BY “TIGER” BILL MELIGARI
Trading fours is a skill that can be used by drummers of all styles but is especially prevalent in jazz. I once landed a gig with Thad Jones after auditioning by trading fours with him. And while trading fours is a good excuse to mimic what the other musicians are playing, there’s a lot more you can do with it.
Today we’re going to have some fun working on trading fours with ourselves in 4/4 time while playing the standard jazz cymbal pattern for the first four bars, then phrasing (or superimposing) cymbal patterns over the next four bars that are common in time signatures of 3/4, 5/4, and 7/4.
You’ll notice that although I’ve notated a bass drum hit on all four quarter notes over each of the eight-measure exercises, I’m only playing the accents on the bass drum in the last half of each. This is to emphasize where each of the odd time pattern begins. When you work on these drills, practice them in two ways: First as I’m playing them on the video, and then by playing the bass drum on each beat as written.
The key is to start slowly and gradually increase your speed, providing you can play the exercises without developing tension. You should practice to the point where these drills become second nature. A practical goal is to be able to play them accurately by feel alone without having to count.
After you become comfortable playing the exercises as written, feel free to employ other patterns that are normally used in 3/4, 5/4, and 7/4 jazz.
Here’s a note for those of you who play rock and aren’t as familiar with jazz. In rock music, it’s the bass drum that takes the lead as far as volume goes. In jazz, with the exception of occasional accents (called “bombs”), the bass drum is normally played very lightly (feathered) so that it’s just “felt” rather than heard. In jazz it’s normally the cymbal time that takes the lead. You should approach these jazz-based exercises in the same manner.
Next time we’ll take these drills to another level. Until then, have fun and stay loose!