sense of swing

The first step to becoming a pro at jazz drumming is developing a strong sense of swing. This distinctive rhythm sets jazz apart from other music genres. Let's look at some specific ways you can develop your swing.

Understanding Swing

Swing, in jazz, is not just about the beat—it’s about how you play the beat. It’s a kind of rhythm that makes your feet tap and your body sway. Here's how you can develop it:

  • Listen: Start by listening to jazz music regularly. Pay special attention to the drums. Notice the unique rhythm? That's swing!
  • Feel the rhythm: As you listen, try to feel the rhythm in your body. This will help you internalize the swing.
  • Imitate: Once you've got the feel of it, try to imitate the rhythm on your drums. It might take some practice, but don't worry—you're on the right track.

Practicing Swing

Practicing swing is not just about hitting the drums—it’s about hitting them right. Here's a simple way you can practice:

  1. Start with a basic beat: One-two, one-two. Keep it steady and even.
  2. Now, try swinging it: One-and-a two-and-a. The "and-a" should be slightly delayed—that's the swing!
  3. Practice this until you can do it naturally. Remember, it's not a race. Take your time and enjoy the rhythm.

By developing a strong sense of swing, you'll be well on your way to learning how to play drums for jazz. It's a journey, and every beat brings you closer to your goal. So stick with it, and soon you'll be swinging like a pro!

Learn the brush technique

Now that you've got the swing, let's explore the brush technique. This is a unique skill that sets jazz drummers apart. It's all about creating that smooth, continuous sound that's so characteristic of jazz. So, how do you do it? Let's take a look.

Getting the Right Tools

Before you start, you need the right tools. In this case, it's the drum brushes. These are not your typical drumsticks. They're made of metal wires and look more like a kitchen whisk than anything else. But don't be fooled—they're your key to unlocking the smooth sound of jazz.

  • Selecting Brushes: Not all brushes are created equal. Look for ones with retractable wires. This allows you to adjust the stiffness of the brush, giving you more control over your sound.
  • Getting a Feel: Hold the brushes in your hand. They should feel comfortable and balanced. Practice some basic strokes to get a feel for them.

Mastering the Technique

Now that you have your brushes, it's time to master the technique. It's a bit different from using drumsticks, but with a bit of practice, you'll get the hang of it. Here's how:

  1. Start with a simple sweeping motion: Move the brush in a circular motion on the drum head. This should create a smooth, continuous sound.
  2. Next, try varying the pressure: Apply more pressure for a louder sound, and less pressure for a softer sound. This is called dynamics, and it's key to creating the expressive sound of jazz.
  3. Finally, mix it up: Combine different strokes and pressures to create your own unique sound. Remember, jazz is all about improvisation, so don't be afraid to experiment!

By learning the brush technique, you're adding a whole new dimension to your jazz drumming skills. It might seem challenging at first, but stick with it. Before long, you'll be creating that smooth, cool sound that's the hallmark of jazz. Happy drumming!

Embrace soloing in your play

Ready for the spotlight? If you've been wondering how to play drums for jazz in a way that really lets you shine, it's time to embrace soloing. This is your chance to express yourself and make the music your own. Let's dive into how you can master this skill and really make your mark.

Understanding the Role of Solos

Solos are much more than just flashy displays of skill. In jazz, they're an opportunity for musical conversation. They allow you to respond to what the other musicians are playing and add your own ideas to the mix. It's a bit like having a chat, but with drums!

  • Listening: The first step to a great solo is listening. Pay attention to what the other musicians are playing and think about how you can respond. What kind of mood are they creating? What rhythms are they using? This will help guide your solo.
  • Building: Once you've got a sense of what's happening in the music, start to build your solo. Start simple and gradually add complexity. Remember, it's not about showing off—it's about adding to the music.

Developing Your Solo Skills

How can you improve your solo skills? Practice, of course! But not just any practice. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your solo practice sessions:

  1. Improvise: Jazz is all about improvisation. Try playing along with different tracks and see where your creativity takes you. Don't be afraid to make mistakes—this is how you learn!
  2. Record Yourself: Hearing yourself play can be a powerful learning tool. It allows you to pick up on things you might not notice while you're playing.
  3. Get Feedback: Don't be shy about playing for others. Get feedback from fellow musicians, teachers, or even friends and family. They might offer insights that can help you improve your soloing.

Embracing soloing in your play can be a game-changer when it comes to learning how to play drums for jazz. It's your chance to show your personality and contribute something unique to the music. So go ahead—step into the spotlight and let your drums do the talking!

Study and replicate the greats

Ever wondered how some of the best jazz drummers got to where they are today? It turns out, part of the secret sauce to playing drums for jazz like a pro is studying and replicating the work of great musicians. It's like learning to write by reading good books—you get to see how the masters do it and then apply those lessons to your own work. Let's explore how you can do this.

Choosing Your Jazz Heroes

There's no shortage of amazing jazz drummers out there. From Buddy Rich to Max Roach, Elvin Jones to Tony Williams, there are plenty of talents to choose from. But how do you decide who to study? It all comes down to what grabs your attention. Which drummers make you sit up and listen? Whose style do you admire? Start there.

  • Listening: Spend some quality time with your chosen drummer's tracks. Get to know their style intimately. Pay attention to how they use rhythm, how they build tension and release, and how they interact with other musicians.
  • Analysis: Go beyond just listening. Analyze their work. What patterns do they use often? How do they handle solos? This kind of deep dive can give you insights you can apply to your own play.

Replicating the Greats

Now comes the fun part—putting what you've learned into action. Here's how:

  1. Start Small: Try playing a few bars from one of your favorite tracks. Concentrate on getting the feel right.
  2. Expand: Once you're comfortable, expand to longer sections. Don't rush this—take the time to really get it right.
  3. Improvise: Once you've got the hang of playing in their style, start improvising. Use what you've learned as a jumping-off point for your own creativity.

Studying and replicating the greats is a fantastic way to learn how to play drums for jazz. It's like standing on the shoulders of giants—you get a better view and a great start on your own jazz drumming journey. Happy playing!

Practice with a metronome

What's one tool that every jazz drummer should have in their toolbox? If you said a drumstick, well, you're not wrong. But there's another gadget that's just as important—a metronome. Yes, that little device that ticks away relentlessly, keeping time like a champ. Let's see how you can use a metronome to improve your jazz drumming skills.

Why Practice with a Metronome?

Let's get real—you're not a human clock. Even the best of us tend to speed up or slow down when we're grooving. That's where a metronome comes in. It helps you maintain a steady tempo, which is key for any style of music, but especially for jazz with its intricate rhythms and complex time signatures.

How to Use a Metronome for Jazz Drumming

First off, don't think of the metronome as your enemy. Yes, it'll point out when you're off-beat, but that's a good thing. It's like your personal rhythm coach, always pushing you to do better. Here's how to get the most out of your metronome practice:

  • Start Slow: It's tempting to crank up the tempo and try to keep up. But remember, it's not a race. Start slow and work your way up. This gives you a chance to really nail the rhythm before you add speed.
  • Use It for Tough Sections: Got a tricky rhythm that you can't quite get? Break it down and practice with the metronome. You'll be surprised how much it helps.
  • Experiment: Try playing around with different tempos. You'll find that the same piece can feel very different at different speeds. This can give you a new perspective on the music and open up new possibilities.

Remember, the goal isn't to become a robot, but to develop a strong sense of time. With a metronome as your guide, you'll be on your way to mastering how to play drums for jazz.

If you found these essential tips for playing jazz drums useful and want to continue improving your skills, check out the workshop 'How to Get Better at What You Do - Go from Good to Great!' by Debbie Knox-Hewson. This workshop will help you take your drumming skills to the next level and transform you into a versatile, well-rounded musician.