Syncopation System: Linear Drum Fills

Posted on March 3, 2024

 linear fills with syncopation summary

Today is the rare moment where I’m sharing some original practice materials. And by “original”, I mean mostly ripped off, primarily from Ted Reed’s book Syncopation

I haven’t talked much about any interpretations of Syncopation, mainly because Todd Bishop already does it to great effect. To that end, he’s already talked about what I’m sharing today: using Syncopation for creating linear drum fills.

The method is the “fill in the blank” approach, where you take the most famous section of the book (the nine exercises from pages 38 to 46) and add notes in between the written snare part:

I’ve been messing around with this trick the past week, but doing the extrapolation in my head got annoying at faster speeds, especially because I started to conceptualize the patterns as 16th notes instead of 8th notes at a crazy fast tempo. 

That’s one of the few issues with Syncopation — the meat and potatoes of the book only uses 8th notes, and I’m not trying to work on the skill of reading 8th notes but counting them as 16th notes.* Personally, reading 16th notes at a very slow tempo is much easier for me than reading 8th notes at a very fast tempo.

So I actually went ahead and re–engraved everything in MuseScore. Before you become too horrified, it really wasn’t a lot of trouble. I just went through the book, entering all the appropriate notes with my keyboard as I read along. Then, using MuseScore’s handy “paste half duration” tool, I cut everything and turned it all into 16th notes. Eight pages worth of practice materials, done in 30 minutes!

(What’s even more exciting is that I now have the famous snare line as a MIDI/XML file…)

The last exercise (number nine from page 46) doesn’t work with this approach at all, with its perpetually perplexing mishmash of 8th notes, 16th notes, triplets, grace notes, and rolls (this is when Syncopation randomly turns into an etude book before going back to reading drills). As such, I went ahead a skipped it.

Exercise one from page 38 is also problematic; it’s a little too spartan, creating long runs of RKRK RKRK, or some variation thereof. I went ahead and included exercise one anyway, but feel free to skip it if the fills aren’t sounding good to you. It will at least help you develop Vinnie Colaiuta’s famous hand–to–foot roll. 

On that note (buh dum tiss), you can practice these pages however you want. I’ve been doing each line in isolation, playing the two measures separately before combining them. Once I have each line down, I start stringing together longer and longer passages. 

You could try to play each page as one 20+ bar etude. One of the reasons I wrote all this out is because, last year, I picked up Syncopation’s much less well–known sequel, Syncopation #2 — In the Jazz Idiom for the Drumset

Syncopation #2 unsurprisingly uses a triplet interpretation to create solos and etudes out of the famous eight pages (yes, Reed also skips exercise nine in Syncopation #2). The solos end with a cymbal hit, so I put one in too (I’ll talk about Syncopation #2 in depth at a later date when I also talk about the other Ted Reed drum books that many people don’t know about).

As Todd pointed out in his article, snare hits that are surrounded on either side by kick notes could be played as flams, or perhaps double stops between the snare and toms. Or snare and cymbal.

I did not write any orchestration around the toms. I tend to not like written–out fills that include the toms, so after mastering the coordination between hands and feet, start whacking other drums as you see fit. 

This system does have its problems — some of the fills will end with a double on the kick, which makes it difficult to crash coming out of them. There are also triple strokes written in, either within a measure or connecting over a measure. I left these in to not spoil the original snare rhythm, but feel free to change either the first or last note into a snare hit (you could also remove one of the notes altogether). 

That’s all for now. I think I’ll revisit this idea with 16th note triplets, although that’ll take me longer to figure out. 

Download PDF.

Edit: I’ve realized after the fact that eight pages of etudes 40+ bars in length is a pretty intense application of this idea. So I have something else that (hopefully) is a bit easier to digest.

For this, I reworked the “Syncopation Set 2” section that spans pages 34–37. This part of the book lays out 48 different rhythms that are combined to create the eight exercises afterward. Each one–bar rhythm is repeated four times, so I turned them into two–beat fills as 16th notes.

Consequently, I’ll share another PDF with 48 fills. I think this works better, but feel free to combined the measures as you please. If I’ve done my math correctly, there are 2256(!) permutations just from creating 4 beat patterns. If you want to create 8 beats worth of fills, you’ll have over four million(!!) possibilities. That number grows to over five million(!!!) if you want to repeat patterns as you splice them together.

There are still a few problematic exercises — I highlighted these with a red circle. Patterns that end with a double stroke on the kick can only be played at a fast tempo if you put them in front of another pattern that does not end with a kick double. Again, I left these in for continuity. There are only nine exercises like this so you can just skip them at your discretion.

All in all, I think I might just stick to Set 2 in the future. For now use the eight exercises if you really want to challenge yourself.

Download PDF.

* It’s like when people say you can just count 8th notes in cut time as 16th notes 4/4. Well… goddammit, then just write 16th notes in 4/4!

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