Tony Williams’ Fill from “Joy Filled Summer”

For “Nasty Lick #24,” we go back to 1976, the year that The New Tony Williams Lifetime released the album “Million Dollar Legs.” The album was not well received by fans, and it is not the music one would have expected from this band of killer musicians (Allan Holdsworth -gtr, Alan Pasqua -kys, Tony Newton -bs)

The album definitely reeks of record company suits meddling with the creative process and the result is pseudo-disco rather than fusion.

That did not stop the great Tony Williams from throwing in nuggets of drumming greatness, and this fill is a prime example. It’s on the track “Joy Filled Summer” and you’ll hear it at about 1:16 into the track.

It’s a killer two measure 16th note fill that is new and exciting sounding even in the present day. Tony is playing the snare and hi tom only and the result is magical because of the way he places the accents and orchestrates them between the two voices. Just two drums and he constructs a masterpiece of a fill.

Here’s the PDF for you to look at/practice/download: Nasty Lick 24 PDF

In addition to this fabulous drumming nugget, “Million Dollar Legs” can teach us a lesson: don’t dull down your creativity for the promise of commercial success. That seems to be what happened on this album.

The Thinking Drummer asks “What If?”

Here’s an idea designed to open up your drumming in new creative directions. Smart businesses use this concept all the time to come up with new products and creative ideas for their companies, but it will work for your drumming as well. The notion is to ask “what if” about your drumming.


Some of the “what if” questions may make you feel uncomfortable, scared or anxious. But that’s OK and actually expected because what we’re trying to do is shake things up and come up with new ideas. Change and new ideas can cause friction, but it’s worth it. You never know, you might make an amazing discovery for your art.

Here are some “what if’s” to get you started.

What if….

  • You decided to become an open-handed drummer like Simon Phillips or Billy Cobham?
  • You used three hi-hats and no ride cymbal?
  • You could play eighth note triplets effortlessly in any combination between your left foot, left hand and right foot, while maintaining eighth notes with your right hand?
  • You were able to play single stroke rolls with as much precision and power as Tony Williams or Chris Coleman?
  • You could play 16th notes with your left hand at quarter note = 145?
  • You could transcribe your favorite drum solo note for note and then steal the best ideas and change them around to your liking?
  • Your technique was equally killer matched or traditional?
  • You had a unique way to incorporate electronics into your drum set up?
  • You used two 18” crash cymbals as hi-hats?
  • You played amazing double bass drum ideas on two 18” or 20” bass drums instead of the usual 22” or larger bass drums?
  • You created your own band so you could play exactly the kind of music you wanted?
  • You set up drums with the toms in the following order from left to right: 13,” 12” 10” 16”?
  • You started listening only to non-drummers as inspiration for your drumming?
  • You transcribed the random rhythm of noises that your washing machine makes and used it in your playing?
  • You could play this with your left foot: [insert idea here] and play anything against it with your other limbs?

OK. Enough. You got the picture, right? It’s this kind of thinking that too many of us do not do. Each and every one of the above is possible.

Pick a “what if” scenario for yourself and then make it happen! That’s how great ideas become great achievements.

Two Against Three Polyrhythm Explained

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I’ve been working on practical uses of the 2 vs 3 polyrhythm. Here’s an example: Eighth Note Cymbal vs Eighth Note Triplet Independence Part One. In that article, I explored some uses of playing triplet ideas while maintaining the eighth note cymbal pattern, which I find exciting because I don’t hear the idea used often by drummers.
Working on things that are new and unexplored is exciting to me because one of my important goals as a drummer is to sound different from other drummers.

One criticism that I received after writing the article was that it was difficult to understand how the rhythms sound. My explanation was not sufficient. Hence, the words you are reading now.

I looked into the easiest explanation, and you’ll find it on the attached worksheet, which you can download as a PDF from the following link: “The Simplest Way to Explain 2 vs 3″

I hope this makes things easier.

Yet Another Reverse Six Stroke Roll Idea

nasty lick 64 illustration

Remember when I wrote that the backwards or reverse six stroke roll was fertile ground for great drumming ideas? Well, more proof is here.

This one (“Nasty Lick #64) continues the exploration of the kind of great phrasing you can come up with when using this idea. I’ve been shedding this type of vocabulary a lot and the result is a lot of good stuff.

So here’s another one for you to try. Remember, as always, that what makes this sound good is quiet unaccented notes offset by significantly louder accented notes. Think Elvin Jones or Keith Carlock and you’ll understand the kind of legato phrasing to go for.

Here’s the PDF: Nasty Lick 64


How To REALLY Work on Drumming Technique

Yesterday I had a student who was complaining about her left hand. She uses matched grip and is working on strokes in the german grip position.

“It just doesn’t work as well as my right,” she said. So I looked at her hands. She was right. The mechanics of her left hand were not really anything like her right.

Everything about her right hand was better. The way the stick sat in her hand, the fulcrum, the motion of her hand from the wrist, etc. As a result, the stroke was much closer to what makes for a loose, flowing, bouncing stroke.

I pointed out the differences in the mechanics of her hands to her. We discussed how she was practicing to make her stroke better.
The Thinking Drummer
It turns out that she was simply repeating the incorrect strokes on her left side, over and over again, in an attempt to make it better. The truth is (at the risk of stating the obvious), practicing this way definitely does more harm than good. One would be better off not practicing than reinforcing the incorrect movements.

I always explain to my students that (especially with technique) you must practice with the end in mind. She was not heeding my advice about how to practice at all.

Spending time working on technique will not do any good at all unless you have an understanding of what you want, and how it is supposed to look. Hopefully, you will have an idea of what it should feel like as well. The help of a good teacher (whether in person or on video) will help you create the mental image of what the technique should be.

Frequently, I see students trying to work on technique but not realizing what their own body is doing correctly or incorrectly because they are not even looking at their hands, wrists, fingers or arms during practice.

One must be very aware of all the details of what is happening physically during technical practice. Using, eyes to see, ears to listen and your brain to perceive how the technique feels will help guide you. Add this awareness to the mental image of what the technique is supposed to look sound and feel like (your goal) and you are on the right track.

In other words, if a particular technique is incorrect, you must figure out specifically what about that technique needs to change in order for it to be better. Then you have to force your body to make the actual changes in order for it to work. As you begin to make the change or changes, you have to practice a lot in order to lock in the new physical behavior. Believe me, this is difficult. But it is the only way.

My apologies if any of this seems obvious, but my observations lead me to conclude that surprisingly, sometimes these details get missed.

Be patient, specific and focused with a very detailed technical goal in mind. Add that to time spent (often a lot of time) working on it in this particular way, and results will come.

The ecstasy of a new technique you can use to express yourself is worth the investment.