The Thinking Drummer: Milking Your Licks Dry

Click to enlarge Nasty Lick #32

One of my favorite drumming ideas is that you should “milk your licks dry.” A lot of great drummers and musicians rely on a limited vocabulary of ideas and patterns, but they play the shit out of those patterns and use them in many different ways. One player who has signature licks he uses over and over to great effect is Steve Gadd, one of my all-time favorite drummers.

Once you find an idea or pattern that you like, you can “milk it dry” by manipulating it in various ways. Here is a lick that I use a lot: RLRF. The link below will allow you to open a pdf file with full drum notation that shows you how to take this lick and play it in several key ways. Click on it, it’s called Nasty Lick #32:


The pattern we’re manipulating here is orchestrated as follows: right hand on snare, left hand on hi tom, right hand on floor tom, and finally, foot on bass drum. The pdf exercise /transcription simply shows you how to play the lick as eighth notes, eighth note triplets, sixteenth notes, and finally as sixteenth note triplets.

Try playing the exercises on the sheet. You should have a great new lick you can use after mastering the lesson. Perhaps more importantly, though, you should have a good understanding of how to milk your licks dry.

I love the drums and hope you do too.
-Mark Feldman