As the old saying goes, "You have to go back before you can go forward." And that means you should learn the tradition of the instrument to gain greater knowledge and bring more depth to your playing. Let's start at the beginning. Bear in mind that the drum set is the only instrument that was specifically created to play jazz. Originally, the various components of the jazz drum set
were used in various ways in marching, concert, and symphonic bands. Eventually, the individual instruments of the drum set were combined into one instrument for the jazz performer. An instrument that could be handled by one player. Consequently, every drum set player should take the time to learn at least some basic jazz concepts. The basis for any type of jazz drumming is the jazz ride rhythm. This is the continuous pattern played on the cymbal which is central to the support of the other musicians in the band. The jazz ride pattern is normally written as a quarter-note followed by a dotted-eighth and sixteenth.
However, a more accurate notation is as a quarter-note and eighth note triplet combination. Since jazz has its roots in the blues, and the triplet feel is the most common blues rhythm pattern, it's generally accepted that the ride rhythm be interpreted in the triplet form.
In traditional swing music, the drummer is expected to accent the second and fourth beats of each measure, and this is accomplished by adding the hi-hat on those beats. It was explained to me many years ago by a fine musician, that it's an element of swing for the bass to play long notes on the first and third beats of the bar, while the drummer cuts them off with the hi-hat on beats 2 and 4. In a sense, the hi-hat plays against the 1 and 3 of the bassist. Another important reason for accented the second and fourth beats is the feeling of forward momentum it tends to give to the music.
In older styles, the bass drum was generally played on beats 1 and 3, or on all four beats of the measure. However, in modern forms, though the bass drum is still sometimes played on all four beats, it's just as often used for accents. Both styles are often used in big band drumming where a light four pulse is desirable to add more bottom. Most of today's contemporary jazz players don't adhere to the strict ride cymbal rhythm shown earlier. Example 4 shows how the basic feel of the ride cymbal rhythm can be maintained, but varied.
In very progressive jazz styles, the timekeeping is no longer kept solely with the ride cymbal and hi-hat, but with the entire drum set as a unit. Here's how the whole set might be used to keep time in a modern jazz framework.
Improvisation is a strong element and is coordinated within the jazz ride pulseor as a counterpoint to it. Whatever the rhythm patterns played by in the jazz ride or how they are broken up, in order for the music to 'swing' the triplet pulse should continue to fit into the framework of the time feeling.
If you study the origin of the drum set in jazz, you'll also note that the triplet feel was not relegated strictly to jazz. Since the first drum set players were, for the most part, jazz artists, everything having to do with the drum set evolved from that form of music. But the jazz style also incorporated the blues form, and the first rock, R & B, and country drummers had their foundation in those styles. Evidence of this can be noted in the first forms of rock which had a shuffle feel.
Eventually, the ride pattern evolved to straight 8th notes, and the shuffle changed to a simple backbeat. But the shuffle feel can still be heard throughout rock history in various songs. And with the resurgence of the "retro" swing bands, those old rock rhythms have once again become very important for every drummer to learn. Here's another example of the relationship between jazz and today's current music. If you play the jazz ride rhythm on closed hi-hat, with a backbeat in cut-time, it creates a half-time feel that can be adapted to rock, R & B, or funk.
And if you substitute the shuffle rhythm for the ride pattern, you get hi-hop.
Keep in mind that this short article is merely a primer for showing how the drum set was developed as a jazz instrument over 100 years ago as a means to show that a study of the tradition of our instrument will certainly help to gain a better understanding of current styles, whatever preferred type of music is played.